Photo credit: RJ Muna

Clarissa Dyas in Flyaway Productions’ “Meet Us Quickly With Your Mercy.” Part of the “Decarceration Trilogy,” it evoked Black and Jewish ancestral memories of confinement to amplify the call for prison abolition.

Elevating Artists’ Essential Role

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation believes that artists are essential to our lives, as visionaries and storytellers. Their creative power is crucial to helping us reclaim our shared humanity, bridge communities and heal divides. Bay Area artists and cultural organizations continued to adapt to the pandemic and generate work that centered and uplifted our communities. They also propelled equity-driven solutions to build cultural wealth and cultivate connection.

Under the leadership of Ted Russell—promoted to Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures in February—we continued to focus our strategies on helping Bay Area artists thrive. With the combined expertise of Ted and Arts Program Officer Adriana Griñó, our Arts program furthered initiatives focused on reimagining systems, supporting visionary artists and advancing equity.

“The Foundation is advancing initiatives to ensure that diverse artists thrive. As the Bay Area arts community navigates widespread changes and uncertainties, it is critical that we collaborate with artists to change systems and create equitable solutions.”

Ted Russell, Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures


The 2021 Rainin Fellows

Video credit: Lori Halloran

This video features the inaugural recipients of the Rainin Fellowship—Amara Tabor-Smith (Dance), Margo Hall (Theater), People’s Kitchen Collective (Public Space) and Rodrigo Reyes (Film). The visionary work of these anchor artists is vital to their local communities and to advancing their fields.

Celebrating And Sustaining Anchor Artists

The Foundation partnered with United States Artists in a new initiative, The Rainin Fellowship, to ensure that diverse, visionary artists thrive in the Bay Area. The Fellowship funds artists working in Dance, Film, Public Space and Theater who push the boundaries of creative expression, anchor local communities and advance the field. The four inaugural Fellows—Amara Tabor-Smith, Margo Hall, People’s Kitchen Collective and Rodrigo Reyes—received unrestricted grants of $100,000, as well as tailored professional supports. We hosted a virtual celebration with the Fellows in April where the power of their work echoed throughout their conversation.

“Our field is rich with expertise and is ripe for bountiful partnerships. As we move through recovery, it will be critical that we center partnerships, form coalitions and work together to elevate and support the arts.”

Shelley Trott, Chief Program Officer, and Deana Haggag, former United States Artists CEO, as quoted in artnet

 Photo courtesty of CubaCaribe

“Mouth of a Shark” by Ramón Ramos Alayo for Alayo Dance Company. This performance reflected the dual life of immigrants and the struggle of those who create a new life in a new world, but carry their homeland, however dire, in their heart forever.

Adapting To The Shifting Landscape

The pandemic’s prolonged uncertainty continued to challenge artists and arts organizations. Our New and Experimental Works (NEW) Program grantees varied their approaches to showcasing performances. Dance Mission Theater produced a virtual film festival focused on parallels between COVID and the HIV and AIDS crises. Site-specific outdoor productions in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury included Joe Goode Performance Group’s exploration of the hippie era through a racial justice lens and Eye Zen Presents’ Queer history tour. In the fall, Z Space and Shotgun Players opened to live indoor performances, enacting extensive COVID safety protocols.

Artist-led public art projects supported by our Open Spaces Program also adapted to connect deeply and safely with their communities. In one example, Mujeres Unidas y Activas evolved “Y BASTA YA!,” a project with NAKA Dance Theater, into a video series. The series focused on Indigenous and Latina immigrant women and issues of race, gender violence and invisibility. The project also encompassed mutual aid and centered language justice for Mam and Spanish speaking communities. The Kala Art Institute, Golden Gate Library and Sue Mark shifted to a virtual model where neighbors shared stories and community history for the collective memory bank in “Commons Archive.”

To address the pandemic’s ongoing impacts, we made shifts in our grantmaking programs. We increased funding and reduced grant restrictions for our project grants, and added early-stage development funding to the production grants we’ve historically offered for public art projects. We also hosted virtual discussions to create a space for peer learning and exchange for practitioners working in the public realm.


Reflections On Leadership

Z Space, one of our New Models Cohort organizations, announced its new distributed leadership model along with a milestone—the first openly transgender executive director in American theater, Shafer Mazow. Diversity in arts leadership is important, especially at Z Space, which is in San Francisco’s Mission District and home to many theater and dance companies, individual artists and independent producers. Z Space’s milestone shows what’s possible when organizations are supported to move beyond traditional models and embrace diversity. Shafer reflected on what this new position means and how he is approaching leadership. Continue reading >

Photo credit: Carson French

Oakland Theater Project’s “sAiNt jOaN, (burn/burn/burn)” was a contemporary re-imagining of the Joan of Arc story seen through the lens of teenage girls in Oakland.

Advancing Equity In Our Strategies

In early 2021, we commissioned Vogl Consulting in collaboration with four Bay Area Arts funders to examine local and national pandemic relief funding. We sought to understand its impact on individual artists and small to mid-size arts organizations, with a focus on racial equity. The report illuminated pronounced disparities impacting the region’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and organizations. It also highlighted the decline of critical supports and the urgent need for additional resources. These findings inspired our relaunch of the East Bay Arts Relief Fund in November, in partnership with the Walter & Elise Haas Fund and Hellman Foundation. Administered by the Center for Cultural Innovation, this pooled fund distributed more than $380,000 to support the East Bay’s diverse and vitally important cultural communities. Grants were awarded to 223 artists and cultural workers in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Leandro, Hayward and Alameda.

We complemented those efforts by engaging field experts to assess our Arts program strategies using an equity lens. Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project helped us pilot a demographic survey and evaluated accessibility and equity in our NEW Program design. The Cultural Strategies Council examined how our strategic partnerships and grantmaking can advance equity in the Bay Area arts ecosystem. These efforts will help shape subsequent phases of our work in the coming year.

“There is a dearth of work that puts disability in a political lens, and that’s what you need to start seeing disability as a political identity of marginalized people.”

Reid Davenport, filmmaker as quoted by KQED

Photos courtesy of the filmmakers / SFFILM

2021 SFFILM Rainin Grant recipients.

Altering Perspectives Through New Narratives

Artists reveal a multitude of stories and possibilities for social change, which alter our perspectives. The SFFILM Rainin Grants supported 20 projects in various stages of screenwriting and development, including two films that center the disability community. Filmed from his wheelchair in Oakland, Reid Davenport connects the antiquated spectacle of the freak show with his own life in “I Didn’t See You There,” which won Sundance’s US Documentary Directing Award. In “Untitled Dwarfism Project,” director Julie Wyman confronts her own complicated diagnosis of dwarfism. She excavates the promise and peril of an emerging drug intended to make Little People taller—and no longer themselves.

Oakland-based Center for Cultural Power is driving change by elevating the power of art and culture to shape new ideas and behavior locally and nationally. This women of color, artist-led organization is at the forefront of narrative change work at the intersection of art, social justice and the climate crisis.

Art helps us imagine the world in a different way, and it can also illuminate what is not so easily seen. In doing so, art can help us imagine solutions to move forward.” 

Favianna Rodriguez, Co-founder and President, Center For Cultural Power, as quoted in Grist.


Open Spaces Program

Video credit: Jamie DeWolf

“Of Here From There” was a collaboration between Creativity Explored and lead artist Ana Teresa Fernández. This project, supported by an Open Spaces Program grant, engaged nearly 50 artists with developmental disabilities to explore ideas of movement and migration.

Building Community Wealth And Power

Our investments in reimagining economic and organizational support systems are aimed at addressing historical inequities and systemic racism to help all artists thrive. In March, Grantmakers in the Arts released “Solidarity, Not Charity,” which we funded with the William and Flora Hewlett and Barr Foundations. It highlights how arts funders can transform the sector by investing in the alternative economy leadership of BIPOC, disabled, queer, trans and working class creatives. Our portfolio includes an array of initiatives that demonstrate creatives’ changemaking power.

AmbitioUS, a national initiative led by the Center for Cultural Innovation, counters exploitative systems by supporting a growing hub of new economic models. They have prioritized work led by Black and Native American communities, including trailblazing organizations like Oakland-based RUNWAY and the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Two other trailblazers, BlacSpace Cooperative and East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, collaborated to acquire Esther’s Orbit Room in 2021 through a direct public offering. This project is part of a community vision to rebuild a thriving Black economic and cultural hub on West Oakland’s Seventh Street.

The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), which we seeded in 2013 and continue to support, has expanded its work to keep artists and creatives rooted in their communities. In collaboration with other cultural leaders, CAST partnered with the City of Oakland on a constellation of real estate ventures that aims to preserve affordable arts spaces and the city’s Black culture. One project with the Black Cultural Zone Collaborative would provide affordable housing and creative and commercial space at Oakland’s Liberation Park. These and other long-term initiatives exemplify our focus on equity and collaboration.


Open Spaces Program

Video credit: Jamie DeWolf

KULARTS’ “Lakbai Diwa: Diasporic Spirit,” was a multi-disciplinary project that sought to bring visibility and collective cultural healing to the Pilipinx community. Alleluia Panis, the lead artist and Artistic Director, shared reflections on creating this sacred and meaningful project during the pandemic.

Visionary Art:
2021 Grantees

The Rainin Foundation invested over $5.8 million in 2021 for Bay Area arts.

Our grantmaking champions artistic risk-taking and highlights important issues facing our society and communities.

Note: Grantmaking amount includes $3.1 million of multi-year grants committed in a prior year. Financials are subject to audit verification.

Supporting Artists That Push Boundaries


Provides project support to small and mid-size dance, theater and multidisciplinary arts organizations that enable Bay Area artists to produce timely, visionary projects. Learn about the 2021 NEW Program grantees.

Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center

Authentic Arts and Media

Bay Area Theatre Cypher



Cutting Ball Theater

Dancing Earth Creations

Diamond Wave

Dohee Lee Puri Arts

Duniya Dance and Drum Company

Epiphany Dance

Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project

Grown Women Dance Collective

Inkboat Inc.

Kaimera Productions

Marin Shakespeare Company

Megan Lowe Dances

Mosaic America (Formerly Sangam Arts)



Paul Dresher Ensemble

Presidio Theatre

PUSH Dance Company

SEW Productions, Inc. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre

Shipyard Trust for the Arts

Snowflake Calvert

Stephanie Hewett

The Lab SF

Oakland Theater Project

Yerba Buena Arts & Events


Supports nonprofit organizations to partner with artists to create temporary, place-based public art projects in San Francisco and Oakland. Recognizing that it would not be feasible for applicants to meet requirements and plan large-scale public art projects, we paused our 2020 grants cycle and did not announce grantees in 2021. The Open Spaces Program re-opened for the 2022 grants cycle.

Changing Systems Together


An invitation only grant that offers support for projects that will impact conditions for working artists to help them thrive. Learn more about the 2021 Opportunity Fund recipients.

Californians for the Arts

The Center for Cultural Innovation

Center for Cultural Power

Community Vision Capital & Consulting

Kathleen Hermesdorf FRESH Festival 2022

Northern California Grantmakers

Oakland Film Center


PUSH Dance Company

Tides Foundation

Vital Arts


This discretionary fund supports exceptional and emerging opportunities that will have an outsized impact and move us closer toward our vision of all Oakland children reading at or above grade level, no one suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Bay Area artists thriving.


The Center for Cultural Innovation

Tides Foundation

Roxie Theater / Bay Area Media Maker Summit

Bay Area Video Coalition / Oakland Film Center

Explore the Foundation’s website to learn more about our Arts program and meet our staff and Board members.