From C4 Atlanta’s Executive Director:
This blog is in response to recently discovering that black arts organizations were excluded from the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta’s initial funding of $580,000 to support COVID-19 impact relief. In the spirit of transparency, C4 Atlanta has received several grant awards from the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta (CFGA). They have primarily funded our civic engagement programs. In 2019, we were awarded a two-year general operating award. I am grateful. Service organizations are often overlooked in the City of Atlanta by local funders. Over the last few years, that has started to change for us as we grow and are anchored more into the arts community. C4 Atlanta is a white-led organization. I am white. I can tout our diverse audience of artist practitioners, I can talk to you about board diversity, and I can point out that I am the only white, non-latinx staff member. But I am white and my white face is often considered the face of the organization because I, with another white person, founded the organization in 2010.
I am deeply concerned , during this critical juncture in our city, that not one black arts organization was funded by the CFGA in its first round of grants. To quote my colleague Anne Dennington, Executive Director of Flux Projects, who put it simply: ” Arts organizations in Atlanta struggle for funding in good times. Many will not weather the current financial crises. As a city, we cannot afford to lose our Black organizations. And if we do not recognize the inequity in our local philanthropy soon, we may do just that.” How can we help to bridge this gap with the next round of funding? How can we ensure policies and practices of the Foundation going forward ensure an equitable distribution of resources to black organizations that have been historically left behind?
The next part of this blog is for my colleague. I support her. I want you to read her words. I told her I would do an intro. Any heat that comes can come to me. But I don’t think that will happen. I think the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta and other funders will do the right thing. Be well.
–Jessyca Holland, Executive Director
Now more than ever, there is an opportunity to pivot towards more equitable ways of working as our world changes to deal with COVID-19. Our normal after this pandemic will not look the same.
COVID-19 is affecting Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color at profoundly higher rates than white communities. This virus has ravaged entire families and communities. However, COVID-19 has also given us a chance to embrace abundance, rather than scarcity, and remake the system. We don’t have to return to the way things were if we don’t want to.
This is why investment in culturally specific arts organizations is so important right now. Those that have the power to make this systemic and dynamic shift are funders and those providing COVID-19 relief aid.
If you’re asking “What does she mean by culturally specific?”, here’s my own layman’s definition: a culturally specific organization is one that exists primarily to serve a particular culture, race, or ethnicity through the lens of that specific cultural experience. Usually, these organizations are led by and founded by people who identify as the same culture that they serve. Why are they important? They address the specific cultural needs, beliefs, and nuances of that community, usually operating also through the lens of that culture. They are critical for providing support to that community, providing an affinity space of shared experience and all too often, creating opportunities for that community where few existed before in white-led organizations. These are a different type of organization than those who are white-led but serve communities of color.
In the art world, culturally specific organizations can be a critical career pipeline for artists of color to build their careers and a place where other systemic barriers like access to formal education or familial wealth are broken down. They are often spaces where folks from that community can feel fully themselves, seeing artistic work and leadership that reflects their own experiences. To sum it up – we need them. They are essential. And we need them NOT to go away.
Already arts leaders are thinking about how important our arts organizations will be in leading rebuilding efforts post-COVID. As my colleague Morgan Carlisle was recently quoted, “The same people who create that ‘Atlanta experience’ are the same people losing their touring gigs, closing their box offices, taking down their exhibitions, and canceling their educational classes. It’s heartbreaking. What will the city look and sound like when it is safe to go outside again?”
We can use COVID-19 as an opportunity for not only rebuilding but also a time to go further by creating a significant investment in organizations working at the forefront of racial equity daily servicing communities experiencing the deepest losses.
For Atlanta specifically, the “Atlanta Experience” is tied to the Black experience, and therefore Black arts organizations who support the growth of the culture that has created Atlanta’s global identity. When we talk about culturally specific organizations and BIPOC-led organizations, in Atlanta, we must recognize the significant way that OUR city has thrived specifically due to the contributions, labor, ideas, and work of Black people. Let me be completely clear – it’s not just that the black community has played some part. The Atlanta that we know would not exist without black people and black leadership. We cannot make mention of culturally specific leadership as a generalization here, though Asian, Latinx, and other communities of color have had an important impact, too. But it is BLACK leadership, Black work, and Black expressions of artmaking that has predominated. As a Mexican-American Latina, I recognize that these contributions have benefited Latinx folks’ advancement as well.
As we strategize then to best survive, regrow, and resow the cultural assets that are needed to support Black communities that have been over proportionately affected by COVID-19, we must prioritize the capitalization and rebuilding of black and black-led arts organizations. These organizations will be best poised to do work in communities hardest hit because they’ve already been doing this work for decades. Equity in the arts is EVERYONE’s job, but let’s take this time to acknowledge the way we want to move forward by creating a significant lasting investment in the people who have been working on equity since before there was money attached to that word.
For those that fund, there has to also be an acknowledgment and a reckoning with the fact that traditional philanthropy hasn’t done a great job of equitably funding culturally specific and POC-led organizations. When you haven’t acknowledged or invested in the work of communities for years, this builds the kind of distrust that even a pandemic can’t undo. I applaud the many funders who have or are taking strides to reconsider equity within their work. But now is not the time to think about what we can do, but to think about what is the RIGHT thing to do.
Because of the systemic inequity that has existed, many black artist-entrepreneurs that I know or have worked with are turning away from the non-profit organizational structure, because they do not feel like it serves them. That doesn’t mean, however, that their artistic work doesn’t still have public benefit or provide service to the community. They are simply choosing to do the work and operate without the constraints (but also without the philanthropic resources) of the nonprofit governance structure.
Funders: you cannot assume that just because you have money to give to offer relief, leaders of color and organizations of color to now trust that you will see their organizations as fundable when you have not invested in them in the past. To do so is to miss out on an important relationship-building opportunity to truly embrace equity.
What can aid-makers do? Firstly, consider the constraints that staff is currently under. Lengthy aid applications with lots of financial reporting documents are, frankly, kind of ridiculous right now. Consider making your applications as short as is necessary to get the information you need most, one-step if possible. Especially for organizations for which you have not made a significant investment in the past. Why would any good leader spend a significant amount of work time now, when getting funding quickly is most critical, on an application to a funder that they’ve had no success with in the past when they can use that time to pursue other opportunities with other individuals with whom they DO have a relationship? Only necessary, relevant, and current financial documentation has any bearing on how relief will be beneficial. No one is meeting the budget they set out to this year. No one is doing all the programming they intended. Ask for only the most relevant information, and understand that it probably has very little to do with what the future may look like given that we’ve all thrown everything we planned out the window. And what we thought the new normal might look like is literally changing day by day. A financial review or an audit that is more than a few days old isn’t going to tell you much about what the future is going to look like, and both cost a lot of money. If there are types of organizations you wished were in your funding pool, now is a great time to begin to build a relationship by reaching out to ask them directly to apply. That’s a very different gesture than telling your previously funded organizations to share with their networks or those they know who need it. Do both. Lastly, now is the time to also consider that not all organizations that serve the community look like the traditional non-profit. We know that significant investment in small and mid-sized organizations can catalyze their growth well into the future. Consider opening up funding pools in non-traditional ways or allowing fiscally sponsored projects to apply for funding to continue important community arts work happening outside the nonprofit structure.
While it is far from the only change needed, relief aid funders do have the power to contribute to making a more equitable culture of investment in racial equity than in the past. Instead of encouraging us to compete for what money is there, emphasis should be placed on helping us to meet the needs of the present situation in the most compelling and relevant way possible. Equity is a pretty word, but true equity looks like making sure our culturally specific organizations survive this pandemic so that they can be around to serve their communities and rebuild to a better place than before COVID-19.
— Audrey Gámez, Education Director