Funding Arts & Equity: Partner Grant Reflection

We are pleased to announce the award of the 2019 Fall Diversity Partner Grant focused on Arts & Equity. Our committee of 12 participants selected the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia to receive our full award of $12,500. Committee members included: Diane Altman Dautoff, Julie Burg, Betty Drumheller, Pamela Eakes, Marianne Emerson, Jill Hearne, Lyll O’Shaughnessy, Marsha Pechman, and Stephanie Toothman. We were the Committee co-leaders, and were supported by Beth McCaw and Aviva Stampfer on staff.    

Our Process

As part of its 2020 Strategic Plan, WA Women’s Foundation adopted new grant criteria focused on increasing equity and reducing disparities in Washington State. We implemented this new criteria in the 2019 Pooled Fund Grant process and found that many arts nonprofits applied to us to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives within their organizations. While this was not the focus of our Pooled Fund Grants, the Foundation acknowledges that when the arts represent diverse viewpoints and perspectives and are inclusive of many different cultures and communities, they are better equipped to advance equity in communities across Washington State. For that reason, and in order to be responsive to community needs, this Committee invited arts nonprofits that had applied for a 2019 Pooled Fund Grant to apply for funding for specific DEI initiatives within their organizations. Through the process, we learned how significant and rare this type of funding opportunity is for nonprofits in our region. The organizations we met with shared that this was the first time they had been invited to apply for funding to support DEI initiatives within their organizations.

The ArtsFund Social Impact of the Arts report and presentation in September 2019 shaped our committee’s perspective in highlighting the power of arts nonprofits to alter behavior, advance equity, and change public perception of the arts in King County communities. Specifically, in commissioning this report, ArtsFund was interested in exploring the potential of the arts to influence more equitable outcomes.

The report demonstrated the possibility of enormous individual change in the ability to live without eviction from public housing programs as a result of exposure to the arts. The report also highlighted examples of youth being able to remain out of the court system through participation in creative arts, be it painting designs for Seattle Transit, writing creatively for Writers in the Schools, dancing or performing music in a community youth program at neighborhood centers like Delridge’s Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. These programs appear transformational. For seniors, we heard about music and movement programs unleashing physical abilities that were felt to be unreachable.  

With this perspective, our group began to assess the funding requests from local arts nonprofits. Our analysis was shaped by the value commitments  of Washington Women’s Foundation. We think we succeeded in building relationships, handling differences of view with open frameworks for understanding. We feel that we have advanced equity through our selection, and we have certainly increased our understanding of the complexity of this task to influence change. 

Our process took us through an examination of multiple questions and some lively discussion with differing perspectives and understandings of inclusion. We came to recognize how difficult this process is and that arts nonprofits can be at very different stages of development along the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion roadmap. Arts groups shared with us both the personal and institutional toll this examination takes. There is a recognition that it takes time and appears to move forward as well as painfully backwards sometimes and that for some, the pace of change feels very fast while for others, it feels incredibly slow. We heard examples of organizations losing talented staff as a result of the perceived slow pace of change in their organizations. We also heard from organizations about the intersectionality of this work. All the organizations shared how they worked to embrace the opportunity create inclusive programs that lift up all who are involved.

Nineteen grant applications were narrowed down to 4 site visits. We struggled with big questions about aligning with the new values of WA Women’s Foundation. We looked at importance of diversity in the community served and tried to see the possibility of impact on demographics looking quite different from urban, multicultural Seattle. We also became very aware of the different levels of access to funding and the limited revenue to take on this work to build inclusion.  

What We Learned/Some Reflections

The level of sophistication of the organizations that we visited on our 4 site visits was very telling for our committee. Our four site visits included The Seattle Repertory Theatre, Artist Trust, Northwest Film Forum, and Washington Center for the Arts. We tried to adhere to the structure outlined by ArtsFund in the Social Impact of the Arts report. This laid the groundwork for our opening session in September, thinking about the ability of the arts groups to strengthen multicultural leadership and advocacy as well as shape public opinion. We recognize that there is real power through arts nonprofits to transform communities, and this led our committee to an understanding that there is room through the arts to truly make positive change towards more equity and diversity.   

We felt there were challenges in our own committee structure. We struggled to build community with all our committee members when we had a 5-week gap between our initial September meeting and the next gathering. At that second meeting, we had a full agenda that included reviewing and agreeing upon screening criteria and assigning site visit participation.

We celebrated the award of funding with our “sister partner” group, the Community-Building in Native Communities Partner Grant Committee. They appeared to be on quite a different journey than ours. We did not have the inclusion of members from the community on our committee to guide our understanding, which was an experience unique to the other partner grant committee. We saw the richness of the experience of our fellow Foundation members at the Partner Grant Award Celebration, which made us feel that, in using the Foundation’s traditional partner grant structure, our committee may have had a less “impactful” experience. 

The biggest and best take away has been the opportunity to get to know each other in grappling with real questions that truly matter to the quality of life in our neighborhoods. We also appreciated learning from the Community Building in Native Communities Partner Grant Committee at our celebration. It was an honor to have co-chaired this effort.  

With Appreciation, Amy and Kay

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