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Fern Street Circus to Receive $150,000 Grant from National Endowment for the Arts

SAN DIEGO Fern Street Circus (FSC), San Diego’s original “social circus,” is pleased to announce it has been approved to receive an American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to help the arts and cultural sector recover from the pandemic. FSC is recommended to receive $150,000, which represents the largest grant the organization has been awarded its 30-year history. In total, the NEA will award grants totaling $57,750,000 to 567 arts organizations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. “Our nation’s arts sector has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Rescue Plan funding will help arts organizations, such as Fern Street Circus, rebuild and reopen,” said Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the NEA. “The arts are crucial in helping America’s communities heal, unite, and inspire, as well as essential to our nation’s economic recovery.” FSC will use the NEA grant to pay for professional infrastructure, strengthening the core of its operations to better support families in San Diego’s mid-city neighborhoods, particularly in City Heights, with circus instruction and public performance. FSC held its first show in Golden Hill’s Grape Street Park in 1991. Over the past 30 years, the nonprofit organization has produced 32 original shows and instructed hundreds of local kids and teens though its popular After-School Circus Program – all free of charge. FSC is a pioneer in the growing “social circus” movement, which uses circus as a conduit for addressing social justice and a greater social good. With a mission to serve families and transform neighborhoods, FSC uses physical performance to approach sensitive subjects – from healthcare to immigration – with humor, warmth and compassion. The professionally produced shows aim to be reach families with simple but meaningful narratives that cross generations, cultures, and language and economic barriers. “We are so thrilled to have the support of the National Endowment for the Arts through American Rescue Plan funding,” said FSC Executive Director John Highkin. “These funds are a significant investment in Fern Street Community Arts’ infrastructure, which sustains programs that positively affect families in City Heights and beyond. This federal funding literally reaches the sidewalks of San Diego.”

“This NEA funding through the American Rescue Plan is a wonderful endorsement of Fern Street Circus’ community impact through our arts and after school programs,” said FSC Board President Eric Bernhard. “It provides vital support to help the Circus recover from COVID’s impact on our programs and allows us to strengthen our ability to serve San Diego’s diverse communities.”

The challenges presented by COVID-19 in early-2020 caused FSC to completely reimagine its public engagement activities. Recognizing that its annual series of public performances would not be possible for some time, the FSC team found an innovative way to serve local families who had been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

The result was a series of 39 pop-up, socially distanced performances at curbside meal distribution sites. FSC provided uplifting, bilingual entertainment for families waiting in food pickup lines, using circus as a vehicle for sharing critical information, like the importance of 2020 Census participation and voter registration, with more than 11,000 residents in many hard-to-count communities.

FSC’s free after-school program has also continued during the pandemic, providing students with access to live instruction and physical conditioning with professional teaching artists via Zoom. In 2021, FSC was also able to open a new Outdoor Circus Community Center in a previously vacant lot in City Heights, further enhancing its ability to serve local students and families.

Despite the economic challenges the last two years have posed to arts and cultural organizations in San Diego and beyond, FSC has remained committed to two key principals: All of its neighborhood shows are free to the public and its professional artists and technicians are always paid. Its Spring Neighborhood Tour of eight performances at neighborhood parks will kick off in the coming weeks.

About Fern Street Circus

Fern Street Circus is San Diego’s original social circus dedicated to creating intriguing shows, performing in under-served neighborhoods and teaching circus skills free of charge in San Diego’s mid-city neighborhoods. Additional information can be found at and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

About the American Rescue Plan

The American Rescue Plan was signed into law in March 2021 when the NEA was provided $135 million for the arts sector. The funding for organizations is the third installment providing more than $57.7 million for arts organizations. In April 2021, the NEA announced $52 million (40 percent) in ARP funding would be allocated to 62 state, jurisdictional, and regional arts organizations for regranting through their respective programs. The second installment in November 2021 allocated $20.2 million to 66 local arts agencies for subgranting to local artists and art organizations.

For more information on the NEA’s American Rescue Plan grants, including the full list of arts organizations funded in this announcement, visit

PHOTO: Gary Payne for Fern Street Circus


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