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UNCW’s Office of the Arts was awarded nearly $793,000 from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, developed to assist eligible performing arts organizations that had to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 20 Wilmington-based venues and organizations, like UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium, the Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College and Thalian Hall, had to cancel performances and other arts programming when COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020, resulting in huge losses in revenue.

“We are grateful to have been awarded the SBA Shuttered Venue Grant,” said Jeanine Mingé, executive director of the Office of the Arts and associate provost for high-impact pathways, community partnerships and the arts. “It will support our recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and help us bring back incredible arts programming to our region.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought multi-layered challenges to the arts community.

“On top of the devastating effects on public health, the virus made cultural programming, in the traditional sense, impossible,” said Fidias Reyes, Office of the Arts director and author of the grant application. “It forced us to be creative – How will we stay engaged? How will we stay connected? It forced us to stay true to being innovators and creators because that is what we do in the arts.”

Like so many venues nationwide, the Office of the Arts explored alternatives and offered virtual performances and socially distanced events, all in hopes of keeping the community engaged and safe.

In partnership with WHQR and StarNews, the Office of the Arts found creative success in “Curbside Cinema,” a drive-in movie series that screened about 10 films. Reyes and her team also added the “Artivism for Social Change” program and the “Because It’s Time” sculpture on campus, two ideas that stemmed from the national dialogue on race across the country.

“While we suffered in terms of ticket sales and other revenue opportunities, we were heartened by the knowledge that we were offering arts-based opportunities during a time of such uncertainty,” said Reyes, who believes awards like the SVOG help solidify the value of the arts in communities nationwide, particularly after the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“The arts can be a tool to help us get out of this collective trauma,” she added. “This grant will help us come back together, help us have conversations to talk about our experiences and help us find a way back to normal, if that exists anymore.”

The SVOG grant enables the Office of the Arts to bring quality programming to UNCW while also supporting the artists by providing work opportunities and adequate pay.

“We are given the responsibility of using this gift wisely, and we have a responsibility to give that support to the artists to help get them back on their feet – a trickle-down effect to employ, to contract and to help these artists perform,” said Reyes.

The grant is already having a direct impact on the upcoming Lumina Fest Reggae Redemption planned for March 16-29. The 13-day event will offer a variety of free and low-cost activities ranging from music, theater, dance, art exhibits and film screenings. Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith, UNCW’s institutional diversity and inclusion specialist and local radio host of 98.7’s Reggae Redemption broadcast, is co-producing the festival this year, which promises to be the largest reggae event on the North Carolina coast.

“The grant allowed us to rethink the Lumina Festival of the Arts by moving it to the spring and adding a wider range of events and artists,” said Mingé. “We believe the arts are an inclusive space for healing and transformation and can uplift diverse voices and experiences. We also want our students and community members to be exposed to a depth and breadth of art. The Lumina Festival is one way to do just that.”

The Office of the Arts also has eight upcoming “UNCW Presents” events planned, ranging from film screenings with filmmakers to Spanish and symphonic concerts to the Wilmington Dance Festival.

“With this grant, and the time spent re-imagining during lockdown, we have the opportunity now to advance our goals of not only offering quality performances to our community and supporting local artists, but also going beyond entertainment and utilizing the arts for social change, education and innovation,” added Reyes.