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Artists, organizations relay impact of city arts grants

Justine Villanueva performs in “Gynecologos” on March 18 at the Davis Branch Library. Other Davis Repertory Theatre performers shown are Jasmine Washington, left, Lolita Echeverria-Greco and Annie Velez. The theatre company was one of many arts organizations and artists receiving American Rescue Plan grant funds. (Hanna Nakano/Courtesy photo)

By Wendy Weitzel

Davis artists and nonprofit arts organizations benefited from more than half a million in American Rescue Plan funds distributed in recent months.

The largest amount – $500,000 – went to stabilize the city’s nonprofit arts and culture sector, which saw substantial economic impacts during the pandemic. The Yolo Community Foundation administered and selected those 20 winners, with organizations receiving between $5,000 and $45,000 each. In addition, the city chose 50 individual Davis-based arts and culture applicants to receive grants of $1,000 each.

Rachel Hartsough, the city’s Arts and Culture manager, said, “We can’t overstate how important this support is to the work of local artists. Their collective efforts improve our quality of life in so many ways. The arts and culture sector strengthens our local economy, provides an important tool for gathering in times of celebration and mourning, creates individual and civic pride, builds community within neighborhoods, attracts out-of-town visitors, amplifies the voices and faces of marginalized members of our community, and supports initiatives that promote health and wellness. And, of course, the arts bring joy and beauty into our lives.”

That echoes an October 2021 op-ed printed in The Davis Enterprise, written by Autumn Labbé-Renault, then-Arts Alliance Davis chair, who is executive director of Davis Media Access. Signed by 22 members of the Alliance, it argued that arts and culture were essential to local economic vitality yet were often overlooked in pandemic relief funding. Besides providing jobs, local events boost the coffers of hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and cities, it said.

Shelly Gilbride, executive director of International House Davis and new chair of Arts Alliance Davis, was one of those who signed the op-ed, and asked the City Council in November 2021 for a share of its ARP funds. The Alliance received all $600,000 of its request, with $50,000 of it going to YCF for administration and support.

The grass-roots group argued in its proposal to City Council that arts “are fundamental to the health and vibrancy of our community. These organizations are responsible for keeping us informed, bringing color and beauty to our environment, providing a means of expression and, most importantly, bringing people together to combat isolation, move, find joy and participate in our shared experience as a community.”

The letter asked the community “to imagine what happens if the organizations you’ve come to rely on cease to exist. Where would you turn for after-school workshops, summer camps, intern opportunities? Who would bring live music, dance and theatrical productions to town?”

The grants to local nonprofits provided much-needed general operating support to help them on the path back to financial sustainability. Many organizations still struggle from lingering effects of the pandemic on their operations, staffing and facilities. As part of this program, the YCF provides non-financial assistance like free training programs for the year.

Nonprofit organizations receiving $45,000 were Davis Arts Center, Davis Media Access, Davis Musical Theatre Company, International House Davis, and Pence Gallery Association. Those awarded $30,000 were Bike City Theatre Company, Davis Shakespeare Ensemble, and Imagining America (UC Davis). Grants of $20,000 went to Acme Theatre Company, Applegate Dance Company, Davis Community Chorale, Music Only Makes Sense (also known as Davis Music Fest and Davis Live Music Collective), and Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre. Awards of $15,000 were presented to Chamber Players in Davis, Davis Independent Music Initiative, Davis Repertory Theatre, Mariachi Puente, and Stories on Stage Davis. Davis Korean School and YoloSol Collective rounded out the list with $5,000 each.

Recipients not only appreciated the grants, many said they couldn’t have survived without them. Oona Hatton, co-artistic director for Davis Repertory Theatre, said the $15,000 it received went a long way. “Thank you so much,” she told those at the Feb. 16 Arts Alliance Davis meeting, in appreciation of their advocacy. “Our whole season is funded by that grant.”

Davis Repertory Theatre is partnering with the Davis Branch Library to host a series of Saturday performances in March, April and May. “Gynecologos,” was a March 18 performance about gender, sexuality and reproductive health. “En Las Sombras,” at 1 p.m. on April 15, is a parable where siblings battle gods to rescue their mother. And “The Wui” is a play about California’s wildfire crisis, at 1 p.m. on May 13. Learn more at

The funds to individual artists were intended to support their day-to-day professional and personal costs that were impacted by event closures and cancellations, inability to work due to loss of space, family circumstances or other reasons that impaired their ability to work or earn a living in the arts during the pandemic. Awardees included visual artists, musicians, actors, dancers, culture bearers, writers, poets, theatre professionals, teachers, photographers and others.

NJ Mvondo, a Davis artist who founded Multiculturalism Rocks! and Interactive Healing Arts Project, was one of those $1,000 beneficiaries. She used the money toward a home studio. “It is something I dreamed of creating for years. This grant tipped the balance – at just the right time.”

She said grants like this are important. “Our local artists elevate the cultural visibility and touristic appeal of our town. These grants are investments not just in local talents, but also in our community’s wellness and economy.”

Mvondo added, “Art helps foster appreciation for our environment and for each other. Art can help improve our mental health. It can be interactive and create fun opportunities to connect across cultures and generations – a welcome counteraction to the social tensions and hate-related incidents that have increased since 2020.” Learn more at

Individual grant awardees were: David Abramson, Diana Almendariz, Jamie Angello, Kenneth Arnold, Julia Aue, Linda Bair Falk, Heidi Bekebrede, Roshelle Carlson, Nick Carvajal, Judy Catambay, Yi-Chuan Chen, Michael Clements, Dee Conway, Dianna Craig, Michaela Daystar, Katie DelaVaughn, James Drips, Will Durkee, Nizhoni Ellenwood, Jim Frink, Mara Gervais, Rae Gouirand, Jennifer Grace, Harry Greer and Wes Horn.

Also Hadas Kol, Nat Lefkoff, Gretchen LeMaistre, Donna Lemongello, Karolina Letunova, Sarah Marie, Carlos Mendoza, Dzokerayi Minya, Sam Misner, NJ Mvondo, Diego Panasiti, Stephanie Peel, Elodie Perroud, Eric Rios, Antonia Rizzo, Rodrigo Romero, Kris Rosa, Marguerite Schaffron, Adele Shaw, Mamadou Traore, Ritwik Varma, Jennifer Wendt, Leaf Wild, J.R. Yancher and Seogmin Yoo.

Learn more about these local artists and organizations, follow their upcoming events, or plug into future opportunities by following @cityofdavisarts on Instagram or Facebook, subscribing to the Arts Alliance Davis mailing list at, or visiting the city’s arts and culture website at


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