A Year of Supporting Artists, and New Opportunities

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Dear Sundance Community,

Here at the Sundance Institute, this time of year is always a period of reflection. As we prepare for the Festival and January Screenwriters Lab, we want to take a moment to look back on some of our latest efforts to amplify and advocate for independent storytelling.

Over the last year, Sundance’s founding mission – to support artists – has taken on new urgency. The impact of the pandemic continues to reverberate around the globe. Rising costs are affecting every facet of production. Cuts and consolidation are shaping our industry. In short: The world has changed, and so has the media landscape. In these tumultuous times, we look to artists to inspire and inform, to spark conversation and foster dialogue, to reflect the world around us and bring new perspectives to light.   

Because of these extraordinary circumstances, earlier this year we made the difficult but crucial decision to focus our immediate work on film and episodic storytelling. This has allowed us to deepen our support for artists in those spaces, particularly those from underrepresented communities. We are proud of the fact that we have been able to respond to this trying moment for our artist community with new funding opportunities, increased intensive offerings, exciting pilot programs, a return to in-person collaboration, and opportunities for artists to connect directly with the industry.

All told, 1,089 artists received support this year through Sundance Labs, artist granting, fellowships, intensives, and the Festival, with thousands more emerging artists taking part in workshops, webinars and courses through Sundance Collab, our digital destination for learning and community. We are proud to let you know that, of Sundance-supported directors and producers who voluntarily shared their backgrounds, 66 percent are artists of color, 55 percent are women, 36 percent identify as LGBTQIA, and 8 percent have a disability. We also take seriously our responsibility to cultivate a diverse team of curators, programmers, screeners, and readers. Of the 277 people who make up our year-round staff curatorial team and the community of independent contractors who participate in the selection processes, 222 have shared their ethnic and racial background, and 185 (67 percent) identify as people of color. As we look ahead to the next year, we remain committed to transparency and equity, and will continue to share these metrics with our community and the industry.

In listening to artists about their needs and experiences, it has become abundantly clear that while the pandemic and economic downturn have been challenging for everyone, they have taken a particular toll on artists of color. This year saw the launch of several new initiatives, including many that mark the first time we have created programs for specific communities. For example, the Latine Fellowship and Collab Scholarship, designed in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Sundance Institute board members Lyn Lear and Cindy Horn, provides support and professional development opportunities to emerging Latinx artists. While Latinx talent has always been part of the Sundance Institute, bringing these cross-disciplinary storytellers together is a chance to invest in artists who are telling valuable stories, build community, and increase Latinx representation at Sundance and across our industry. 

We were equally thrilled to partner with The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to create a new fellowship and scholarship for Asian American and Pacific Islander artists. The experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islanders are part of the fabric of our country, and their stories – in all their diversity and multifacetedness – should be celebrated in film and television. We welcome this opportunity to cultivate AAPI talent and support these gifted storytellers in becoming leaders in their fields. In the coming months, we will be announcing similar programs for underrepresented artists, including a program for Muslim artists. Elevating and empowering storytellers from underrepresented communities is part of the DNA of the Sundance Institute and will continue to be a core priority across all of our programs.

The last year has sparked an important dialogue about the challenges facing nonfiction filmmakers in particular, who are increasingly finding it difficult (if not impossible) to make a living solely from their creative work. As a step toward addressing these issues of sustainability, we partnered with the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Humanities Sustainability Fellowship. Together, we provided 20 stipends to non-fiction mediamakers and are providing these artists with mentorship and professional opportunities. We hope this will seed powerful, resonant projects that will elevate, explore, and protect democratic principles; contribute to the public discourse; and lead to new learnings about the potential of this type of funding.  

In addition to funding, we’ve heard from artists that they are hungry for more opportunities to connect with the industry. Building these relationships is an important component of Sundance’s commitment to investing in artists for the long-term. This year saw the launch of the Pitch Parlor, a new forum for creators to share Episodic Lab projects with industry professionals and audiences alike. We also launched ELEVATE, consolidating our work across programs to provide professional development, career strategies, and connections to industry for all current Sundance-selected artists.

Happily, this year also marked the return of many of our in-person initiatives. And, of course, we are overjoyed to bring the 2023 Festival back to Park City once again. There is nothing quite like the joy of coming together to discover new voices, forge new and meaningful connections, and feel the energy on the mountain. At the same time, we look forward to once again bringing the Festival to living rooms across the country. We see this as a tremendous opportunity to celebrate and expand audiences for independent film today and in the future.

We look forward to building on these efforts in the weeks, months, and years to come, and to continuing to adapt to best serve the independent artists at the heart of everything we do. We are humbled to provide a space for advancement and belonging, and to empower and amplify a multiplicity of independent voices. 

Thank you for building with us, and for being part of this community.

With immense gratitude, 

Joana Vicente, CEO
Michelle Satter, Founding Senior Director, Artist Programs
Carrie Lozano, Director, Documentary Film and Artist Programs

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