The performing arts sector was among the hardest hit by Covid-19. While federal grants and aid for creatives immediately began popping up, one D.C. organization focused its efforts on helping performing artists in its own neighborhood.
Enter: Emergent Seed.
The grantmaking organization was founded to help alleviate some of the financial burden placed on performing artists due to the nationwide Covid shutdowns.
It’s no accident its name sounds like “emergency.” Founder Adrianna Smith says the organization’s alias holds double meaning: It’s both a nod to the pandemic emergency and symbolizes the organization’s mission to support emerging artists through seed funding.
Emergent Seed grants range from $150 to $500. The $500 winners also receive a recording session in a professional music studio and are paired up with an expert in their field for a one-month mentorship. The organization also commits to staying engaged with the winners post-mentorship by helping them earn additional revenue and recognition for their work.
To apply, an artist’s work must fall under one of Emergent Seed’s four creative categories and nine sub-categories. They must also meet the following criteria: reside in the D.C. metro area, be 18 years or older and classify as an emerging artist. To apply for the $500 grant, their submitted piece must be unpublished and not produced (for the $150 grant, the piece can already be published and produced). Applicants must submit original work and a five minute video.
Smith says she remembers the moment the idea for Emergent Seed was planted in her mind back in March 2020. During a conversation with her father, who is also extremely involved in the local arts scene, the two brainstormed ways to support local artists.
“When Covid hit, I couldn’t stop thinking about how debilitated the performing arts sector was,” she says.
Only a month after her initial idea, Smith’s vision was fully realized.
The founder says her past experience running open mics around the city was a huge reason why she got the organization up and running so quickly. Since its first round of grants in July 2020, Emergent Seed has given out more than $20,000 to D.C. performing artists.
One of Emergent Seed’s latest winners is Anthony (Tony) Ricardo Keith Jr., PhD, a self-titled educational emcee who specializes in spoken word and hip-hop educational leadership. The spoken word poet coined the ed emcee title while conducting research for his dissertation, which focuses on how spoken word poetry functions in hip-hop educational leaders’ lives — and how they can engage Black and brown youth.
Keith says the real boons from his $500 grant was the opportunity to record his poetry in a professional music studio. And the affirmation his creative work is valid and important.
“I’m glad we’re in a moment when so many of us [spoken-word artists and poets] are winning awards and grants,” he says. “We’re finally being recognized for our work. Emergent Seed is affirming the fact that we are worthy, we are emerging.”
Keith was one of Emergent Seed’s winners to perform at the winning artists’ showcase on October 24, held at the rooftop bar/venue Wild Days. The event premiered original music and spoken word by Emergent Seed artists, complete with a jam session and open mic. Smith says about 200 people joined over the course of the evening — a testament to Emergent Seed’s mission of building a creative community.
Emergent Seed also helped propel Neffy, NPR’s 2021 Tiny Desk Contest winner. She says the up-and-coming artist’s first-ever grant came from Emergent Seed, which gave her the confidence to apply for additional funding and eventually submit her work to the Tiny Desk Contest.
“I celebrate her win as a win for the region,” Smith says.
Although Emergent Seed has not announced another grant cycle, in short term, they are putting on in-person performances and adapting to the needs of D.C.’s creative scene. In the long-term, its goal remains the same: to help foster a catalog of local creatives and build a community based on a common passion for the arts.
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