The “DIVAs” may sound like the name of a band or a reality TV show. In fact, it’s a 14-year-old giving circle comprised of about a dozen Montgomery County women who pool their funds and invest in groups that provide life-changing arts experiences to disadvantaged and at-promise youth. “Donors InVesting in the Arts,” or “DIVAs,” is one of the many giving circles managed by the Greater Washington Community Foundation.
Each year the group, which includes a number of artists and community leaders, focuses its grantmaking on how to use the arts to empower kids and youth. This year’s focus was using the arts to reflect on our democracy and promote civic engagement, “a topic that is always important and relevant, especially at this moment in time,” said DIVAs member Esther Newman, CEO Emeritus and Founder of Leadership Montgomery.
Anna Hargrave, executive director of The Community Foundation’s local office in Montgomery County, agrees:
“Residents of our region are hungry for ways to connect with causes and organizations that are meaningful to them and that have an impact,” she said. “By helping young people develop a voice and shape our democracy now and into the future, the DIVAs are making an investment in the leaders of tomorrow.”
Newman credits Hargrave with introducing the group to arts organizations with a strong track record. “Anna’s experience and knowledge of Montgomery County-based organizations and her facilitation of our meetings has been invaluable,” said Newman. “With her help, we know our money is being wisely spent.”
This year, the group made grants to two groups: Young Artists of America (YAA) at Strathmore for its “Hear the People Sing!” social media initiative and Gandhi Brigade, a youth media organization which uses multimedia as tools to promote community building, multicultural understanding and the common good.
YAA provides professional level music theatre training and performance opportunities to the region’s most talented middle and high school instrumentalists and vocalists, resulting in fully-orchestrated works of music-theatre in high-profile venues. As a follow up to last year’s popular performance of “Ragtime,” this spring, YAA will present “Les Misérables,” based on Victor Hugo’s book and featuring YAA’s 60-piece youth symphonic orchestra.
Young Artists of America at Strathmore (YAA) and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras (MCYO) present RAGTIME: In Concert on April 15, 2018 at the Music Center at Strathmore, North Bethesda, MD.
Titled after one of the most rousing songs in the Les Mis score, YAA’s “Hear the People Sing!” initiative challenges students to make connections between the social challenges in Hugo’s time and those of today, such as class inequity and gender-based oppression. Performers, as well as invited student audience members from low- and moderate-income families, are encouraged to participate in social media journaling and post-rehearsal discussions to spark dialogue, extending and deepening the conversation to a larger audience.
“We want to make it cool for students to talk about these topics with their peers and get further involved in local issues,” YAA Executive Director Lisa Larragoite said. “Our vision is to help every student ‘take the stage,’ and by that we mean both the literal stage and the stage of life. Specifically, we want students to see how art can help individuals begin to consider social issues they may not directly face but which are important to society at large.”
“To get a grant from such a well-respected group as the DIVAs allows us to work with students on a deeper level and validates our work,” Larragoite added.
The DIVAs also made a grant to Gandhi Brigade Youth Media, a Silver Spring-based afterschool program that empowers young people to use multimedia tools to promote community building, multicultural understanding and the common good. The funding allows Gandhi Brigade to expand its free afterschool programs in which participants learn media skills, research and interview techniques and produce short films on timely topics. The program not only benefits participating students, but also the broader Montgomery County community by providing an outlet for youth to share their thoughts and perspectives with peers, neighbors and community leaders. Recent films have addressed such pressing issues as bullying, immigration reform, juvenile justice and police accountability.
Student filmmakers from the Gandhi Brigade Youth Media 2018 summer documentary program.
“Not only do young people need vehicles to talk about difficult issues, the larger community needs to hear what they have to say,” said Gandhi Brigade Executive Director Anna Danielson.
The opening of Gandhi Brigade’s new studio later this year will allow the organization to have more of a public face. In turn, the new editing space and screening room will provide opportunities for students to share their work more broadly, through community screenings of their videos, original podcasts and intergenerational activities with seniors. “The grant from the DIVAs is a real vote of confidence in our civic engagement work,” Danielson said.
To learn more about how The Community Foundation is enhancing community well-being by promoting philanthropy and civic engagement, supporting arts and culture, and advocating for equity, inclusion and justice, please contact Silvana Straw at email@example.com.