Loft Literary Center wins major grant for its spoken word program

The Surdna Foundation of New York has awarded a $150,000 grant to The Loft Literary Center to support and expand its spoken word programming.

For a decade the Loft has been staging Equilibrium (or EQ) – a spoken word performance series – to showcase local and national artists of color, as well as indigenous artists.

EQ founder Bao Phi says the Surdna grant is important both for the Loft and for spoken word in general.

Multi year grants are hard to get. This is our tenth year and for the last two years funding has been difficult to find. To the Loft’s credit it has kept the program running, paying for it with general operating funds.

Spoken word has always been marginalized, and also difficult for people to categorize. So as a result it’s hard to seek out funding – do you apply for a theater grant? Or a literature grant? For us to get this grant and recognition is a big deal, because spoken word is largely still a marginalized art form.

Phi says that EQ pays decent wages for artists, sound technicians, and other talent, but also believes in being accessible to low-income audiences, so tickets are only $3 -$5. That means it needs outside funding to stay alive and healthy.

Phi, an accomplished poet in his own right, has been actively involved in community organizing since he was a teenager, and the series reflects that commitment. A recent performance looked at indigenous land rights, pairing a Native Hawaiian artist with a Palestinian performer.

In addition to supporting the Equilibrium program, the Surdna grant will also fund spoken word immersion fellowships, in which six to eight artists of color or indigenous descent complete self-designed projects that help them better understand the communities and issues that inform their work.

According to the Loft, the hope is that these efforts will increase exposure and conversation around the art of spoken word, and lead toward broader acceptance of spoken word as a literary genre.

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