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Bonita Penn has Been Awarded a Grant to Produce a Long-Imagined Stage Performance.

Bonita Lee Penn, poet, author, artist, literary curator, and member of the Sweetwater Center for the Arts Board of Directors, was recently awarded a grant through Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh to fund the production of a poetic stage performance. The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program, managed by The Pittsburgh Foundation, is intentionally designed to enhance the support for Black artists and arts organizations that have been historically under-resourced. Bonita has received a two-year award of $30,000 from the program to support her live poetic stage performance, “Gospel in the Wake.”

Bonita expressed her gratitude for the award, stating, “I am very grateful for this recognition. It will enable me to fully realize the artistic vision of ‘Gospel in the Wake,’ a deeply personal exploration of historically Black spiritual practices. It incorporates dance, music, digital imagery, and poetry.” 

The stage production delves into the spiritual practices of the Sea Islands, tracing their origins in West Africa, and their contemporary significance in worship and music in Pentecostal and other Black-led Churches. This creative endeavor by Penn aims to establish a platform for exploring spiritual roots and rituals. Already underway, Penn is in communication with performers and choreographers, and has initiated efforts to secure a venue and promote the project through live streaming events, with the stage production set for mid-2025.

The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program, managed by The Pittsburgh Foundation in collaboration with the Heinz Endowments, has been consistently investing in this initiative since 1988, providing access and opportunities for Pittsburgh artists to thrive in their creative processes.

Bonita Lee Penn, a Sewickley native and Quaker Valley High School graduate, serves as the managing editor of Soul Pitt Quarterly Magazine and holds the position of Secretary for the Sweetwater Center for the Arts Board of Directors since 2022 and serves on the new Sweetwater Arts Cohort Committee. Her extensive experience, deep appreciation for the arts, and vast network within the Pittsburgh arts and culture scene enrich her contributions. Additionally, she acts as the literary programmer at the United Black Book Clubs of Pittsburgh and facilitates creative writing workshops for the Madwomen in the Attic Creative Writing Workshops at Carlow University. She also serves on a subcommittee that is producing “Their Story,” a documentary about the history of the Sewickley African American community.

 Sweetwater® Center for the Arts is a non-profit organization bringing enriching educational programming and innovative experiences in the fine and performing arts to the region. Every year, the Center serves a broad, demographically diverse audience of approximately 8,000 individuals through a variety of programming.

 The Pittsburgh Foundation, established in 1945, works to improve the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region by evaluating and addressing community issues, promoting responsible philanthropy, and connecting donors to the critical needs of the community.