Musician Sonny Mehta and Mandala South Asian Performing Arts are receiving a 2023 Joyce Award, the Joyce Foundation announced today. Supported by the $75,000 grant, Mehta, artistic director of ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali, will collaborate with Mandala Arts to build bridges between ethnic and faith-based communities in Qawwali and Gospel: Singing Together, a live performance and workshop series combining Gospel music with Qawwali, a devotional musical tradition rooted in Sufi Islam.

Drawing on the complex history of cultural exchange between South Asian and Black communities, Mehta will collaborate with South Asian community members in the Devon neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side and Black Gospel groups based on Chicago’s South Side. Together they will create new music that highlights parallels between the two genres while celebrating their distinct historic roots, bridging communities and cultures that are often excluded from or placed against each other in popular media.

The project will culminate in a public performance in 2024, developed through workshops and conversations that invite community members to make connections across their unique linguistic, musical, and faith traditions. Participants will explore the complexities and inherited histories of Chicago’s cultural and neighborhood relationships throughout the project, creating opportunities for learning, reconciliation, and solidarity across different immigrant and diasporic backgrounds.

“Qawwali music has historically been used to introduce new ways of thinking and counter narratives that are reductive,” said Mehta. “In Chicago, I hope to harness the full power of this folk genre to heal divides among South Asian Americans as well as venture out to build a thoughtful path towards the Black community.”

Shared Mandala Executive Artistic Director Pranita Nayar, “On behalf of the Mandala team, I am honored we are receiving the Joyce Award for this exciting project. With this support, we can continue to build bridges and deeper understanding between different Chicago communities.”

The only regional program dedicated to supporting new commissions by artists of color in major Great Lakes cities, the Joyce Awards have provided $4.4 million for the development of 82 new works of visual, performing, and multidisciplinary art presented in collaboration with organizations in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul. While the Joyce Foundation’s grantmaking has a regional focus, its work has national impact, demonstrating the capacity of the arts and artists to inspire and mobilize social change. The Joyce Awards act as a catalyst for artists’ creative practice, as well as fostering culturally vibrant, equitable, and sustainable communities in the region. The other 2023 Joyce Award recipients are Regina Agu with the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago; Marisa Morán Jahn with the National Public Housing Museum; Marlena Myles with Franconia Sculpture Park; and Julie Tolentino with SPACES. For the Joyce Foundation's official announcement, click here.

Mandala South Asian Performing Arts
Mandala South Asian Performing Arts is a MacArthur Award-winning organization founded by Executive Artistic Director Pranita Nayar. From classical to contemporary, Mandala Arts connects audiences and students with the vibrancy of the performing arts traditions of South Asia. Mandala Arts offers powerful engagement with specialized artists and educators who represent diverse ethnic, geographical, linguistic, cultural, and gender identities.

The Joyce Foundation
The Joyce Foundation is a nonpartisan private foundation that invests in public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region. Joyce supports policy research, development, and advocacy in the six program areas: Culture, Democracy, Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, and Journalism. For more information about the Joyce Foundation, please visit

Jun 9, 2023

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