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Gateways Festival wins Mellon Foundation grant

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has given Gateways Music Festival a $300,000 grant that will help the formerly all-volunteer organization forge a more secure future.

The biennial festival provides a showcase for the talents of classical musicians of African descent and has been affiliated with the Eastman School of Music 1995. Retired Eastman professor Armenta Hummings Dimisani, a Julliard-trained pianist, founded the festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1993.

Just 18 months ago the festival added its first paid position, appointing Lee Koonce as its president and artistic director. He also acts as senior adviser to the dean of Eastman.

Lee Koonce, artistic director, Gateways Festival
Lee Koonce, artistic director, Gateways Festival

The Mellon Foundation grant—the largest in Gateways’ history—will provide funding for two more staff members over three years, as well as the contractual services of a graphic artist/web designer and a grant writer.

Koonce, in announcing the grant, said, “This much-needed support will enable Gateways to deepen and expand our programs and reach more musicians and audiences.” As a condition of the grant, Gateways will seek other funding to support the positions it is adding.

The festival offers more than 50 performances over six days in the Eastman Theatre, schools, faith institutions and other locations in the city and suburbs of Rochester. The performers come from the top orchestras, ensembles and schools from around the nation.

“This award will directly support the Festival’s recently completed four-year strategic plan—which was also funded by The Mellon Foundation,” said Paul J. Burgett, chairman of Gateways’ Board of Directors. “With input from many individuals from the Rochester community, national arts leaders, Gateways musicians, volunteers and board members, the overarching message from the plan was the importance of building the Festival’s capacity to ensure its continued vitality and longevity.  This award will help us do just that.”

Koonce noted that the Mellon Foundation has been a leader in reshaping American orchestras to more closely reflect their communities.

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