East West Players was scheduled to present Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” when the pandemic hit. (Photo by Steven Lam)

East West Players, the nation’s longest-running theater of color, is thrilled to announce that it is the recipient of a $2 million grant from the Ford Foundation.

The grant is part of the Ford Foundation’s “American Cultural Treasures” initiative, which launched on Sept. 24 as an effort to sustain and celebrate the work of Black, Latinx, Indigineous, and Asian American arts organizations, particularly through these challenging times. The transformative grant is the largest such award in East West Players history.

In speaking of this initial cohort, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said, “These organizations represent the very highest ideals of artistic excellence and are truly America’s cultural treasures. We hope that other arts philanthropists and corporations will join in increasing support to the many cultural organizations that reflect our nation’s rich and diverse history.”

“For those of who already know and love East West Players, this grant affirms the invaluable and historic role it has played both locally and nationally in lifting up and bearing witness to the Asian American experience,” says EWP Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai. “Like so many organizations, EWP was deeply impacted by the shutdown that occurred in response to COVID-19 and this support allows us to continue to be a haven for artists of color to tell their stories and speak their truths.

“The EWP community is so very grateful to the Ford Foundation, its trustees and President Darren Walker for their bold, impactful leadership with this program to address the systemic inequity organizations like East West Players have faced for decades. This gift allows us to dream our ambitions to scale and we hope others will take up the call to action to support these uniquely American cultural treasures.”

The grant is part of a collaborative effort by 16 major donors and foundations to execute a two-pronged national and regional initiative to recognize “America’s Cultural Treasures.” For East West Players, the grant will support infrastructural growth, increased funding and support for artists of color and the development of its digital platforms and programs.

A second component of the initiative will have numerous foundations provide support for individually-tailored regional grantmaking initiatives in Los Angeles, and will be led by the Getty Foundation.

“BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) arts organizations represent the vitality and diversity of the Los Angeles region, yet have been undercapitalized for years,” said Joan Weinstein, director of the Getty Foundation. “The arts give solace in difficult times, but they also challenge us to imagine and create a more just and equitable society. We are proud to partner with the Ford Foundation and lead the Los Angeles effort to make arts organizations of color that are the heartbeat of so many local communities more resilient for the future.”

East West Players, the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color in the country and the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work, was founded in 1965, at a time when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders faced limited or no opportunities to see their experiences reflected outside of stereotypical and demeaning caricatures in the American landscape. East West Players not only ensures that authentic AAPI stories are told, but works to increase access, inclusion, and representation across the performing arts and the entertainment industry.

For more information, visit: https://eastwestplayers.org

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