What Cheer Writers Club, the four-year-old writers club that calls downtown Providence home, is literally turning the page on a new chapter in its brief but active history as a hub for local creatives.
The club announced last week that it had received a $66,000 grant from the National Writing Project’s Building a More Perfect Union program. The grant is part of the American Rescue Plan Act funding for organizations affected by the pandemic and is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
According to Jodie Vinson, program director, this is the first time the organization has received a federal grant of this magnitude. The money will be used to launch a new year of programming focused on the theme “Activism in the Archives”.
“It’s exciting for us. This is our first major national grant. We got a lot of local support from the city and from [the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts] and the state, but it was exciting to have funds coming from the NWP,” she says.
The idea behind the series of programs, which will begin June 3, began with a perceived need for more resources and community-building events among local writers, she says. When the club first launched in 2018, it was designed as a coworking space where writers, illustrators and other creatives could work together in a professional setting. Members had access to the club’s headquarters, a quiet, artfully decorated suite of workspaces and reading nooks overlooking Westminster Street.
“What we noticed early on was people gathering in the kitchen and talking to each other and wanting not just quiet but community,” Vinson says, noting that the club now has over 350 members.
The need for community has only increased during the pandemic as members have been forced into solitary work isolation. With the space closed to coworking (it reopened in the summer of 2021), the club focused on programming, hosting online workshops for members and supporting community initiatives. They hosted the popular Dear Rhode Island letter exchange and offered workshops on everything from writing skills to tax as a freelancer.
“While we started out as an organization really built around physical space, it kind of shifted our focus to really community-focused programming, keeping people connected when we all felt isolated,” Vinson explains.
This spring, with the help of the grant, the organization plans to focus its programs on both recent activism as well as the history of social change in Rhode Island. Vinson says many members were interested in learning more about how to access historical resources in the archives maintained by the Rhode Island Historical Society and other organizations. At the same time, many participated in their own historical moments through their writings and works of art.
“We were interested, and we felt the interest of the community, in exploring this intersection between activism and the arts. Sometimes art is activism, and sometimes activism benefits from the work of artists, but what does that look like? We wanted to explore that idea,” she says.
“We thought, well, what stories in the local archives around the state are there about activism and social justice in Rhode Island history? What are the stories that need to be told, resurfaced and interacted with? ” She adds.
The first event in the series, scheduled for June 3, is a community conversation for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) creatives about their experience and inspiration. The event will take place at Liberation Garden at Haus of Glitter, an arts and performance group that maintains a residency at the Esek Hopkins House at 97 Admiral St. in Providence.
Later this year, the series will continue with a panel discussion on arts and activism followed by a presentation by local archivists in the fall on how to access their resources. The series will culminate next spring with a zine-making workshop (for the uninitiated, a zine is a small self-published work often used to promote new voices or counter-cultural messages) as well as a reading and anthology of member zines. What Cheer plans to work with Binch Press and Queer.Archive.Work to publish the anthology.
“We’re counting on a partner for this, because it’s kind of going to be our first release outside of this organization,” Vinson says.
She adds that they look forward to using the grant to promote the new set of resources and opportunities for their members to come together. The theme of activism, she says, often cuts across art, but is also broad enough for members to focus on issues that are important to them, whether it’s social justice, racial equity, health care, environment or any other topic.
“Archives are such a rich reservoir of resources, and these stories from our past can somehow inspire our present moment,” she says. “I know the last two years it can feel like we’re all in crisis mode, but if we look at the past and the stories from the past, those can be very grounded and they can also offer us some guidance. for the future.”