Final Round of Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions Completes $8 Million Initiative Funding Major New Works in Bay Area Communities

(Menlo Park, Calif. – October 25, 2022) — The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced today the final 10 recipients of its Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions. This year’s commissions, in Media Arts, will support leading artists in partnership with an array of Bay Area cultural institutions and nonprofit organizations. The commissioned artists will develop major new works that incorporate elements of many artistic disciplines, including dance, music, and theater, with cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, genetic engineering, and robotics.

Created in honor of the Hewlett Foundation’s 50th anniversary, the five-year, $8 million Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions are a symbol of the foundation’s commitment to artistic expression and public engagement with the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the announcement of these final 10 grants, the full cohort of 50 world-class artists working in partnership with Bay Area nonprofit organizations is now complete. Previous recipients of the awards include luminaries such as composer Meredith Monk, multimedia artist DJ Spooky, and vocalist The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol, who created works commissioned by Mills College, Internet Archive, and Art + Soul Oakland, respectively.

Commissioned artists receive funding to achieve their creative vision in partnership with the local nonprofits. Many of the works from earlier rounds have already premiered, while others will debut in the coming months and years, with Bay Area audiences being the first to see important new works in the performing arts premiered in their communities.

“These new commissions in Media Arts celebrate a group of outstanding artists who are merging longstanding storytelling and performing arts traditions with emerging technologies to create art that is fresh, contemplative, and spirited,” said Emiko Ono, director of Hewlett’s Performing Arts Program. “We’re honored to support these exciting projects that weave together the performing arts and technology and will deeply resonate with Bay Area communities.”

This year’s Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, selected from more than 100 applications through a process administered for the foundation by Creative Capital, will premiere over the next three years at a range of Bay Area cultural centers and institutions.

“Working with new technology is the only way of nearly ensuring that art is not duplicative,” said Ben Levine, the lead artist working with AXIS Dance Company on “Kinematic/ Kinesthetic.” “The project aims to use disability robotics, a young and burgeoning field, to create new movement opportunities not possible without technological assistance. And while there are dozens of emergent technologies currently in development to assist people with disabilities, the medical field focuses on improving everyday function and emulating familiar movement. The artistic lens of this project will abandon these parameters and embrace unfamiliar or ‘un-human’ movement. While much of my past work has allowed me to tinker with hobbyist electronics, the resources provided by the Hewlett 50 grant will be instrumental to take my work to the next level. The grant will also enable me to grow my relationship with AXIS and to join forces with their incredible company of artists.” 

The lead artists for this year’s projects are: Jen Liu, who will combine augmented reality, web interfaces, choreography, sculptural props and costumes, and audio to tell stories of people whose lives have been made invisible; Ben Levine, who will create dance work incorporating disability robotics; anthropologist Heesoo Kwon, who will imagine a space for our past and present to converge, creating a community process with shamanistic ritual elements to heal from generational traumas; Skawennati, who will help bridge traditional First Nations food and dress culture across borders; Stephanie Dinkins, who will honor and care for often overlooked histories by archiving them within living trees for future extraction and sharing; Eve Sussman and Simon Lee, who will use livestreamed performances to examine how human nature changes not at the pace of technological advancement, but at the rate of human emotion; Susana Ruiz and Huy Truong, who will invoke the last Chinatown in Santa Cruz, Calif. through site-specific augmented reality performances and memorials; Trimpin, who will explore the interplay between humans and machines through choreography and music set on an ensemble of human and autonomous dancers and cellists; Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who will explore multimedia hybrid performance and live film investigating xenotransplantation; and Cristóbal Martinez and Kade L. Twist, who will use generative music performance and instruments that use video game mechanics to explore relationships between land, community, and worldview.

This year’s commissioning organizations are: / (pronounced slash), AXIS Dance Company, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, Gray Area, Institute of Contemporary Art San José, Long Now Foundation, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Other Minds, The Exploratorium, and Leonardo/ISAST.

Previous rounds of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions supported the creation and premiere of new works in the disciplines of music composition, dance, theater, and folk and traditional arts.

More information about this year’s commissions and presenting organizations is below and information about all 50 commissions can be found on the Hewlett Foundation website.