Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning receives largest foundation grant in institution’s history for programs, projects

The Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL) has been named the recipient of a two-year, $600,000 capacity-building grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities.

The grant, which will sustain and increase programming at the southeast Queens cultural institution through restored staff positions and intensifying JCAL’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, was announced in December, coming at the end of JCAL’s 50th anniversary year. 

“The Mellon Foundation recognizes that JCAL is at a pivotal moment in its organizational life,” said Leonard Jacobs, JCAL executive director. “This grant—the largest from a foundation in our 50-year history—enables a future-focused vision of arts and culture in service to our community.

Through the grant, JCAL will embark on a series of interrelated projects. 

For example, through selected new hires and short-term contractors, the organization will broaden its fundraising ability, setting it on a path toward fiscal sustainability. Simultaneously, JCAL will transform its pilot program, Building Equity for BIIPOC (Black, Immigrant, Indigenous, People of Color) Artists, into a unifying frame and philosophy that will guide and inform its programmatic choices.

JCAL Artistic Director Courtney Ffrench said the grant is a “remarkable and inspiring investment” in the community and the people of Queens. 

“The incredible grant validates our Building Equity for BIIPOC Artists program, which we began to implement in 2020—exactly as COVID began. Our values are not to speak the words of diversity, equity and inclusion, but to practice and illustrate their meaning in every program we run, from arts education to the visual and performing arts,” Ffrench said. 

Since the ascent of new leadership at JCAL in 2022, JCAL has revitalized support from foundations that support arts and culture, particularly in communities of color. Staff hires will facilitate more corporate giving and sponsorships; foster robust individual giving through its new membership program; and drive an inclusion-focused expansion of its Board of Directors.

Acknowledging the immense multilingual population of southeast Queens, JCAL will contract translators in four languages for all its marketing and communication materials, and will update both signage and wayfinding at its Jamaica Arts Center headquarters and Jamaica Performing Arts Center. A two-year marketing campaign will be launched as well. Major support for needed roles, such as a new director of program operations and a full-time visual arts program associate, are included in the scope of The Mellon Foundation’s grant.

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