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By Sonya McCarter, Community Engagement Coordinator, Alliance for the Arts

Four years ago, as an actress, my search for plays featuring compelling and interesting African-American characters in Ft. Myers came up empty. Four years ago, my search to find affordable training to expand and improve my craft was met with frustration. It wasn’t until Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance for the Arts posted auditions for Ntozake Shange’s play, “For Colored Girls,” that I found what I yearned for: a play featuring African-American stories, written and told by African- Americans. Yet, continued opportunities for minorities to express their creativity through the performing arts remained a problem. Fortunately, Alliance for the Arts recognized this problem: that the exclusion of stories reflecting the experiences and struggles of minorities diminishes the arts’ ability to transform lives and improve community.

So, we continuously look for ways to become a part of the solution and facilitate CHANGE: actively striving to provide equity and access to all, including the forgotten or under-served; actors and artists with autism spectrum disorder who need a creative outlet to express themselves in a safe environment; the visually impaired or blind whose theatre experience is enhanced by a touch tour of the set and an audio description of the play; or the untold stories of the varied diverse and cultural experiences that make up our great community. We looked at our audiences and realized they did not represent the diverse community in which we live and decided to produce more ethnically diverse plays in the hopes that relatable stories would foster the diversity we desired; however, casting the plays became a challenge. Where do we find minority actors? How do we train them? How do we facilitate an appreciation for the performing arts to build a diverse audience?

We do not know all of the answers to these questions, yet. But with the help of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we have been intentional about connecting with Dunbar community stakeholders: exploring community interests and barriers to access and participation in the arts. Our recent grant allowed us to initiate our CHANGE Program (Communities Harnessing the Arts to Nurture and Grow Equity) which actively pursues avenues to expand access, training, and performance opportunities in theatre arts to diverse communities. Through CHANGE, aspiring actors seeking theatre education are provided quality training at little cost, performance opportunities and a platform to convene dialogue on social issues challenging our community through creative, artistic expression.

Four years ago, a minority actor seeking roles featuring compelling and interesting characters would have to travel outside of Lee County to find them. But now, each season, the Alliance produces plays that feature African-American experiences: providing multiple opportunities for minorities to express their unique, artistic voice. The Alliance for the Arts’ passion for providing arts for all the people fueled my desire to join the search for a solution. The journey towards bridging social and cultural gaps through the arts for community enrichment continues.

For more information about CHANGE or any of our programs, please contact me at [email protected]


This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2018 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit




Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!