Sydney Chatman and Congo Square Theatre Company were announced as recipients of the Joyce Foundation’s 2021 Joyce Awards. Since 2003, the Joyce Awards have supported the creation of new work by emerging and mid-career artists of color to foster more culturally vibrant, equitable, and sustainable communities. The Joyce Foundation is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region. The foundation supports policy research, development, and advocacy in five areas: Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, Democracy, and Culture. The $75,000 grant will support Sydney Chatman’s new theatrical work as part of Congo Square Theatre’s August Wilson New Play Initiative.
“My vision for the creation of this work is to uplift and amplify survivors in the creative healing and liberation process focused on forging a new narrative instigated by the atrocities of state-sanctioned violence,” said Sydney Chatman. “I believe in theater’s unique ability to shine light on the injustices of our world, as well as its capacity to bring joy— this process seeks to center the voices of the Black women and girls whose stories have too long gone unheard.”
Beginning in July 2021 and spanning 18 months, Congo Square will serve as Chatman’s artistic home, providing access to ensemble member mentorship and dramaturgical and developmental support for Untitled, a new community-based healing theatrical work exploring the journey of healing from intercommunal and state-sanctioned violence. With the help of a licensed therapist, Chatman will develop and devise a new play in collaboration with an intergenerational group of Black women and girls through a healing and liberation circle. The project will culminate in a staged reading of the play and work will then continue towards a world premiere for a larger public audience at a later date.
Congo Square has risen to become one of the most well respected African American theatres in the nation. Previously mentored by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, Congo Square would go on to cultivate talents such as playwright Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), who penned the 2006 Jeff nominated play Deep Azure, and playwright Lydia Diamond, who penned the massively successful Stick Fly, a critically acclaimed play that explores race, class, and familial friction. Stick Fly ultimately ran on Broadway and is currently being developed into a full-length series for HBO with Alicia Keys serving as a producer. Congo Square also produced the widely praised Seven Guitars, which would eventually go on to win top honors for best ensemble, best direction, and best production at the 2005 Joseph Jefferson Awards. This would earn the theatre company the distinction of being the first African American theatre company to receive such an honor.
Congo Square’s Educational Programs bring the impact of theater to young audiences. Its two outreach programs, CORE (Curriculum Objectives Residency Enrichment), and CAST (Congo after School Theatre), present and teach theater arts by providing classroom and after-school residencies that provide Teaching Artists to build upon already established Chicago Public Schools literature and art curriculums. CORE and CAST impact students and schools located in the Bronzeville, Auburn, Gresham, Douglas, and Woodlawn neighborhoods.
“Congo Square is thrilled to be partnering with Sydney for this incredible and timely work. Our heart truly is and has always been that we would be a haven for artists of color and continue to be an anchor and a home for Black voices,” said Congo Square’s Executive Director Charlique C. Rolle. “Sydney’s commission will be a part of our August Wilson New Play Initiative. Since its inception, the August Wilson New Play Initiative has produced new works like Stick Fly by Lydia Diamond, which went to Broadway and is currently being developed for HBO, Deep Azure by Chadwick Boseman, and the most recent entries: Ensemble Member Kelvin Roston’s Twisted Melodies; Lekethia Dalcoe’s A Small Oak Tree Runs Red, directed by Harry J. Lennix; and Darren Canady’s Brothers of the Dust, which won the American Theatre Critics Association’s Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award in 2012. We are immensely excited to add Sydney Chatman to this list of emerging playwrights, to support her in her development process, and to elevate her voice and work in the theatrical canon as a vehicle for advocacy and healing within our communities.”
The only regional program dedicated to supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities, the Joyce Foundation has awarded more than $3.7 million to the development of 72 new works of visual, performing, and multidisciplinary art presented in collaboration with arts and community organizations in the Great Lakes region. While the foundation’s grant making has a regional focus, its work has national impact, demonstrating the capacity of the arts to inspire and mobilize social change.
“The Joyce Awards are a recognition of the important contributions of artists of color to the cultural fabric of the Great Lakes region. The disparities both brought into sharper focus and exacerbated by the pandemic and the racial reckoning have made this work all the more imperative,” said Joyce Foundation President Ellen Alberding. “The Joyce Awards invests in these artists so that they can continue to make a lasting impact in their communities.”
“Since their inception, the Joyce Awards have championed BIPOC artistic creation for emerging and mid-career artists working in the Great Lakes region, celebrating diverse artistic talents and catalyzing new opportunities for community dialogue and connection,” said Mia Khimm, Culture Program Director. “This year’s commissions speak to the power of collective healing and transformation through art, centering underrepresented voices and narratives, while addressing themes of identity, history, and nature.”
The Joyce Awards has helped advance the careers of emerging and mid-career BIPOC artists working across disciplines. Past recipients include Bill T. Jones, Kaneza Schaal, Nick Cave, Theaster Gates, Seitu Jones, Julie Mehretu, Kyle Abraham, Aparna Ramaswamy, Rosy Simas, Nari Ward, Sanford Biggers, and Camille A. Brown.
The Joyce Foundation will host a virtual panel featuring all four-artist awardees on Thursday, June 10 at 4 p.m. CT. The artists will come together for the first time to discuss their projects and the awards’ impact. Heinz Endowments Arts and Culture Program Officer Shaunda McDill will moderate the conversation. Register for the conversation and learn more here.
The application process for the 2022 Joyce Awards will open on June 1, 2021, with letters of inquiry due September 13, 2021. Potential applicants can learn more and apply by visiting the Joyce Foundation web site here, or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a Technical Assistance Information Session on Wednesday, August 4, 2021 at noon CST that will offer guidance on the application process.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on Twitter @DanieSanders20.