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Working artists as the key to a living community
Organizations that support diverse communities of working artists are critical to our strategies and the arts ecosystem, but funding disparities remain significant. The data collected for Not Just Money: Justice Problems in Cultural Philanthropy (Helicon, 2017) showed that art funding had become less fair overall in the five years since a similar study, Fusion of art, culture and social change (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 2011), Investigating Justice Issues in the Arts. Art and cultural philanthropy essentially do not support our developing cultural landscape effectively or fairly.
The statistics from these studies surprised and dismayed us, so our four-person Arts team embarked on an investigation that began with a look inward. We took into account our own prejudices and our relationships with different communities. We expanded our relationships to include artist communities not in our portfolio and began modifying our grant portfolio to include more organizations led by Black and Indigenous People (POCI) that support working artists in their communities. We have increased the grants for POCI organizations that are already in our portfolio.
"When we say 'Minnesota flourishes' we mean all of our rich and diverse cultural traditions - from the Ojibwe and Dakota who have lived here for thousands of years to communities of the youngest immigrants."- Vickie Benson, Art Program Director
McKnight and the wider community are better because of the Penumbra Theater, Theater Mu, Pangea World Theater, All My Relationship Arts, Contrasting Arts, Mizna, TU Dance, and Teatro del Pueblo, all of the long-standing organizations. We're also all better for the arrival of new organizations, including Gizhiigin Arts on White Earth Reservation, Indigenous Roots, the Somali Museum, and New Aboriginal Theater to name a few.
These POCI-led cultural organizations are essential to our art ecosystem. However, due to decisions based on negative stereotypes and unchecked cultural assumptions, they do not receive a comparable allocation of resources. To combat implicit bias and remove structural barriers, we reached out to colleagues and co-founded the Racial Equity Funders Collaborative, which includes the Bush Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and Propel for include nonprofits - working towards creating justice for practices, processes, and resource allocation in philanthropy. While this can be messy and uncomfortable, fellows need to work to identify and mitigate their own implicit biases.
McKnight's credibility, leadership, and willingness to be a strong funder of POCI organizations will continue to influence others and can make great strides in funding racial participation. I am grateful to have been part of this journey. I look forward to other endeavors where I can work for justice and, as always, collaborate with artists.
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