Trans, queer projects get boost with Leeway funding

Trans, queer projects get boost with Leeway funding

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The Leeway Foundation, a Philadelphia nonprofit supporting women and trans artists, recently awarded $47,500 to 22 local artists.

The recipients are the latest group of artists to receive Leeway’s Art and Change Grant, which is awarded twice a year, in the spring and again in the fall. 

According to Denise Beek, Leeway’s communications director, the Art and Change Grant is “a project-based grant up to $2,500 to women and trans artists who have an idea for a project that intersects with art, culture and social justice within 11 Social Change Intents.”

The Leeway Foundation was begun in 1993. Its original purpose was to support women artists working in the greater Philadelphia region. In 2007, the nonprofit broadened its mission in two significant ways. First, it placed a greater emphasis on social change; second, it began making its resources available to trans artists.

Leeway defines trans in the broadest possible sense, Beek explained. “We actually make a point to not say transgender, because we feel like the term trans should be an inclusive word to mean if you identify as transsexual or transgender or genderqueer or two-spirit people.”

The recipients of this spring’s Art and Change Grant are working in a wide range of disciplines, including music, performance and visual arts. Carman Spoto, a queer trans woman from Downingtown, will use her grant to make a feature-length film about queer and trans youth. And Alex Barrett and Kris Moore of University City will be working on a book about gender-nonconformity for youngsters, along with an accompanying curriculum guide for parents and teachers. 

A significant aspect of Leeway’s Art and Change Grant is what it refers to as Social Change Intents. All applicants are asked to select three from a list of 11 possibilities.

“What we mean by that is basically focuses, ranging from cultural preservation to environmental justice to displacement and immigration issues to transgender justice and gender self-determination,” Beek said.

Before this year, Beek noted, Leeway categorized LGBTQI social movements and transgender justice and gender self-determination under one rubric. This spring, however, it was agreed that they should be two separate Social Change Intents. 

That was partly due to Leeway’s longstanding recognition of the importance of gender self-determination. But it was also a response to societal threats to the trans community, from so-called bathroom bills to outright violence against trans women.

“We thought that was a very important change to make to the application,” said Beek, who pointed out that six current grantees selected transgender justice and gender self-determination.

Kayleb Rae Candrilli is one of them. Candrilli, whose preferred pronoun is they, is a trans, gender-nonconforming poet living and working in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia.

“My poetry is pretty much directly in conversation with trans rights and trans joy,” they said when asked to describe their work. “So it’s what I do and it’s my personal politics.”

Candrilli applied for Leeway’s Art and Change Grant to work on a book of poems in dialogue with the paintings of Hernan Bas. They described Bas as a wonderful painter whose work celebrates queer bodies.

“I wanted to write an entire collection that was focused on the queer body and the trans body as one of joy,” Candrilli said. “I think too often trans people are reduced to their trauma, and I didn’t want to write that book.” 

The Art and Change Grant is a boon to Candrilli, giving them time to work on the book, a chance to visit a current Bas exhibit and a financial cushion as they look for a publisher. Overall, their experience with Leeway has been so good that they wholeheartedly recommend it to others.

“I would really like to encourage female-bodied and trans artists to apply to this, pretty much no matter what,” Candrilli said. “I think that writing about your work and applying to something, even if you don’t get it, teaches you a lot about who you are as an artist and what your intentions are.”

That’s timely advice. The deadline for Leeway’s fall Art and Change Grant is Aug. 1. Beek urges artists from Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs to give it a shot. 

There will even be an applicant-support session on July 19 at Historic Germantown, 5501 Germantown Ave. It is open to anyone, whether they’re in the process or filling out an application for the Art and Change Grant or still just considering the idea. It makes no difference, Beek said; Leeway staff will be there for advice, feedback and help.

“You do not need an appointment, you don’t need to necessarily say that you’re coming, you can just pop in, talk to somebody,” she said.

To learn more about the Leeway Foundation and the fall 2017 Art and Change Grant, visit

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