Where to Find Dollars and Advice

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 14 No. 3/4, "Changing Scenes: Theater in the South." Find more from that issue here.

Besides our listing of grassroots theaters (see p. 116), Southern Exposure provides these profiles of Southern-based organizations that fund and support theater in the region.


Southern Arts Federation

With a million-dollar budget and a wide range of services, the Southern Arts Federation is probably the most comprehensive service and funding agency for the arts in the South. Its programs, serving both the visual and performing arts, "embrace folk art and opera, jazz and chamber music, primitive art and the collections of the South's finest museums." Now 11 years old, SAF is a non-profit corporation, yet depends on federal and state arts agencies with whom it works closely to "carry out the mandate of making the arts more available to a wide public." The Federation is also funded through private contributions and through programs that generate income.

Through the Federation's Performing Arts Touring Program professional performing companies from both within and outside the South, including such diverse groups as the Birmingham Children's Theatre and the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, have been brought to Southern communities. The Federation also sponsors the Southern Arts Exchange, an annual booking meeting where presenters meet with artists to plan seasons, special projects, and festivals in the region.

But in addition to coordinating performances by well-known mainstream artists, the Federation is also committed to encouraging experimental work and to providing a "nurturing climate for all the arts." The special needs of minority and emerging artists are addressed through a number of unique programs. For example, the Touring Training Program helps emerging organizations develop promotional materials and management skills. The Federation also offers technical assistance through workshops and on-site consultancies. Through the Minority Arts Forum, minority arts leaders convene to identify the unmet needs of such organizations. The Federation also publishes the Regional Black Arts Directory and the Regional Black Presenters Directory.

The Federation also funds art exhibits and sponsors touring exhibits. These exhibits sometimes feature the wealth of indigenous art in the region, including "Spotlight '85: Southeastern Crafts" and "Prints and Paintings of Robert Gordy," a native Louisiana artist. The Federation also supports media and film projects.

Southern Arts Federation, Suite 122, 1401 Peachtree St., NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30309; (404) 874-7244.


J. Arc and Company

J. Arc and Company, a privately funded foundation, has a big name to live up to. Named for Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for following the dictates of her conscience, the unusual organization actively seeks to support "the innovative, the experimental, the socially­conscious, and the visionary," — all traditionally hard-to-fund projects. Founder Beth Parker of Gwinnett Industries in Decatur, Georgia set up the foundation in 1984 as a way of channeling the charitable contributions of the corporation to the arts.

While still in a developmental stage, the foundation has already undertaken a number of interesting projects. J. Arc sponsored the move of the Several Dancers Core, a Houston-based non-profit dance corporation, to Decatur. Gwinnett provided space for dance and mime instruction as well as a theater in the downtown area. The organization has plans to provide business assistance to artists and arts organizations and to sponsor international cultural exchanges.

J. Arc and Company, 330 Church Street, Decatur, Georgia 30030; (404) 373-4154


Atlanta New Play Project

The work of the Atlanta New Play Project can be seen in the seasons of the city's theaters. Many now make the production of new plays a priority. That's just what the project had in mind when it set out nearly 10 years ago to encourage the production of new plays by Atlanta's theaters.

The project's main activity has been the annual Festival of New Plays which gives member theaters a low-risk, low-cost forum to present new scripts. As a measure of the festival's success, four of last year's eight festival plays appeared in the Atlanta theater season this year.

Plays from previous festivals, including Fred Gamel's Wasted, named Best Play of the Year by the American Theatre Critics Association (see excerpt p. 95), have found their way to Broadway and to other prestigious venues. Frank Manley's Two Masters went from the festival to win the 1984 Great American Play Contest sponsored by the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

The project also gives play wrights a chance to see their work in progress and to receive feedback from other theater professionals.

As the project grows, plans are underway for programs to serve the theater community throughout the year. These include a dramaturgy workshop, coordination of public readings of new plays, and the creation of a resource system for playwrights and theaters which work with new plays.

The festival continues to expand, each year giving member theaters a greater chance to participate and providing a wider selection of new plays. Not the least to benefit from the Atlanta New Play Project is the city's theater-going public which has the unrivaled opportunity to see the new plays that may be tomorrow's big hits.

Atlanta New Play Project, Inc., P. O. Box 14252, Atlanta, Georgia 30324; (404) 373-8005.


Playwrights' Fund of North Carolina

Since it began in 1981, the Playwrights' Fund of North Carolina has premiered over 50 new works for the stage at its home in Greenville, North Carolina. But that is only one part of its mission. The fund is dedicated to supporting the craft of play writing. As literary director Jeffry Scott Jones says, "There's only so much you can learn from books, and eventually you have to leave your desk and meet the people that make theater work."

The Fund's programs include an intensive script development system involving oral and written criticism of playwrights' work, a developmental reading series, a yearly competition for North Carolina playwrights, and an annual Southeastern Playwrights' Conference — a hands-on workshop. Through Transcript, PFNC distributes new scripts to professional theaters. The scope of this service is unique in the South.

New plays are regularly read at the Best Lunch Theatre Ever and Downtown, Downstairs, another Greenville theater. These readings allow the playwright a chance to see how audiences will respond to the work. The readings are followed by post-performance discussions in which audiences can talk with the play's author.

The Fund is supported by the Theatre Arts Section of the North Carolina Arts Council and the North Carolina Humanities Committee. Other funds come from community and private foundations.

The Playwrights' Fund of North Carolina, Inc., P.O. Box 646, Greenville, North Carolina 27835-0646; (919) 758-3628.