NEW ORLEANS — It’s been said that the theatre was created to tell people the truth about life.
“The role of art is a place where we reflect on who we are, who we hope to become, what our values are,” award-winning actor Wendell Pierce said.
But a lack of funding has kept many black-led theater institutions from reaching their full potential in the community.
Pierce, a Pontchartrain Park native is on the review panel for the Black Seed, a national grant program focused on bolstering the impact of black theaters.
“We have supported 100 theaters, through the country for 2 years, awards, grants awarded from $10,000 to $150,000,” Pierce said. “The Black Seed is about sowing the ideas of growth. Once you plant that seed, it grows a strong tree.”
Three theater companies in New Orleans are among the grant recipients.
Junebug Productions is one of them.
Artistic Director Stephanie McKee says the money will help them continue a cultural arts fellowship program for local artists.
It is more than a feat to manage to still be around. There are many, many black theater organizations that are historic in nature that are closing their doors.
The Black Seed is also sending money to the Ashe’ Arts Center and the Anthony Bean Community Theater.
Anthony Bean plans to use his grant to help pay for a teen talk television program.
“I am just thrilled that Black Seed has given us the monies so we can invest back into the community and invest back into the youth that are going to take our places someday,” Bean said.
Both grant recipients talked about the importance of black theater.
“Black theater talks about all different voices,’ Bean said. “They talk about Martin Luther King to Malcolm X. Those who have an open mind can learn about their fellow human.”
“When we do it right as artists, people see a reflection of themselves, McKee said. “That’s the beauty of the work that we do and why we fight so hard for it.”
Wendell Pierce said when you invest in culturally specific theaters, the more universal they become.
“Laws change behavior, but theater and art change hearts and minds.” Pierce said.
Three New Orleans theater companies now have the potential to inspire even greater change, thanks to the Black Seed.
The Black Seed is spearheaded by the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn, New York.
The program has a fundraising goal of $10 million.