Arts & entertainment

Music Advancement Fund addresses cultural needs

Annual program awards $75,000 to 11 projects


Music does much more than entertain and affect the emotion of listeners — as an industry, a vibrant music scene can positively affect the economy of a city, and as a form of creative expression, it can inspire and drive social change.

By embracing the power of music in all its forms, the Denver Music Advancement Fund grants program — provided by Denver Arts & Venues, Illegal Pete’s and Take Note Colorado — aims to make Denver a more dynamic, welcoming and just city. And given all the challenges 2020 presented, music’s power was more needed than ever.

“One way we look at arts and culture as an agency is as a tool to support thriving communities and create social change,” said Tariana Navas-Nieves, director of Cultural Affairs with Denver Arts & Venues. “For 2020 we did not change the purpose of the fund, but everything that was happening became a key driver to the work we are doing as agency and the organizations we wanted to support.”

Since its launch in 2018, the Denver Music Advancement Fund has provided $275,000 to projects, and in 2020, 11 projects received $75,000. The organizations that received the funds are Su Teatro, Japanese Arts Network, Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, Youth on Record, Creative Strategies for Change, Titwrench Collective, Levitt Pavilion, Soundscape Collective, Music Minds Matter, New Cottage Arts and Vocal Coalition.

“We look very intentionally at what areas we want support and that’s what leads to the great diversity of projects we work with,” Navas-Nieves said. “There has always been a big need, but this year we saw a big shift in the type of projects - we’re supporting projects on mental health, challenges brought on by the pandemic and a lot addressing social justice and racial equity.”

The Japanese Arts Network, which is an organization that provides resources and connections for Japanese artists in America, received funds that will go to providing work opportunities for musicians, sound design artists/producers and voice actors as part of the “ZOTTO” multimedia project. According to Courtney Ozaki, creative producer and founder of the network, the project is influenced by Denver’s own history, with a focus on towards social justice and community issues that parallel those faced today.

“This grant support was essential in helping us to provide work opportunities for artists who otherwise saw their income significantly depleted due to the nature of COVID-19 and the inability to participate in live performances,” Ozaki wrote in an email interview. “It also allowed us to share important and timely stories from Denver’s history to a broad spectrum of audience members, and to do so while integrating aspects of Japanese culture creatively into the framework of the production.”

For Music Minds Matter, which is an organization dedicated to providing mental health and wellness to members of the musical community, the grant is an opportunity to teach more people about Mental Health First Aid. Co-founders Spencer Townshend Hughes and Angela Rose Whaley are both Mental Health First Aid instructors thanks to a previous Denver Music Advancement Fund grant, and this year’s funds will go toward more instruction on this helpful resource.

“With the pandemic, mental health professionals have been completely overwhelmed, but anyone who is certified in Mental Health First Aid can help someone who is experiencing mental illness,” Hughes said. “We think of those who are certified like lifeguards — they can help save a life and call for deeper support. We believe if we certify as many in the music community as possible, they can be a front line for mental health professionals.”

Looking ahead to an uncertain 2021, the work being done by the 11 recipients and countless other community organizations will be incalculably important — not only for those they work with, but to let the community at large know where work still needs to be done.

“It’s incredible to see the strength of these communities and how so many are creating without losing hope,” Navas-Nieves said. “As we look ahead, we’re as committed to our communities and city as we have always been. We believe arts and culture play a key role in healing and how we move forward, and those foundational values have not changed.”


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