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Orange County artists, organizations receive $118,220 in funding

On Oct. 20, the Orange County Arts Commission announced the 38 recipients of its 2023-24 art grants, which total $118,220.

The OCAC gave both Grassroots Arts Program Grants, which were awarded to local nonprofit organizations and schools, as well as the Artist Project Grants, which were awarded to individual artists and artist groups.

Grant applications were reviewed by several panels, which scored based on artistic merit, community impact, likelihood to complete the proposal and, for organizations, a financial review.

The panels also took diversity into account, emphasizing opportunities for artists of color, according to OCAC director Katie Murray.

Because the grants are funded by the state through the N.C. Arts Council, 35 percent of grant funding has to go toward supporting multicultural programming and minority artists.

“Aside from that requirement, our board is very centered around DEIA and equity and looking at what our arts agencies are doing in that realm,” she said. “I think it totally impacts — especially this year — it definitely impacted who was funded and who was not.”

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation was among the nonprofit organizations awarded a Grassroots Art Program Grant. The PFS is associated with, but independent from, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and it provides grants for student and teacher programs.

OCAC has awarded grants to the PFS for several years. 

“They've supported music, literature, writing, murals — all kinds of different art, visual and other arts through the years,” Nancy Zeman, the PFS associate director for programs, said.

According to Zeman, this year is no different.

One of the three grants awarded to the PFS this year will be put toward Carrboro Elementary School’s theater production of “The Lion King,” which Zeman describes as a rite of passage for the fourth and fifth graders who participate. 

The second grant will also go to Carrboro Elementary School, and it will support guest storyteller Donna Washington in bringing African stories to students, which will complement their performance in “The Lion King.”

The third will fund a visit from Native American guest artist Senora Lynch, who has led pottery lessons for fourth grade students at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School in past years.

Other groups that were awarded grant money included local school PTAs, the Ackland Art Museum and The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, among others.

Alongside organizations, individual artists and artist groups also received funding. According to Murray, individual artists are either funded entirely, or not at all.

For Sia Yazdanfar, an Iranian photographer based in Orange County who described his work as photographic storytelling, this announcement marks his third consecutive year receiving an Artist Project Grant. 

Previous grants have supported his travels in the Middle East and particularly Iran, where he said he has taken more than 240,000 photos for various exhibitions. His work can be found on his website.

He will put the 2023-24 Artist Project Grant toward his upcoming exhibition, “No Friends but the Mountains.” He said he looks forward to revealing it in its entirety in the future, but for now, he describes it as preserving mountain cultures in his motherland.

“I can just say that ‘No Friends but the Mountains’ is an exhibition that is focused on particular regions of Iran, and specifically traditional worlds within those regions that I'm trying to document before they disappear,” he said.

He also said he is grateful not only for its financial support, but for the exposure and audiences he has found in Orange County through the OCAC.

“The Orange County Arts Commission is dedicated to really lifting the arts,” he said. “And a rising tide lifts all ships, so it was good for me, it's good for other artists and vice versa.”

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