February 6, 2023 Community Stories
New award to honor BIPOC artists in Western Massachusetts
ValleyCreates announces the launch of the ‘Kent Alexander Radical Imagination Award’ and names first recipient.
ValleyCreates recently honored actor, director, playwright, and artivist, Trenda Loftin as the first recipient of the $5,000 Kent Alexander Radical Imagination Award.
Loftin was honored at an event held at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke in October 2022.
Accepting the award, she said, “It’s such a deep, deep honor to be the first recipient of this award.”
She explained how she first met Alexander in 2017 when they had both signed up to perform in a play called After Orlando, a response to the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL. “And I remember that feeling, being so grounded, and powerful, and angry, and sad, and committed. Which is part of how I remember Kent; being so powerful and angry; righteously so, and focused.”
Program Officer Nicole Bourdon explained that the award was inspired by the work of the late thespian, cultural advisor, and activist, Kent Alexander.
She said, “He was a visionary and contributed a lot to creating ValleyCreates. A big part of how ValleyCreates is structured is due to his vision and the vision of the community advisors. And he did so much work throughout the Valley around DEI and so much work on his own, mentoring and supporting local BIPOC artists. We wanted to honor that.”
In real life, as on stage, Alexander played many roles and was a pivotal figure in helping to reshape the creative landscape in Western Massachusetts. He is most well known for his work to create space for cultural inclusion and anti-racism including his work as a Community Advisor focusing on DEI for the Community Foundation of Western MA, a Northampton Arts Council board member, and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant for the ArtsHub of Western MA.
He died in February 2022 after a brief battle with cancer. So dedicated was he to his work, that he attended some of his last meetings from his hospital bed.
Why Radical Imagination?
ValleyCreates Advisor, Matthew Glassman explained, “Whilst Kent was an activist, an advocate, and a facilitator around diversity, equity, and inclusion, first and foremost, he was an artist, a playwright, an actor, and a dancer. And he believed in the power of the imagination to be the most profound method of effecting social change… This is really an award for an artist who embodies the intersectional work that Kent did as an artist and community leader.”
“It is so important, never to forget the imagination in all of this. The role of the artist is to deepen and develop the way we see possibility, the way we experience the world around us, the way we create opportunities for healing and for celebration, and for dreaming. So imagination is the key component to this and it’s so easy to lose that in the sort of technocratic world we live in.”
ValleyCreates, an initiative of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, supports artists and arts organizations, in the region through grant support, cohort learning, 1:1 coaching, and project-oriented professional development.
The vision is to create an even more vibrant arts and creativity sector that is interconnected and collaborative and to actively engage the full and diverse community with programs and opportunities for artistic expression.
In recognition of the inequalities that currently exist across the sector, ValleyCreates has placed emphasis on supporting BIPOC artists. Over the span of the program, within any individual funding cycle, approximately 70 percent of the artist roster have been individuals from ethnically underrepresented backgrounds.
Since the onset of COVID-19, ValleyCreates has increased its support of individual artists in addition to the institutional support it provides nonprofits in the arts and culture sector.
The Kent Alexander Radical Imagination Award will add to this work by recognizing phenomenal BIPOC artists living or working in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties whose community involvement and engagement demonstrate the values and vision exemplified by Kent’s lived experience.
More About the Award Recipient
Trenda Loftin is involved in a number of initiatives in the arts and in her community that are centered around social justice, inclusion, and equity.
Loftin serves as WAM Threatre’s BIPOC Staff Advocate. She is the founder of Willow Permanent Real Estate Cooperative whose mission is to “increase access to the affordable co-ownership of homes and commercial spaces.” She is a worker-owner of The Compost Co-operative Inc. She also works as a realtor and her belief is that safe, secure, and affordable housing is a right, not a privilege.
Her theater credits include Campus Unrest, Voices Carry, and Breastless. She also acted in the short film Gale & the Fish (2016).
Her play, When the System Swallows You and an accompanying workshop toured Franklin County Jail, The Western Massachusetts Regional Correctional Center, and Voices from Inside.
The ValleyCreates advisors agreed that Loftin embodies the values Alexander stood for and brings energy and valuable insights to her work as a trainer, a level of excellence to her practice as an artist, and an inspiring commitment to the common good.