Tag: Equity

Racial Equity in Funding During a Pandemic

Black man wearing a protective medical mask. He is making a heart sign with his hands.

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

C4 Atlanta Forums on Power in the Arts – Part 2

A photo of Brea Heidelberg at the event.
Dr. Brea Heidelberg

C4 Atlanta is committed to the needs of a thriving arts community in our city. To that end, we’ve been working over the last few months on exploring power dynamics and distribution within our own arts ecology and within the organizational cultures of our arts organizations. Inequality in our city is well researched and well-documented. A Bloomberg study in 2018 found that Atlanta had the worst income inequality of any major city in the United States. But wealth is only one form of power. In an industry where so-called “diva” behavior is not only accepted, but even encouraged, we wanted to see what other organizational pressures and disparities our community had faced. What had Atlanta artists, arts administrators and arts organizations experienced, and what resources existed to help us create the arts environment that Atlanta deserves?

Our second part of this series focuses on our second program around power in organizational culture. On August 22, 2019, C4 Atlanta held Arts and Leadership Forum: Diversity Equity and Inclusion with Dr. Brea Heidelberg at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Dr. Heidelberg is an arts management educator, consultant, and researcher focusing on the intersection of the arts and other fields of study. She joined the Entertainment & Arts Management faculty at Temple University in 2017 and currently serves as Assistant Director of the program. Dr. Heidelberg is a respected expert in organizational culture in the arts, and a sought after speaker on this topic. We were honored to welcome her to facilitate the day’s activities. Organizational leaders and arts administrators gathered with individual artists to consider how toxic organizational culture manifests both in our organizations and in our Atlanta arts ecosystem. This program was once again presented in partnership with our friends at Alternate ROOTS. Here is a summary of what was discussed, what came out of this conversation, and what are the next steps.

Event Summary:

C4’s Executive Director, Jessyca Holland welcomed participants and set a general expectation for the overall day. Lauren Tate Baeza, Director of Exhibitions for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, shared with us more about the Center and the work they are currently doing to help ground us in place.

Jessyca then introduced Dr. Heidelberg, who both shared information and facilitated conversation throughout the day regarding how organizational culture can affect diversity, equity and inclusion goals within organizations and the Atlanta arts eco-system. Organizational culture is the values and behaviors that shape the dynamics, practices and psychology within your workplace. Organizational culture is different from organizational policy, although some organizations may have policies that help shape their culture. For instance, policies about how folks are expected to dress and what happens if they are late may shape the attitudes that folks have about their workplace. But often many aspects of organizational culture are more informally shaped by whom is in leadership and the behaviors and attitudes of those who work for the organization.

Organizational culture manifests in behaviors such whether everyone gathers in the break room to discuss a TV show, how guests in your work space are treated, and even attitudes regarding what is appropriate behavior within the organizational environment (i.e. are weekends sacred or do your co-workers email outside of work hours?). An organization’s culture can also shape who is attracted or repelled from working there. If employees do not feel welcome or respected within the organization’s culture, they may look elsewhere for a place that feels more comfortable. This can work against the stated diversity, equity and inclusion efforts of an organization, and can lead to employee turnover. Simply creating policies for greater equity isn’t enough. Dr. Heidelberg underscored that organizational culture can either undo intentions or keep us accountable.

The purpose of Dr. Heidelberg’s presentation was to provide an opportunity for arts leaders and individual artists in the community to have a place to discuss how organizational culture manifests and how we can disrupt models that work against a more equitable system. Dr. Heidelberg explained the many ways that organizational culture can manifest and what it can look like for folks to feel like outsiders within the organization. Toxic organizational culture is culture that can breed unhealthy work behavior, psychology or habits. Dr. Heidelberg mentioned that she is also a consultant for organizations looking to diagnose why their organizational strategic shifts aren’t working, and this is often related to organizational culture.

Organizational culture is strong, and individuals are the culture bearers of their organizations. It is up to individuals within the culture to be accountable for culture shifts, and this can be difficult if you are the only individual within your organization working to change the culture within. Many participants expressed stress and feelings of hopelessness when working within a culture that they felt actively stifled the changes they were trying to make within to become more equitable. Dr. Heidelberg stressed that changing inequity within the arts required both a well stocked “toolkit” of resources and a penchant for self preservation. Sometimes the appropriate response to certain situations requires nuance and finesse, while humor can sometimes more effectively convey a sensitive message. But above all, she stressed that folks not be accept being abused or taken advantage of.

Dr. Heidelberg facilitated a few group discussions throughout the day. In one, participants were asked to identify indicators of the nature of organizational culture within the Atlanta arts community. Some of the following were identified as indicators:

  • Artist and administrator pay.
  • Attitudes towards the arts.
  • Money allotted by foundations and government for arts and culture.
  • Attitudes towards individual artists.
  • Professional development opportunities available for younger arts professionals.
  • Who is involved in conversations that pertain to individual artists and to arts organizations? Who is regularly given a seat at the table, and who is never given a seat at the table?
  • Public commitment or policies for diversity, equity and inclusion with no femme-identifying senior leadership or employees of color.
  • Staff turnover rates.
  • Board leadership.

After this initial discussion, Dr. Heidelberg lead participants through an understanding of how to consider their own organizational culture. Steps to diagnose and change culture included:

 

Dr. Heidelberg stressed that policy and action plans aren’t enough. Plans are only as good as the folks within an organization that hold themselves accountable for change. Organizational culture is pervasive and stubborn. There is a REASON why that was the default culture prior to trying to shift. It’s important that EVERYONE be on board for the cultural shift. It is not one person’s job to be accountable for the organizational culture change for the entire organization, but everyone’s responsibility. Without accountability from all who experience it, previous organizational culture will not change.

To that end, Dr. Heidelberg stressed that at times that can also mean that organizational culture WILL NOT change until those who actively oppose the change or passively block change from happening end up leaving that culture.

At the end of our time together, Dr. Heidelberg asked us to come together to think about some of the aspects of organizational culture that we wanted to change within the Atlanta arts ecology and some ways to make change Some of the suggestions were:

  • Nurture and provide support for employees even if it means they may eventually leave for more pay or more opportunity at other organizations that you are not able to provide. Instead of worrying about losing good people, be the best training ground possible for administrators and artists in your community.
  • Where you can’t provide improvement in wages, provide training and other benefits. Examples: a seat at the table in important conversations, a fantastic work culture, opportunities to learn new skills, etc.
  • Pay people a livable wage.
  • Create standard procedures for exit interviews conducted by staff who are not in supervisory roles over the person leaving. Make exit interviews a part of your culture and a way to learn more about the reasons why people leave your organization.
  • If you haven’t done so already, create procedures for complaints.
  • As an individual, document complaints or problems in work culture that drive you to leave for your predecessor and yourself. You can share these with those who come after you to share the burden of responsibility for change with them. Additionally, you can also choose to keep this for yourself to document what you are not willing to tolerate moving forward.
  • Refuse requests to operate in an inequitable way, and explain your choice to your colleagues should they request that you do so.
  • Know what tool is appropriate to point out toxic behavior when necessary. Sometimes a hammer is necessary, and sometimes humor is necessary.
  • Take care of yourself and your needs.

Thanks to all who attended!

Photos by Krista M Jones

A picture of the crowd at the event