What’s Next For Our Work on Racial Equity in Arts Funding?

An update on the PA Arts Council (PCA) budget for 2017-18 as it pertains to equitable payments to African, Latino, Asian, Arab and Native Arts (ALAANA) arts organizations. You will remember from my earlier post that 96 of the 100 largest arts budgets that are in the state system are predominantly white led when considering the majority of their board, staff, and how they define their art form. Unfortunately, for the time being, we have to rely on my categorization of these organizations because neither the State, nor data collection organizations like Data Arts include race in the variety of methods they use to categorize arts organizations.  This lack of cultural data categorization is one clear place of systemic white supremacy in the American non-profit arts system, and it is ‘missingness” is not a simple oversight that will be easily fixed. When I worked as a Program Officer for The Heinz Endowments there was an effort to get what was then the Cultural Data Project, and is now DataArts, to categorize data by race to no avail. The reasoning was always foggy to me, but the power was not. Predominantly white led philanthropy, at least in the eastern part of the country where the CDP began, was not committed to capturing this data and many, many more predominantly white led arts organizations were openly opposed than were in support. The value of this policy to maintaining the current distribution of resources is obvious. When I categorize 96/100 of the largest budgets as predominantly white, or when The Greenlining Institute reported in 2005 that only 3% of funding from the top foundations went to “minority led” orgs, or Helicon published Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change and said 50% of arts funding goes to 2% of arts organizations, powerful, predominantly white led arts structures not interested in redistribution can make the conversation about “methodology” and ask “what do we really know?”

But back to the other question at hand.  The state arts budget. It was set to be voted on this upcoming Wednesday, July 19th, but it cannot be formally approved until there is an approved PA budget and at last check there was not such an approved budget. However, the PA Arts Council staff have floated a few alternative budget formulas and are recommending one that would move the minimum award for ALAANA and rural arts organizations from $2,000 to $4,000 and max percentage a grant can be of your budget from 25% to 35%.  My most recent communications with PA Arts Council staff suggests this change will move about $200,000 total from the larger budget organizations, like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust & the Philadelphia Orchestra, to 160 ALAANA and rural arts orgs, 120 of these organizations being rural and 40 ALAANA. You may also remember there is no intersection among “rural” and “ALAANA” among arts funded by the state, or, in other words, in PA, “rural” is a proxy for European descended or “white”. One can see from the numerical breakdown that this will shift about $50,000 to the 40 ALAANA arts organizations and about $150K to the rural white arts organizations.

This case, for me, points out four challenges/opportunities we have with our current arts racial equity work: pace, scale, intersectionality and political engagement. Pace: I have been advocating for more than a year that the state needed to look at the PA arts funding formula and its impact on ALAANA arts organizations. This included a request for budgets, past spending levels, voting “no” on the 2016-2017 budget. You can assess for yourself the results of this effort. What the work did not include until recently was political engagement and I think that does offer some  options for the arts racial equity work. Scale: About $1,000  to each of the ALAANA organizations will not shift the vast disparity between white and ALAANA arts capacity to create work, employ artists, define art questions, etc. So, when looking at my last year as an experiment, the scale of result needs work. Where do we want to be in 10 years? Lack of intersection: The “race and” frame i.e. “Black and poor” or “ALAANA and rural” or “People of Color and LGBT” can end up really being an agenda that benefits white organizations more than anyone, while Black or ALAANA people do all of the work to raise an issue.  In this instance, a colleague from the rural community could simply say “rural should be added” and we don’t really have a “intersectional race only” frame with which to push back. So, in this case the budget changes that may be made will primarily benefit white arts organizations. There isn’t a good reason I can see why we can’t prioritize ALAANA and rural and ALAANA and LGBTQ as intersections rather than as separate categories. The Statement of Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion and Equity created by Chamber Music America serves as one example of this approach (full disclosure, Hillombo supported the organization in that effort)  Political engagement: Chairman Wheatley’s HR Resolution 400 provides one example of taking the issue of racial equity in arts funding to the political arena. I do believe

So, do I vote for this budget? I am curious to hear other’s thoughts, particularly arts organizations in Southwestern PA.

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