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(BROOKLYN, NY - September 30, 2020) -- The Billie Holiday Theatre announced today a $5 million lead gift by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, historically the largest one-time investment in a Black theater initiative, to support The Black Seed. This initiative is unprecedentedly helmed by a Black-led artistic institution, The Billie Holiday Theatre, founded in 1972 in response to the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements and home to the largest African American community in the nation - Central Brooklyn.

In collaboration with three Black-led theater institutions, The CRAFT Institute, Plowshares Theatre Company, and WACO Theatre Center, The Black Seed National Initiative serves as a synergistic paradigm shift for systemic change in the arts and culture world.

The Black Seed Fund, fueled by investments from private and public funders to support a national think-tank of Black theater leaders collectively tackling racial injustices and inequities with up to 50 multi-year impact grants that will develop and leverage national partnerships, new artistic commissions, institutional capacity-building, and systemic shifts towards greater equity for Black theater institutions.

The Black Seed embodies the words of Richard Wright - as Black theater institutions, 'fling [ourselves] into the see if we could grow differently, if we could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.”

The Black Seed National Leadership Circle invites major donor investments for the Black theater field and a cohort of national networks and coalitions comprised of Black Theatre Commons, Black Theatre Network, Black Theatre United, The International Black Theatre Summit, Project1Voice, and We See You White American Theatre that will convene twice a year to move the Black theater field forward and a national marketing campaign to tell the story of Black theater in America.

The Billie Holiday Theatre’s Dr. Indira Etwaroo conceptualized and launched a working group with Gary Anderson, Plowshares Theatre (Detroit); Dr. Monica White Ndounou, The CRAFT Institute (Boston); and Shay Wafer, WACO Theatre (Los Angeles), seasoned Black Theater leaders, to join her to imagine and to develop a blueprint for institutional thrivability for Black theaters.

Driven by the data from Yancey Consulting’s 2018 'What Are the Paradigm Shifts Necessary for the Arts Sector to Nurture More Sustainable THRIVING Institutions of Color?' and the Helicon Collaborative’s 2017, 'Not Just Money: Equity Issues in Cultural Philanthropy' as well as the work of the Mosaic Network & Fund, a collaborative fund in The New York Community Trust to strengthen the organizational capacity of African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American arts groups.

One year into this planning process, the nation experienced COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd, illuminating ongoing racial injustices in this country.

Executive Artistic Director of the Billie Holiday Theater, Dr. Indira Etwaroo:
"With the converging pandemics of COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustices, The Black Seed stands on the shoulders of Black theater leaders who came before and centered the work by us, for us, about us, and near us, The Black Seed is not focused on the diversity and inclusivity efforts of predominantly white institutions nor artistic work by and with Black artists that will be viewed by predominantly white audiences. As we conceived The Black Seed over the last year, we aimed for it to be a brand agnostic endeavor that is not individualistic or the re-entrenchment of a scarcity-model geared towards anointing a select-few institutions. This optimistic enterprise is less about game-changing money and more about changing the game. The Black Seed is a synergistic solution to a long-standing problem of inequitable funding; we are greater - as a sector - than the sum of our parts. This historic gift by The Mellon Foundation is a profound symbol of hope in these uncertain and unprecedented times.”[/su_quote]

Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander: 
“The Black Seed will play an essential role in giving Black artists, theaters, and creative communities the firm financial stability they need to soar. We are thrilled that Mellon has made a commitment of historic magnitude to this strategic initiative, and look forward to the transformative and deeply necessary creative work this initiative will support.”

Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon:
"Black Theatre United emerged out of one of the most profound moments in modern history, particularly for Black communities. We believe in the power of our stories and their universal resonance in global spaces. We are deeply moved to be a part of a field-wide endeavor like The Black Seed that would not only provide much-needed resources for the Black theater field-at-large, but would bring institutions and coalitions together to link arms, to find strength in one another, and to dream out loud, as as collective. The Black Seed is an idea whose time has come."

Andre Harrington, President, Black Theatre Network:
”We’ve been working with Black theater leaders and institutions for 36-years. We’ve never been short on ideas, only resources. This moment of COVID-19 colliding into the longstanding racial injustices in this country has created a unique challenge for Black theater institutions. We stand on mighty shoulders and have been needing to come together as a field and, now, with The Black Seed, that time is now.”

We See You White People:
"We are humbled and inspired by this generous show of support for this first-ever national strategic initiative focused on Black theaters. From our first convening, WSYWAT knew that our work was not a moment, but part of a greater movement in pursuit of a more just theater ecology and The Black Seed deeply aligns with that work. This work requires sustained effort over time, and this gift will help ensure its continuation."

The Black Seed’s three-year national strategic initiative has a fundraising goal of $10 million to be comprised of private and public funders, as well as individual donors.

The Black Seed Think Tank will convene at the Black Theater Network’s annual conference with Black theater leaders who serve predominantly Black communities and who produce, present, and/or commission new works and classic works, readings, conversations, festivals, summits and conferences, and/or performance art, as well as Black-led institutions focused on Black audience development, all rooted in the full diversity, complexity, and intersectionality of the Black experience. This Think Tank will receive multi-year financial and marketing investments - countering decades of disinvestment and inequitable funding practices.

Based on the Helicon Collaborative’s research, an estimated $4 billion dollars in philanthropic support is given by foundations to arts organizations. Almost 60% of that support goes to the largest 2% of organizations, all predominately white-led and serving predominantly white audiences. The other 98% of organizations split the last 42% and arts organizations serving communities of the global majority shared only 4% of those investments. Grants awarded will support innovative initiatives to strengthen Black theater infrastructures to better serve Black theater artists, audiences, and communities. Up to 50 Black theater institutions will be awarded one to three year grants, ranging from $30,000 to $300,000 via a selection process by an adjudication panel consisting of experts in the field.

An RFP requesting proposals from Black theatre institutions will be announced October 2020.

For more information about The Black Seed National Initiative, please email


About The Billie Holiday Theatre
The AUDELCO and Obie Award-winning Billie Holiday Theatre is artistic anchor to the largest African American community in the nation: Central Brooklyn and one of the last remaining theaters forged in the aesthetic and sociocultural kiln of America’s Civil Rights/Black Arts Movements. Founded in May 1972 by Restoration, The Billie Holiday Theatre is a beacon for world class art rooted in racial justice in the heart of Bed-Stuy: producing, presenting, and commissioning new and classic works and festivals in theater, dance, music, visual arts, and film; providing artistic and institutional residencies; and serving ages 3 to 103 with educational programming. For bold and daring artists and audiences from around the corner and around the world who look to The Billie as a rigorous artistic space that tackles racial injustices, presents new and unapologetic voices, and imagines a world where all people can flourish...welcome home.

About The CRAFT Institute
The CRAFT Institute is a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization dedicated to curating culturally inclusive ecosystems throughout the world of arts and entertainment by transforming formal training and industry practices while promoting equitable access. Through curriculum and pedagogy, creative content development and production, networking opportunities and events, CRAFT's consultation, coaching, collaborations, workshops and clearinghouse of resources amplify the work of people of the global majority and culturally specific institutions. Through The International Black Theatre Summit, The CRAFT Institute convenes industry insiders, scholars and practitioners in theatre, film and television and related media platforms throughout the African Diaspora to develop and sustain viable creative, educational and economic models, through projects and coalitions that can better support Black cultural institutions and Black artists, cultural producers and audiences.

About Plowshares Theatre Company
Plowshares Theatre Company is Michigan’s only professional African American theatre. For 30 years, PTC has been the alternative voice in Detroit's performing arts community. A theatre that offers bold, unique experiences with entertaining and engaging plays, Plowshares is an urban theatre with a distinctly Detroit style. The name of our award-winning theatre company is synonymous with its mission: Plowshares is dedicated to “breaking new ground” by nurturing emerging talent, providing challenging opportunities to local artists and presenting African American experiences that builds community.

About WACO Theatre
WACO Theater Center is a Los Angeles based non profit providing a space Where Art Can Occur. We believe that visual and performing arts are powerful, important parts of culture and community and should be accessible to all. The arts speak to our core values and revitalize empathy and connection, which emboldens community identity and encourages critical thinking and problem solving. This is essential during the difficult times we are facing, when the global pandemic has required many of us to be further disenfranchised and feel secluded. As an African American community-centered organization, WACO supports community engagement by presenting, producing, commissioning artists and hosting humanities and educational events.


About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.