America’s Cultural Treasures: POC Arts Organizations to Receive Grants

 I was excited and thrilled to recently read in the Washington Post about the Ford Foundation’s announcement that it has partnered with several foundations and major donors to make available millions of dollars in unrestricted national and regional grants to arts organizations in the communities of People of Color (PoC)! The grants are part of a still-expanding campaign called “America’s Cultural Treasures,” which was initiated by Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. To date, close to $160-million has been raised from 16 foundations and major donors.

A 2015 study of diversity in the arts found that the median budgets of traditionally white cultural organizations were 16 times larger than the median budgets of PoC cultural organizations. “America’s Cultural Treasures” was launched to provide critical funding to organizations that have had a significant impact on America’s cultural landscape, despite historically limited resources, and to honor the diversity of artistic excellence and expression that they represent.

More than a one-time bailout stemming from the near-decimation of these organizations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign will provide money that will be distributed to the recipients over four years. Mr. Walker told the Washington Post he sees this as an opportunity to narrow the gap between rich, primarily white cultural institutions and their younger, PoC counterparts. Furthermore, he was quoted as saying, “…If we don’t help (the PoC cultural organizations) they will be gone.”

For many cultural institutions, funders and corporations, the murder of George Floyd and the closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic brought into crystal clear focus the impact of systemic racism and racial disparities. Not only did Mr. Walker identify the problem, he leveraged his foundation’s resources and his network to take action. The national phase of the campaign consists of $81 million in funding from the Ford Foundation and five other donors: Abrams Foundation, Alice L. Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Tom and Lisa Blumenthal, and Barbara and Amos Hostetter.

The first round of recipients picked by the Ford Foundation, in consultation with the national donors, are geographically and racially diverse. Look at this list of the 20 organizations selected—it represents the broadest ever recognition of the diversity that is at the very foundation of America’s cultural heritage: Alaska Native Heritage Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Apollo Theater, Arab American National Museum, Ballet Hispanico, Charles H. Wright Museum, Dance Theatre of Harlem, East West Players, El Museo del Barrio, Japanese American National Museum, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Museum of Chinese in the Americas, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, National Museum of Mexican Art, Penumbra Theatre, Project Row Houses, Studio Museum in Harlem, Urban Bush Women, and Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. The $1-million to $6-million grants are unrestricted, so the recipients can use the money in whatever way they deem best.

During the second phase of  the “America’s Cultural Treasures” campaign, numerous foundations will be responsible for fundraising and the creation of individually tailored, regional grantmaking initiatives, which will be seeded by an initial $35 million in support from the Ford Foundation. The regional foundation partners are: The Barr Foundation (Massachusetts), Getty Foundation (Los Angeles), Heinz Endowments (Pittsburgh), Houston Endowment (Houston), John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Chicago), Joyce Foundation (Chicago), McKnight Foundation (Minnesota), the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation (Los Angeles), Terra Foundation for American Art (Chicago), and the William Penn Foundation (Philadelphia). The distribution for the regional grants is expected to take place some time in 2021.

The grants are, in most cases, the largest ever for the 20 recipients in the first round. What is revolutionary about this initiative is that the campaign was designed specifically to address inequality in arts funding and access to resources. I’m just imagining the joy of the recipient organizations hearing such great news, which is providing a lifeline to smaller organizations that don’t have endowments to survive the twin calamities of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism. Now, they have financial support and, instead of closing their doors, it is hoped that these resources can be utilized to sustain their programs and to even plan to attract new donors.

When I think about the future of the arts and what is the way forward, this program is, by far, the leading example. Thank you, Mr. Walker, for your continuous leadership at the Ford Foundation; your deep thinking, and your courageous giving. This grant will transform not only the futures of the chosen PoC arts organizations and institutions, but also reaffirm that they must be preserved because they are indeed “America’s Cultural Treasures.”

As always, I want to know what you think about this announcement. Please leave your comments below.

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