By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — The Walt Disney company’s historical record regarding diversity and inclusion has been a mixed one, at best. But in recent years the company has placed a higher priority on expanding its content and being more welcoming to a variety of projects and personalities from various backgrounds and communities.

Sunday they announced their latest venture in this area. They will begin a multi-year program, the Disney Storyteller Fund, at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The program, a partnership between Disney and Howard, will provide stipends over a five-year period for student projects focused on storytelling across animation, digital design, gaming, journalism, live action, performing arts, product design, visual design, virtual reality and more, per the company.

Disney is also funding a new creative collaborative space at the university and says it will provide access to speakers, mentors and internships to students in the program to help spark interest in the fields needed to build skills for a future career in storytelling.

“Across Disney’s brands, we are working to amplify underrepresented voices and untold stories,” Jennifer Cohen, Executive Vice President of corporate social responsibility, told the Hollywood Reporter.. “The Disney Storytellers Fund at Howard will help us support students and the innovation and creativity that the university has cultivated for more than 150 years. We are excited to help the next generation of Black storytellers bring their ideas to life.”

Phylicia Rashad, dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard, added in a statement, “Our students at the College of Fine Arts find their creative expression in many ways — in the performing arts, in animation, in the design of the products that we use in life. The Disney Storytellers Fund is a great support for our emerging artists as they explore and develop their potential within and across disciplines.”

The program is part of Disney’s social investment and collaborations, including school-age STEM programs, to increase access to careers in storytelling and innovation for those who have been historically underrepresented.

Also at the Essence festival on Friday, Disney revealed the name, arrival date and more details about its reimagined Splash Mountain ride, which had been criticized for its racist depictions. The revamped attraction, titled Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, makes its debut at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in late 2024.