Addressing European Supremacy in PA Council on the Arts Funding-2017 Year in Review

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PA Council on the Arts Black Logo

With 2017 complete, an update on my effort as a member of The PA Council on the Arts to have its general support funding formula changed to include a value for ALANAME (African, Latinx, Asian, Native American and Middle Eastern) organizations.  I have been working on this in order to give some kind of balance to the current formula, which gives a lot of weight to prior grant & budget size. This weight, as I’ve pointed out before, results in more money going to European descended, larger budget organizations. However, what I’ve also been thinking about recently is that this means more money to European art forms, like symphony, opera and ballet that then center themselves with frames of universal classicalness and quality, marginalizing the classicalness and quality of ALANAME and non-Western European arts. This centering is a European elite supremacist construct, despite the restratined terms with which the subject is usually discussed, that supports larger frames of European superiority and African inferiority.

To see what my effort has looked like over the past year, please see prior posts of support of Rep. Jake Wheatley sponsorship of PA HR 400, a formal inquiry into the inequity of the funding formula beginning in the PA House of Representatives. At last check, the Resolution is still in Committee and has not come to the floor for vote. However, the PA Council on the Arts has passed a budget, and the last piece of information we heard was that the projected grants list now awaits Gov. Tom Wolfe’s signature. Looking at the grant list lets me report out on what was and was not accomplished in this last year in my view as a Council member.

Showing once again the truth of Frederick Douglass maxim “Power concedes nothing without a demand”, this past fall the PCA passed a new formula intended to move money to smaller budget organizations. But was anything conceded, really? Some good things came from this for white arts organizations, but there was no progress in addressing the smaller budgets of ALANAME (African, Latino, Asian, Native American and Middle Eastern) organizations, and, in fact, in Allegheny County these organizations lost money. This is due to the fact that the formula doesn’t acknowledge that of the top 100 budgets in PA only 2 (down from 3 or 4) could be considered ALANAME: Manchester Bidwell Corp (MBC) in Pittsburgh and the Asian Arts Alliance (AAA) in Philadelphia. I need to add that I am using two different definitions in these two cases to define them as ALANAME. I am on focused on the founder’s ethnicity in the case of  MBC and the founder and the mission in the case of AAA in order to consider them ALANAME. If I were to use which ethnic group controls the majority of the board, I am not sure that I would still have two organizations in the top 100, but again, this data is not really available. Of course I am having to rely on my own assessments in terms of ethnic classification because funders and arts data gathers like Dataarts have refused to ethnically categorize funding, so that the field can consistently monitor the issue.

Rather than address the racial disparity in budget size in the PA top 100, the new formula has an increased value for smaller budget organizations, and, in the case of Allegheny County, this in turn further benefitted European descended arts organizations, albeit smaller budget organizations. Council members chose to not only not approve a change to the formula that would hold a value for ALANAME organizations, but did not even consider such an option as I requested at the July 2016 meeting. All that was considered were three different budget options that redistributed $ from large budget orgs to smaller budget orgs and the staff recommended to Council that they choose the most conservative option in terms of resource redistribution, which they did. Please see the link further on in the post to see the specifics on the three choices.

I did not attend the last three meetings Council meetings of the year. Council meetings are held during week days and my new work does not have the flexibility it once had when I was an employee of The Heinz Endowments. Thus, I did not hear the dialogue at the meetings and the minutes are sparse. I have made my case on this issue in person, on the phone and in a couple of blog posts, So, had I been at the meeting, it would not have changed this outcome, but I could at least report on the exchanges and better inform you as to the thinking that went behind these decisions. My apologies. I did participate actively in the search for a new Executive Director and, with my fellow Council member, Gayle Iso, raised a lot of issues about how we thought racial advantage played out in that process. I will report out on this in a later post.

Here is the formula the Council approved:

General Grants to Organizations Budget=$5,383,041

  • Decrease grants over $50K by 15%;
  • $3,000 minimum grant, up from $2000;
  • $200,000 maximum grant;
  • 35% of budget size;
  • 13.38% decrease for all others

This formula change was essentially a decision to move $ away from the urban centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and to suburban and rural organizations. In Allegheny County, the formula reduced some of the very slight gains African American arts organizations had been able to make as compared to predominantly white arts organizations of similar size, because it holds a value for overall parity regardless of race, despite the undue burden ALANAME  organizations try to address because they are so underrepresented. Because of the PCA’s Preserving Diverse Arts Program, which focuses on ALANAME organizations, some of these organizations had slightly larger grants than European descended arts organizations of similar size. The criteria above caused them to actually have a 2018 grant projected to be smaller than their 2017 grant.

I have been able to categorize all of the grants to Allegheny County, where I am based, and have been able to categorize about 1/2 of Philadelphia County’s grants. You can see the projected grants list and my analysis here. Allegheny County as a whole lost $125,000 and Allegheny County ALANAME led groups lost about $2,500 when comparing 2018 grants v 2017 grants. Philadelphia County will lose more money because as I got through looking at the 78 smallest the organizations in Philadelphia County,  a little less than $4,000 was gained when comparing these organization’s FY 17 & FY 18 grants. Once the top half is examined, it will lose a lot more as a county. It should be noted that most of this loss is born by the top percentage of arts organizations. For example, in Allegheny County, more than 1/2 of the $125K loss when looking at 2018 grants v. 2017 is carried by three organizations: The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and The Carnegie Museum of Art, which saw reductions of $29K, $22K, and $16K respectively. In Philadelphia County, $105,000 will be lost across the top 6 budgets. I have mixed feelings about this result. In one sense the top budget organizations tend to be created by the capitalist class, and they are more likely to have access to the money to replace this kind of loss, should these donors want to make this choice  (although they might not make this choice as generations change). On the other hand, in Allegheny County, my experience is that European descended arts heads are generally quiet when people of African descent are talking about the racism in the arts sector and their programming rarely criticizes whiteness and racism. So, as someone looking for more support for ALANAME culture, how excited should I be about about greater equity among European descended people and support for proverbial white working class arts organizations, particularly when part of that transfer comes from ALANAME organizations? Ultimately, this new formula becomes a trade between upper tier and lower tier European descended arts organizations, though largely instigated by an African and European descended, Black identifying Council member, i.e. me  (I am distinguishing my ethnicity from my race in this instance). Isn’t this an important part of how Blackness labors? As a facilitator of exchange between European descended people? (Shouts to Michelle Wright who’s insight I employ here from Physics of Blackness and shouts to Pgh writer, Joy KMT, who gave me this book)

There is more to say about this issue, and I plan to return to it, but that is my 2017 report on my work as a PA Council of the Arts to see more resources go to ALANAME organizations. I am sorry not to have better news to report.

 

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About Justin

Justin is the managing partner of Hillombo LLC i.e. the chief cook and bottle washer and likes to write when he makes time.