Interview with Maurine Knighton (DDCF): $1M for Leading Jazz Artists and Presenters

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) recently announced nearly $1 million in grant funding through its Creative Inflections program. It provides up to $200,000 for seven jazz artists at the top of their craft to collaborate with five presenting organizations on experimental, multi-disciplinary work exploring social justice themes and expanding audiences for jazz.

We talked to Maurine Knighton, the program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to hear more about the initiative which will see leading jazz artists and presenting organizations working together as equal partners, taking creative risks and aiming to attract and cultivate younger and more diverse audiences.

Knighton talks about this initiative supporting “daring artistic work that continues jazz’s rich tradition as a vehicle for social change.” The collaborative projects tackle some of today’s most pressing issues, such as racism and racial justice, gender equity and sexism, and mass incarceration.          

Big thanks to Maurine for taking the time to answer these questions! 

What does the process look like, in terms of arriving at these 7 projects? 

The Creative Inflections program is in its pilot phase, so we’ve used a curatorial approach to project selection. 

This was especially useful in considering the complexity of the creation, development, and presentation process and the importance of strong partnerships between artists and host institutions. 

We have sourced prospective projects using staff knowledge and the considerable expertise of partner organizations through which we distribute funding, including but not limited to Chamber Music America, South Arts, National Performance Network, United States Artists and the MAP Fund.

U.S.-based candidate artists are then invited to recommend a presenting institution for their Creative Inflections collaboration. 

We’re most interested in jazz artists who have considerable recognition as creators and innovators, as well as prior experience working with presenters to realize ambitious projects and the desire to push the boundaries of their artistic output through cross-disciplinary collaborations.

On the host institution side, we’re assessing whether that organization has an artist-centered approach, demonstrated success with presenting large-scale, multi-faceted work, and experience developing audiences for this kind of work.

What would your advice be to the new generation of jazz artists looking for wider financial support from funding organisations? 

Foundations often provide funding to the jazz field through intermediaries, which are arts service organizations that distribute foundation funds through regranting programs for individual artists. Some examples are Chamber Music America and South Arts, which both have national jazz-specific regranting programs.

Other national intermediaries like MAP Fund and Creative Capital Foundation provide project support for performing artists across disciplines, so they are also funding resources that jazz artists should consider.

Based on where an artist lives, they should also find out whether the local, state and/or regional arts agencies representing their geographic area have any funding opportunities available.

Many arts service organisations and agencies also offer professional development programs to help artists strengthen their business skillsets, including fundraising.

Another idea is to ask other artists who have received grants if they know about funding prospects.

How does the DDCF measure the success of large projects like this (i.e. audience numbers, critical reception, etc.)

We consider a mix of qualitative and quantitative outcomes when determining impact.

For a Creative Inflections project, we’re interested in whether the artist was able to experiment in a way that expands their artistic practice.

We’re also looking for whether there are learnings from the project that can help the arts and culture field understand how presenters and artists can collaborate as true partners.

Since the Creative Inflections program is also about growing the audience for jazz, we also look at whether performances and community engagement opportunities associated with the project are well-attended and well-received.

What role do you think independent arts venues can play in the development of sustainable careers for jazz musicians? 

Artists need a holistic suite of support to enable them to experiment, create, connect and dream in realistic environments.  Independent arts venues are an important part of the jazz ecosystem.

Some of the ways they can support sustainability for artists is by providing resources towards the development of new work, such as access to space, technical support, digital tools, marketing support, as well as underwriting residencies and community engagement opportunities.

Equally important, venues must pay artists fees that fairly compensate them and allow them to live thriving lives.

Can you tell us some more about this edition?

This cohort of Creative Inflections grant recipients brings together artists and arts presenters who are working at the forefront of modern jazz.

These seven dynamic jazz artists are among today’s modern masters and are creating boundary-pushing work that’s engaging new generations of listeners.

We’re proud to support strong partnerships between these artists and dedicated presenting organizations as they launch new interdisciplinary works that innovate within the art-form and continue jazz’s rich tradition as a vehicle for social change.

Thanks to Maurine for the insight; if you’re interested in learning more about this programme, here’s the full info…

The following supported projects represent daring artistic work that tackles some of today’s most pressing issues, such as racism and racial justice, gender equity and sexism, and mass incarceration. 

“In the Green Room: Layering Legacies of Asian and Black American Women in Jazz”

A collaboration among composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, dancer and 2016 Doris Duke Artist Jen Shyu; award winning composer and pianist Sumi Tonooka; and the Asia Society to explore innovative ways of elevating the stories and legacies of Asian and Black women in jazz.

“… (Iphigenia)”

A modern-era operatic adaptation of Euripides’ ancient Grecian myth composed by legendary saxophonist and 2021 Doris Duke artist Wayne Shorter with a libretto by bassist, vocalist and composer Esperanza Spalding, who leads a company that includes pianist Danilo Pérez and is directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz (both 2021 Doris Duke artists); debuted by ArtsEmerson.

“The Jazz Without Patriarchy Project”

A multi-disciplinary art and music installation, conceived by powerhouse drummer and 2019 Doris Duke Artist Terri Lyne Carrington, in collaboration with the Carr Center, that explores how gender inequity has affected the jazz genre and envisions a more equitable jazz future by requiring new standards for transformation in the field. 

“Ogresse: Envisioned”

A multimedia, animated interpretation – presented by the Walker Art Center – of a song cycle written and composed by celebrated vocalist and 2020 Doris Duke Artist Cécile McLorin Salvant

Her illustrations bring to life her musical exploration of the true story of Sara Baartman, a 19th‐century South African woman taken to Europe and put on display who now stands as a symbol of colonialist, racist and sexist exploitation.

“The Healing Project”

A multidisciplinary abolitionist project by pianist, composer and director Samora Pinderhughes, in partnership with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, that explores the realities of resilience, healing, incarceration, policing, violence and detention in the United States.

The definition of what jazz is and what it can be continues to evolve. Initiatives like Creative Inflections are critical to providing artists with the resources to experiment and push jazz beyond its current limits.

These innovative interdisciplinary projects allow artists the flexibility to expand their creative exploration in ways that have great potential to resonate with younger audiences that are increasingly drawn to hybrid artistic work.    

About the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke’s properties.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation focuses its support to the performing arts on contemporary dance, jazz and theater artists, and the organizations that nurture, present and produce them.

DDCF is one of only two foundations in history to have received the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, in special recognition of DDCF’s support of creative expression across the United States and “bold commitment” to artistic risk, which has helped performing artists share their talents and enriched the cultural life of the nation.

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