Since its founding in 1985 by writer and philanthropist Sallie Bingham, the Kentucky Foundation for Women has been a place of support, inspiration and community for feminist artists and arts organizations across the state seeking to promote positive social change. Artists who have received grants include such familiar names as George Ella Lyon, Ada Limón, Constance Alexander and Rachel Grimes, as well as exciting emerging artists, including Alexis Meza, Annie Erskine and Rheonna Nicole.
In its 30-plus-year history, KFW has given more than $9 million in grants to 1,000-plus individual Kentucky artists and organizations. More than 1,000 retreats have taken place at Hopscotch House, a large rural farmhouse east of Louisville that KFW purchased in 1987. Retreats and residencies at Hopscotch House have served approximately 4,500 participants, primarily women and girls.
In the last year alone, KFW awarded 77 grants totaling $297,782 for artist enrichment and community-based activism, for residency and retreat space for individuals, to groups looking for a quiet space to create and convene at Hopscotch House, and to enable artists to attend cultural organizing workshops.
Making an Impact
Evidence of KFW’s mission is visible across the state in neighborhood murals, workshops held in community centers, groundbreaking films, innovative dance performances, deeply felt stories and poems, and provocative fiber art.
“The Foundation’s vision is a transformed society where all people are free to embrace their full potential, where art making and creativity are central to individual and community lives, and where the diversity and complexity of our stories are valued and celebrated,” said Sharon LaRue, KFW executive director. “We support a wide variety of individual artists and organizations across all disciplines committed to building on the power of art to increase awareness about feminist issues, alter perceptions, stimulate dialogue, open space for civic participation, strengthen access to resources, and imagine new ways to create a more just and equitable Kentucky.”
The feminist artists who comprise the KFW community have been change makers—providing a means of self-expression, addressing issues important to the lives of women, and educating communities about new ways of thinking about problems.
One example of this is a special grant given to Athena’s Sisters for workshops for military women to write and publish their stories in tHE ART of Sisterhood, writing created solely by women who serve or have served in the military.
The workshops, led by artist and U.S. Air Force veteran Lindsay Gargotto, incorporate creative writing, meditation and art journaling to provide a variety of avenues for participants to tell their stories.
“We create a safe space for military women—both veterans and active duty—to gather, reflect and create,” said Gargotto, CEO and founder of Athena’s Sisters. “This grant allows Athena’s Sisters to help military women tell their stories. By telling these stories, we make the authentic experience of these women visible. By sharing these stories, we create genuine dialogue about changes that need to be made to address the mental and physical health care disparities military women face.”
Another example is Betty Dobson, who used her grant to create a performance piece about an African-American woman who owned and operated the Hotel Metropolitan in Paducah from 1909 until 1925, during the era of segregation. “KFW has empowered me to become the feminist artist that was always inside of me and given a voice for social change for African-American women and girls,” said Dobson.
A Room of One’s Own
Author Virginia Woolf famously wrote that a woman writer needs a room of her own. KFW provides just that through its retreat and residency programs at Hopscotch House. Approximately 30 individual artists and 40 groups schedule retreats at Hopscotch House each year, serving about 450 participants.
Tina Parker of Berea said her retreat time at Hopscotch House was vital to her growth as a poet. “The blocks of quiet, uninterrupted time allow me to make significant breakthroughs in projects, like organizing individual poems into a full-length manuscript,” Parker said. “I used the physical space to spread out individual poems and arrange and re-arrange them in new orders. I researched book contests and open submission periods, and designed my website.
“The retreat was pivotal to the publication of both my chapbook, Another Offering, published by Finishing Line Press this year, and my full-length collection, Mother May I, published by Sibling Rivalry Press. Hopscotch House has provided a space for me to nurture my writing and paved the way for me to make an impact on my community by allowing me the time to get my poems into the hands of those who need them the most.”
New Ways to Connect
KFW is using technology to create new ways for feminist artists to connect, learn about one another’s work, and access its programs and opportunities.
The Foundation has increased its social media presence through Twitter and Facebook, sharing community news and success stories about the work of grantees.
The KFW also has introduced the Digital Storytelling Project found on its website, kfw.org. The project includes in-depth interviews, video features, podcasts and still images. It tells the story of founder Sallie Bingham. Along with KFW staff, the project will highlight the stories of the broader community whose members work to create art for social change.
“We are using new ways to reach artists in Kentucky and continue the important work that Sallie began in 1985. It is an exciting and vital time for social-change artists everywhere,” said LaRue.
The latest development on this front is an online grant application process.
“Moving to an online submission system makes the process easier for applicants, reviewers and staff, while conserving paper, saving time and reducing costs for all involved,” said Jenrose Fitzgerald, grant program manager. “We are committed to making sure our programs are available and accessible to everyone, regardless of technological experience or access, and we will make sure everyone who wants to apply for KFW opportunities is able to do so.”
KFW Special Grants: Radical, Timely and Urgent
In an effort to spark change, the Kentucky Foundation for Women awarded seven special grants to artists and organizations to create radical art for social change in Kentucky. These grants provide artists the means to actively change the conditions and circumstances currently affecting women and girls in Kentucky. KFW received 29 applications for the 2016 Special Grant: Radical Art for Social Change.
Recipients included two grants of $10,000:
Athena’s Sisters (Louisville): For workshops for military women to tell their stories in their own words and to prepare the publication tHE ART of Sisterhood. Distribution and promotion of tHE ART of Sisterhood throughout Kentucky through libraries, bookstores and public readings will increase visibility by bringing the women’s diverse stories and experiences to a broader public audience, which will impact the public narrative about military women.
Bridge Kids International and Tytianna Wells Smith (Louisville): To support a group of intergenerational young and senior women to share stories through writing and visual art to decrease violence. Participants will write their own stories, create their own unique book covers through bookbinding, and create a multimedia installation at Ben Washer Park based on these words and images. These activities will build community, reclaim an underutilized public space, and encourage deeper community dialogue and engagement about shifting violence in Louisville’s Limerick neighborhood.
And five grants of $8,000:
ArtThrust (Louisville): To support a series of art workshops with LGBTQIA youth that will address trauma they experience and the potential for serious health conditions that can stem from this trauma. The workshops will conclude with a public art exhibition that will speak to the wholeness of each young person and will contribute to public dialogue about LGBTQIA issues.
Color Your City, Inc. (Hillview): To develop its Female Artists Behind Bars Program, which will offer weekly creative writing and art workshops for incarcerated women in the Bullitt County Detention Center, and create a print anthology of participants’ work. The program aims to reduce recidivism and increase successful recovery and long-term sobriety.
Arwen Donahue (Carlisle): To write a graphic memoir that explores a year of life on her rural Kentucky farm. The narrative addresses themes of ecology, privilege, poverty, motherhood and reproductive justice. The publication and dissemination of this work will expand civic dialogue on these issues and how they intersect in women’s lives, both in Kentucky and nationally.
Chamara Jewel Kwakye (Lexington): To use an arts-based social justice framework to engage black girls from north Lexington in visual art workshops that will culminate in a photo exhibit and film of the program to be shown at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. The program aims to influence a change in the way black girls see themselves and trust each other, and in the way the larger community supports black girls.
Doris Thurber (Frankfort): To work with Jennifer Zingg and Joanna Hay to develop a pilot project for women in Franklin County’s drug courts that will incorporate a variety of art experiences, including creative writing, theater and visual art self-portraits to help the women heal from addiction. The program will culminate in a public event showcasing participants’ work, and a video will be created to raise awareness about addiction and drug abuse in Kentucky.
“These projects give voice to urgent issues that are central to the well-being of women and girls across the state. With these projects, women will use the power of art to illuminate, transform and heal society. Their work elicits a call to action to help redefine the future,” said KFW Executive Director Sharon LaRue.