The Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists

about us

Greater New Haven has long boasted an abundance of gifted artists, but too few of them have received the financial support to help them soar. The Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists (The Bitsie Fund) seeks to change this. The Bitsie Fund will nourish Greater New Haven’s rich arts community by investing in its individual artists. The Fund will help artists realize a creative idea, advance a significant project, or enhance their artistic and/or professional goals in meaningful ways.


BITSIE’S STORY

Bitsie, who stands four foot eleven, has been described as seeming to be six foot six. Others simply say she is larger than life. What is clear to all who know her is Bitsie Clark is a powerhouse. Bitsie has been a giant in this region, especially during her two decades as the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. She was central to the launch of the Audubon Arts District and helped establish the arts as a driving economic force in Greater New Haven.

Many of Bitsie’s most meaningful actions at the Arts Council, however, stemmed from her everyday interactions with the constant stream of people who sought her advice. She gave counsel to individual artists, nurtured their talents and helped them achieve their dreams. The Bitsie Fund aims to do the same.

The Bitsie Fund was established by five women mentored by Bitsie. Four of them have joined Bitsie and several distinguished community members to form the governing Advisory Board, comprised of Bitsie, Mimsie Coleman, Kim Futrell, Robin Golden, Stacy Graham-Hunt, Betty Monz, John Motley and Maryann Ott. They are working in collaboration with The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, which manages the Fund.

The Bitsie Fund is being supported by contributions from individuals who have worked with Bitsie in building our dynamic cultural community, who benefited from those efforts, or simply appreciate how she has helped give vibrant life to our region.

Please consider contributing. Thank you!

Since its inception in 2018, The Bitsie Fund has awarded grants to four extraordinary artists.  You can meet them, as well as our extraordinary 2020 finalists, here.


MEET OUR 2020 WINNER, AARON JAFFERIS

The Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists is pleased to announce that Hip-Hop artist, poet and playwright Aaron Jafferis is the recipient of this year’s $5,000 grant.

The awardee’s name was revealed at a virtual Celebration of Bitsie and the Arts on October 30th, Bitsie’s 89th birthday. The pre-recorded event also included a re-visit with the 2019 awardees, Adam Matlock and Harold Shapiro; and an introduction of six extraordinary finalists: Allan Appell, Stephen Dest, Rebekah L. Fraser, Dana Elizabeth Fripp, Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson, and Martha Willette Lewis.

To view the 45-minute celebration, which is both playful and deeply moving, click Bitsie2020.com.

The grant will support Jafferis’ continued development of Smooth Criminal, a Hip-Hop play, which he says “are the art forms he grew up with”. Being the only white boy in his Hillhouse High School class, he learned Hip-Hop at the same time he learned theatre at the Educational Center for the Arts.

Jafferis poses this question regarding Smooth Criminal: “As a white dude, is it criminal, or simply smooth, for a white playwright to use a Black/Latinx-born art form to try to undo white supremacy?” After spending years, as he describes, “talking smack” about privileged white guys in his work, he investigates whether he may, in fact, be one.

While unearthing the history of the two sides of his family, Aaron is exploring their different relationships to race, class and money. “A hundred years ago, one great-grandfather was dying in prison after trying to murder the foreman who denied him work, while the other was running the country’s largest banking empire. Their ghosts mud-wrestle in my body,” he says, “blood-writing this play: about them, my family, me. This play’s been writing me all my life.”
Aaron Jafferis has toured his productions extensively across the US and Europe, many of them garnering awards. He has performed at the Kennedy Center and Madison Square Garden. His poetry has been performed by the esteemed dance company Urban Bush Women. He was also an Open Rap Slam Champion at the National Poetry Slam Championships.

What is more important is the focus of his work. With Collective Consciousness Theatre, Jafferis has worked with refugees from around the world to create the play, Stories of a New America, which is now touring. His collaboration with Chinese American composer Byron Au Yong explores Asian American resistance to American xenophobia. He is also passionately devoted to improving the futures of youth by fomenting their voice and leadership. He has taught at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, where he was a poet-in-residence; and in middle and high schools in Greater New Haven. He shares his belief that word-based poetry and Hip-Hop helped liberate and inspire him, and can do so for others.

To view the video, click Bitsie2020.com.



MEET OUR 2020 FINALISTS:

ALLAN APPEL, STEPHEN DEST, REBEKAH L. FRASER, DANA ELIZABETH FRIPP, DR. TIFFANY RENEE JACKSON, and MARTHA WILLETTE LEWIS

Allan Apell

ALLAN APELL, a playwright, journalist, poet and author of 14 books, is working on a theatrical production entitled “My Liberia,” set in the early 19th century when returning Blacks to Africa, specifically to Liberia, was a popular progressive idea. Allan’s script focuses on the life of William Lanson, a likely one-time slave later known as the “Governor” or “King” of the Negroes.

A self-taught engineer and entrepreneur, Lanson helped build and develop areas of New Haven, including Long Wharf Harbor and the Farmington Canal. He purchased land in the Wooster Square area where he built businesses and hotels, where he gave refuge to free and enslaved Blacks and poor whites. Lanson, however, later faced brutal racism, leading to tragedy, poverty and to his spending time in prison. He is only now receiving the recognition he deserves. In fall, 2020, he was memorialized in a sculpture in New Haven.

Stephen Dest

Filmmaker STEPHEN DEST , a highly acclaimed director who moved to New Haven after working for years in New York theater, is writing an adaptation to his award-winning documentary entitled “I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story.” (You can see on the poster the festivals that showcased this film).

“I Am Shakespeare,” produced by Stephen Dest with Henry Green as narrator and collaborator, tells the powerful story of a talented African/American boy who grew up in an environment of poverty, racism, gangs and guns but became a gifted young actor. Tragically, at age 19, Henry was shot on the streets and left for dead.

Thanks to multiple surgeries, Henry survived, devoting his next five years to mentoring youth and to working with Stephen on the film, which now screens in schools across the country. But another tragedy struck: Shortly after the film’s release, Henry died from complications from surgery. Stephen Dest intends to complete Henry’s story by focusing on his heroic last years.

Rebekah L. Fraser

Author, multi-media artist, community activist and ardent environmentalist, REBEKAH L. FRASER spent a decade as a journalist covering subjects including waste management and climate change. After publishing nearly 200 articles, a historical novel, and a non-fiction book about climate change mitigation through farming, she realized that her words “would be more impactful and reach a wider audience if presented in a more digestible form: fiction.”

Rebekah merged two of her passions—love stories and environmental justice—and started writing climate-smart romance novels under the pseudonym Tara L. Roi. Tara’s first book was published in February, 2020. Rebekah is now working on Tara’s trilogy of climate-smart romance novels, the first of which is set in New Haven. Her mission is to promote climate-smart living by showing readers the human side of environmental science.

Dana Fripp

DANA ELIZABETH FRIPP has been singing since she could sit up in a shopping carriage, entertaining whomever passed by. She sang in choirs when young, performed in college, then studied classical voice. Her 30-year professional career has been a whirlwind. She has sung opera and musical theatre in a variety of distinguished venues; was a founding member of The Elm City Vocal Choir of classically trained African/American vocalists. She was a teaching artist for incarcerated youth; has written plays for New Haven students; and even worked as a clown for years.

Now, for the first time, Dana is creating a scripted program for herself, designed to challenge historically defined character types. Entitled “Singing Against Type: Dana Elizabeth Fripp’s Forbidden Audition List,” her program will feature favorite operatic and musical theatre works, with a focus on roles that have historically been reserved for, as she describes, “singers of a different body type, age, ethnicity, gender and voice type.”

Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson

Dr. TIFFANY RENEE JACKSON was a girl born to a sharecropper’s daughter who dreamed of a better life for herself. And that is precisely what she created. Dr. Jackson’s love for music began with the spirituals and gospel hymns in the Black churches. After lessons at Neighborhood Music School and participation in local music programs, she later soared through prestigious music schools and academies, including receiving a Masters of Music from Yale, and a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut.

A gifted opera and jazz singer, Dr. Jackson is also a writer, a body builder, a businesswoman and the founder of a non-profit. It was when she was invited to accompany Oprah to South Africa and met Nelson Mandela that she realized her vocal gift could be a path toward greater purpose.

Dr. Jackson’s journey now is to inspire others born into disadvantages to find hope and opportunity through her story. She hopes to continue touring, when possible, her autobiographical, multi-dimensional one woman show, “From the Hood to the Ivy League.”

Martha Willette Lewis

Multi-media artist Martha Lewis has excelled as artist and curator, including at Yale Quantum Institute where she successfully tackled the issue of quantum mechanics. Facing the pandemic isolation, Martha searched for ways to socially connect with others in pertinent ways. Her innovation? “Quarantine CineGram:” projecting original messages through a screen of yellow silk on her street- facing kitchen window, documenting each day of the lockdown. As she continues her unique project, attracting many followers through social media, she also hopes to pursue a printed catalogue of each day’s creation.



MEET OUR 2019 AWARDEES:
ADAM MATLOCK and HAROLD SHAPIRO

Photo of Bitsie Clark, center, is flanked by the two 2019 winners of the Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists grant: Adam Matlock (L) and Harold Shapiro (R). From left to right, the Bitsie Chicks: Robin Golden, Maryann Ott, Mimsie Coleman, Barbara Lamb. Photo credit: Daniel Eugene
Bitsie Clark, center, is flanked by the two 2019 winners of the Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists grant: Adam Matlock (L) and Harold Shapiro (R). From left to right, the Bitsie Chicks: Robin Golden, Maryann Ott, Mimsie Coleman, Barbara Lamb.

The Bitsie Clark Fund for Artists is pleased to announce that musician/composer Adam Matlock and photographer/musician Harold Shapiro are recipients of the Bitsie Fund’s 2019 grants. The awards were presented at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s 39th Annual Awards ceremony on Friday, December 6, 2019 at the New Haven Lawn Club.
The Bitsie Fund successfully raised more than $250,000 in its first year. “It is so gratifying to me,” Bitsie said, “that so many donors have made it possible for The Bitsie Fund to provide $5,000 grants to two artists after a very competitive process.”

ADAM MATLOCK is a local musician/composer who is a greatly loved teacher at Neighborhood Music School, Foote School and Hamden Hall Country Day School. His talents have been described as “frightening” – in a positive sense. His accomplishments are equally frightening (meaning extraordinary), as are his passions and goals.
Adam has the Herculean plan to create a full-scale opera. Entitled The Greenwood Opera, it will focus on the little-remembered but still historically relevant (and appalling) massacre of African-Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Over two days, a white mob set fire to 100s of black-owned businesses and homes in Greenwood, a business district so prosperous it was dubbed “Negro Wall Street.” Estimates are that between 100 and 300 black people were killed by either gunshots or fire; hundreds more were hospitalized; and more than 8,000 left homeless.
An opera is a project on a grand scale. The Bitsie Fund is honored to support the first segment of Adam’s opera, providing him with some concentrated stretches of time to compose, and the funds to secure an ensemble of instrumentalists and singers for dedicated rehearsals and performances. Adam will be working in collaboration with Neighborhood Music School.

Photo of man playing instrument
Harold Shapiro photo from his “Luminous Instruments” series.

HAROLD SHAPIRO has been a professional photographer for over 30 years and has mentored and inspired countless photography students as a master teacher in Guilford, Milford and New Haven, especially at Creative Arts Workshop, his partner in this project, where he’s taught for 35 years, and heads the photography department.
In his photographs, Harold can bring out the poetry in the most ordinary of images. When photographing power plants for United Illuminating, for example, someone noted: “Harold is able to make pipes sing…”
Harold’s ability to make inanimate objects sing soars to new heights in his project, “Luminous Instruments.” In these extraordinary black and white photos of musical instruments, his mastery of both the technical and creative aspects of his craft allows him to produce images that evoke movement and music.
“Luminous Instruments” exquisitely merges Shapiro’s two lifelong passions of music and photography. The grant will allow him to complete his project, then share his breathtaking imagery with our community and others around the country.

ABOUT CREATIVE ARTS WORKSHOP
Creative Arts Workshop (CAW) is a nonprofit regional center for the visual arts that has served the Greater New Haven area since 1961. As an anchor institution located in the heart of the award-winning Audubon Arts District, CAW offers a wide range of visual arts classes, with an active exhibition and public programming schedule. More than 1,700 people enroll annually in more than 350 courses. Thousands of visitors enjoy the free exhibitions.

ABOUT NEIGHBORHOOD MUSIC SCHOOL
Neighborhood Music School (NMS), another anchor institution in the Audubon Arts District, is the largest non-profit community arts organization in Connecticut and one of the 10 largest in the country. Founded in 1911 as part of the settlement house movement serving new immigrants to New Haven, NMS now serves more than 2,700 students from 80+ cities and towns annually. Students of all ages receive individual and group instruction in music, dance and drama and participate in over 100 weekly ensembles. NMS is a nonprofit regional center that has served the Greater New Haven area since 1961.


OUR FIRST AWARD (2018): BARBARA HARDER and CREATIVE ARTS WORKSHOP

The Bitsie Fund was pleased to present its first award at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s Arts Awards luncheon in December 2018 to the distinguished artist/printmaker and teacher, Barbara Harder, and to her collaborative partner, Creative Arts Workshop.

Barbara, a multi-award-winning artist, received her Bachelors’ Degree in Studio Art from Marymount College in 1970. She has taught at Creative Arts Workshop since 1976, heading its Printmaking Department since 1995, and has taught at Quinnipiac University since 1998. She has been a lecturer/teacher at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, and a visiting artist at Connecticut College and the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk.

Barbara has long been committed to supporting other artists. She has curated numerous exhibitions throughout Connecticut; was one of the founders of the Connecticut Union of Visual Artists in the late 1970s and had a central role in launching and running the original Artspace Gallery on Audubon Street.

Barbara’s work has been widely exhibited throughout Connecticut and New England as well as internationally, in Scotland, England, Australia, India and Japan.

The Bitsie Fund’s $2,500 grant will enable Barbara to travel to Japan to study the extraordinary paper created there called Washi, a paper processed by hand in the traditional manner. “Some Japanese papermakers are considered so important,” Barbara explained, “they are designated as ‘national treasures’. They can be found in small shops, schools or in family kitchens, sometimes using family secrets handed down for generations. I would like to visit as many of these paper-making artisans as possible.”

Barbara will later share the special qualities of Japanese Washi with artists and craftspeople from around Connecticut at CAW workshops.

ABOUT CREATIVE ARTS WORKSHOP

Creative Arts Workshop (CAW) is a nonprofit regional center for the visual arts that has served the Greater New Haven area since 1961. As an anchor institution located in the heart of the award-winning Audubon Arts District, CAW offers a wide range of visual arts classes, with an active exhibition and public programming schedule. More than 1,700 people enroll annually in more than 350 courses. Thousands of visitors enjoy the free exhibitions.


THE FUND’S FORMAL LAUNCH

The Bitsie Fund was formally launched on October 30, 2018 at a reception celebrating Bitsie’s 87th birthday. Inspirational speakers included US Representative Rosa DeLauro and Will Ginsberg, Director of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Videos of two electrifying performances are linked below. The first features Hip Hop Poet Aaron Jafferis; the second, Bitsie Clark herself.