Pennsylvania HR 400: Examining Systemic Racism in Public Arts Funding

Hoping this makes a contribution to the work of disrupting systemic racism in the arts please see here PA House Resolution 400¬†¬†sponsored by Rep. Jake Wheatley to conduct a study on the potential racial, age and geographic bias in the funding formula that determines how operating support is distributed by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (AOAP Arts Orgs Arts Programs). I serve on the Council (PCA) and, after saying for the better part of a year that the funding formula privileged white, large budget, older arts organizations and being told that I needed to note that I was only one of a few “people of color” on the Council by the Council Chair (and so presumably had a lot of convincing to do?), I started a conversation with my state representative, Rep. Jake Wheatley, asking for his help. It turns out, Rep Wheatley is the Chair of the Finance Committee and he was very open to working on this issue and connected me with Steven Williams, the research analyst for the Democrats in the House Finance Committee, and the Resolution was crafted.

The formula supports the structures of racism in the arts because in a state where, at most, 4 of the top 100 arts budgets are predominantly ALAANA people (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) in staff, leadership and board, a funding formula weighting funding history, budget size and years receiving grants is weighting criteria that serves as a proxy for white, older and larger. So, this is an opportunity to take a step and craft a valuable reform with implications for the country. PCA staff has proposed new budget formulas for the 2017-18 year, but because rural has been inserted, the new formulas swing far more dollars to rural organizations than ALAANA orgs. In fact, in the draft budgets I have seen, Black organizations in Allegheny County actually were receiving less money than they were before the new formulas were posed. I don’t believe PCA staff will offer a budget that has this kind of result, however, it should be noted that there’s not a single ALAANA rural org in the state funding system, so the inclusion of rural will likely mean the conversation I started about ALAANA people ends up benefitting white arts organizations the most. This is the insidiousness of systemic racism. So, we need a much broader conversation about the State formula and not just, or even primarily, for the benefit of PA ,but more so for the implication of an examination of a funding formulas, whether the explicit formulas in public funding or the implicit formulas of private funding. This is a little experiment. Let’s see what we can learn from it.

Thanks to Chairman Wheatley for this Resolution. If you are in PA, please contact your state Rep to support HR 400. If you are outside the state of PA, consider asking your arts council whether they are using a formula to determine arts funding and then examine it for what racial biases it has embedded.


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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.

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