ABOUT: Childrens Theatre Foundation of America

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For over half of the entire history of TYA in the USA, The Childrens Theatre Foundation of America has been a force providing support to organizations large and small; to individual artists, emerging and established; bestowing awards on established artists recognizing a lifetime of service, and to new artists and organizations leading the field into its future.

CTFA was founded in 1958 by a group of practicing artists, playwrights, producers, administrators, academics, and publishers who were deeply concerned that there was not a single grant program or foundation that focused on providing support to Theatre for Youth. The founders began by digging into their own pockets, forming the basis of our endowment. These funds were augmented by fundraising efforts and by legacy gifts which helped to establish our several of current grant and award programs.

We are and have always been a small foundation with a volunteer board of trustees and no staff. For most of our existence CTFA has been something of a family affair driven by the energy of an extended family of artists, administrators, educators and advocates who share a commitment to excellence in theatre for young people and a deep desire to support the artists and organizations who do this work. Our grant programs have been guided by our mission and values and informed by the dictates of donors.

In 2016, we began to take a hard look at the state of the field of Theatre for Youth in terms of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and realized that there was a serious disconnect between the audiences we were serving, and the plays being created and produced, the administrative structures of many of the mainstream theatres, and even our own Board.

We began a series of diversity and anti-racism training experiences and made the momentous decision to focus our grant programs, award selections and partnership programs on “dismantling structural and organizational racism” in the field of TYA in America. We felt this to be both a social and an artistic mandate.

The audiences we welcome to our theatres, particularly when school groups are involved, reflect the diversity of race, gender, economic status and sexual orientation in each community served by that organization. Theatre, whether it is viewed by young people or created by them has the ability to shape perceptions and attitudes through the power of identification and empathy.

Our field of Theatre for Youth is in a unique position to dismantle racism in the stories we tell, the representation of people on stage, and in the discussions that occur before, during and after any performance.

As a result of this bold action by the Board, many things changed. We overhauled our grant making procedures, soliciting applications that directly addressed issues of racial equity. We also created a direct link between our stated values of equity, diversity and inclusion and the grant criteria and mechanism for application evaluation and selection. We diversified our Board , tripling the number of Board members of color in just three years. We also sought out and recognized a number of smaller, less well-known companies and artists in our Medallion Award selections and provided provocative and passionate keynote speakers of color at conferences and national conventions of the TYA service organizations.

But these are just first steps in addressing the larger issues which face us as a field and society. We have just begun to truly “walk what we talk.

We look forward the prospect of changing lives one grant, one award, one partnership and one child at a time.

—Suzan Zeder, Board President of Childrens Theatre Foundation of America