The last year brought forward a spotlight on existing disparities in communities of color—access to health care, financial stability and generational wealth, and the ever-present public health crisis that is racism. In fact, communities of color have been significantly more affected by the pandemic itself and the early tracking data on the vaccines show that this most vulnerable segment of our communities also is not receiving the vaccine equitably.

While the arts community rallied and successfully advocated for federal relief funding, we also saw the NEA direct those dollars largely to the same existing grantees—and many state arts agencies followed suit—leaving organizations that have historically been excluded from this funding excluded yet again, even in the midst of the devastating pandemic. This was further exacerbated by segments of the field that were left out of federal relief programs, such as small volunteer run arts organizations or those who continued to struggle to access programs such as creative workers and individual artists. What also happened was, ultimately, demand exceeded supply.

What can we do better? How can we use this time to do what is right, and not just what is easy?

Funders of all types, especially local and state arts agencies, must center access and equitable distribution of resources to fully support their whole community. While we are seeing some foundations and public funders begin to direct funds to communities of color, knowing that in LAA grantmaking 16% of grant recipients receive 73% of the dollars awarded means it is not enough to simply earmark funds. Now is the time to consider how to restructure programs, build stronger relationships, and include communities of color, LGBTQIA+ communities, and the disability community in crafting solutions.

In that spirit, I want to share the following actions that I see as necessary to advance equitable practices and policies in grantmaking:

  1. Be bold in prioritizing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color by increasing BIPOC representation on your grant review committees, staff, and board to change guidelines and procedures for equitable access to resources.
  2. Shift project-specific funding to unrestricted general operating support. If you already did it, keep doing it.
  3. Award multi-year grants as much as possible. This will help stabilize an organization’s financial future.
  4. Fast-track the application process and minimize reporting and supplemental requirements like financial audits. Keep removing barriers to eligibility and in-review criteria.
  5. Open grant applications beyond the nonprofit model to allow individual artists and community-based groups equitable access to resources. Where needed, proactively facilitate groups to partner with fiscal sponsors.
  6. Pool resources with other funders to direct smarter and more cost-efficient funding streams, especially through local arts agencies that are better situated to reach community-based BIPOC organizations and artists.
  7. Document and make transparent how your funding is (and is not) reaching BIPOC organizations and artists and the percentage of your total funding that this represents.

Read the full article about why funders need to center equity by Ms. Ruby Lopez Harper at ARTS Blog.