I am personally finding this to be a very interesting time to be in the arts field. I find it to be quite exciting actually. People are starting to have more conversations on diversity and equity in the arts. And not only conversations, but some action behind the talking. We have gotten to the point where people are acknowledging the lack of diversity and are moved to do something about it, but now we need to move forward to get funders on board so that we can begin restructuring the architecture of funding in the arts.
Back in February, I attended the Dance/NYC Symposium conference at the Gibney Dance Center in Manhattan. There, I went to a session called- Philanthropic Approaches to Advancing Racial Equity. I found it interesting as the panelists spoke “honestly” of their views on philanthropy in the arts. They spoke about the wealth gap and how it is disproportionately given to the dominant “White” culture and they one group has the control there is a lack of diversity in funding as they fund things they know. If it is unfamiliar, it lessens the chances of new, emerging, and cultural specific artists to be funded. They also talked about grant criteria and how they may “unintentionally” leave out possible grantees. Another important note is that often times, funding panels are homogenous and are not equipped to discuss diverse topics.
I agree with these statements and needs to be addressed as funding has such an important role in the arts. The power of funding is being fueled through their lens which can often leave of many underserved communities. I have noticed that funders are more likely to support established and successful programs “in their eyes” over new work or programs. It comes as no surprise that certain organizations such as Lincoln Center or the Kennedy Center received a huge grant. And not saying it’s a bad thing, but I would love to see some of the big names support the small grassroot, community arts organization. They may have a “small” reach, but the impact is just as big if not bigger.
In an article in The Atlantic entitled “Who Should Fund the Arts?, talks about funding through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and that when funding is slashed, it has a negative effect on minorities and negatively impacts arts participation by the underserved. Also, when NEA funding is diminished, it puts smaller organizations (who tend to be run/serve minorities) in a bind because their work is too progressive for private funders leaving them in a constant situation of financial difficulties.
Funding in the arts is just as broken as our society. We say we want things to be “equal” but equality doesn’t produce the utopia we all think.
I love this image because it clearly shows the difference between equality and equity. Equality may give everyone a fair share, but not necessarily a fair chance. Some people already have an advantage. In equality, those with the advantage continue to be ahead, while having little to no effect on the disadvantaged. But in equity, those who need the support can get what they need to be on the same playing field as everyone else.
But how do we get there? How can we restructure the architecture of funding in the arts? I think we need to focus on the goal of access in the arts. Who has it and who doesn’t? Who wants it and who needs it? I think we also need to be open-minded of what is art. We need to educate funders about our work and what role they play. As grantees, we need to work to articulate what we do using their language so it all makes sense.
These are just a few thoughts I had, but what do you think??