By Maria Saporta
What an amazing turnaround.
Black-led arts organizations heralded the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta support for diversity in its latest round of funding through its Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund.
That follows intense criticism in May when Black-led arts groups observed the lack of giving to Black organizations in an earlier round of giving. The Community Foundation and the Black arts groups agreed to meet to study why the earlier round of $580,000 in grants did not provide funding to any diverse organizations in metro Atlanta.
The latest round was for a total of $1.15 million, which was awarded to 28 arts organizations impacted by COVID-19. Of those, 22 were Black-led organizations, which received a total of $982,392 – 85 percent of the of the total amount given.
Heather Infantry, an Atlanta resident and arts advocate who is executive director of Generator, was one of the more vocal critics in May. But she sent out a press release on Friday praising the latest round of grants – calling it an “historic contribution to Atlanta’s Black arts community after decades of exclusion.”
Infantry said a study into the Foundation’s grant-making practices “revealed a 27-year history” of “granting primarily to white organizations (87 percent) and instituting application requirements that functionally disqualified most Black organizations from applying.”
Following a forum discussion with Black arts leaders across the region in June, the Community Foundation adapted the eligibility criteria and application process for the Arts Fund to be more accessible to a broader range of organizations. These adaptations included:
- Arts organizations with annual operating expenses as low as $25,000
- Organizations with at least one paid staff member (including part time)
- Organizations located on university campuses
The Community Foundation then committed to prioritizing nonprofit organizations founded and led by people of color, especially Black-founded and Black-led organizations that have not been supported in the Arts Fund’s 27-year history.
“With this grant cycle we prioritized Black-founded and led organizations and those that have been thoughtful and innovative to continue to provide artistic education and expression to the community during the pandemic,” said Lita Pardi, vice president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, in a statement.
Pardi said that as part of the organization’s commitment to equity and the data “told us we needed to change.”
The Foundation ended up having conversations with many organizations that had not been on its radar before.
“This is just the beginning of those conversations and partnerships moving forward,” Pardi said. “We are thankful for this first step, and it will continue to work with organizations that did not receive funding in this round, to direct them to our other grant programs or partners that can provide pro bono support during this critical time of need.”
Infantry was one of about 70 people who participated during a June town hall to discuss how there could be greater equity in the Community Foundation’s giving.
“We wanted to make the case, given the Foundation’s new focus on ‘Equity of Opportunity’, that prioritizing investment in Black arts not only helps to sustain the vibrancy of the arts sector, but that Black art is strongly tied to community activism both in the narratives in which they center their work and in the diversity of audiences they serve,” Infantry said. “This is especially important during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprisings.”
In the latest round of giving, the Foundation received 63 applications in total, of which 37 were from Black organizations. Most of whom qualified for the first time.
“We could never even apply before even though our programming was what they [the Arts Fund] said they were looking for in the RFPs,” said Shondella Andre, director of operations for Amario’s Art Academy for the Gifted and Talented, which provides arts education in South Fulton. “It was so frustrating. Now we will be able to get one for the first time.”
Infantry also applauded Frank Fernandes, the new president and CEO of the Community Foundation, for “taking this bold first step less than a month on the job and for setting a historic precedent of philanthropic reparations.”
Fernandez pledged that the efforts for greater equity in the Foundation’s giving would continue.
“We are moving forward to convene a task force of Black arts leaders in the coming months to continue driving the work of the Arts Fund toward racial equity and boosting arts organizations that focus on creative expression of the Black experience,” Fernandez said. “This can be a model for more collaborative grantmaking moving forward.”
Arts organizations receiving grants, and individual grant amounts are:
- Abel 2, Inc. ($21,600) Abel 2 uses music and performing arts, with Atlanta’s jazz culture at the center, as a platform to foster inclusion across racial and ethnic groups and eliminate stigma around people with disabilities. Key programs include Georgia’s first inclusive chorus featuring singers with and without disabilities, a disability awareness career day to highlight the vibrancy and contributions of professionals across the disability spectrum as well as community concerts and talent. Due to COVID-19 the chorus kickoff has been delayed until 2021, programs conducted through schools are not able to be held and other programs have been canceled or moved to virtual formats, significantly impacting fundraising.
- Alternate ROOTS ($85,000) Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art, in all its forms, whose genesis is a community of place, tradition or spirit. In 2019, 28 member artists working for social justice and positive change in the south received direct financial assistance for their professional or project development. Alternate ROOTS is also a grassroots incubator for new work in and with communities directly addressing social justice issues. In response to COVID-19, the organization immediately began offering “porch sitting” sessions, a time for artists to gather virtually and maintain community. A solidarity fund has been launched, providing swift direct financial assistance to artists in this time of need.
- Amario’s Art Academy for the Gifted and Talented ($32,400) Amario’s Art Academy for the Gifted and Talented (AAAGT) promotes artistic integrity and arts education for students from grades 3 – 12. AAAGT works from its location in East Point and with local area schools, primarily in underserved South Fulton, to help students learn the basics of computerized art design including animation, comic book illustration and mobile and game applications. In response to COVID-19, AAAGT moved its in-person programming to virtual, but had to cancel its 15th anniversary fundraiser. Online offerings provide masterclass level programming, including a series of courses with a Marvel comic artist.
- APEX Museum ($50,000) Atlanta’s oldest Black history museum, APEX Museum displays and interprets history from an African American perspective so that patrons may learn about and appreciate African and African diaspora contributions to world history. Programs include the Mayoral cultural exchange project that focuses on the Underground Railroad, storytelling workshops that preserve African American history and education programs for children and adult literacy students. The museum closed in March due to the pandemic and tours, exhibits and a lecture series were cancelled. The museum is launching digital tours and videos and is partnering with Out of Hand Theater to promote a monthly equitable dinner series.
- AREA: Atlanta’s Resource for Entertainment and Arts ($80,000) AREA is a Black-led and majority Black-serving organization that creates opportunities for all to participate in and appreciate the performing arts. AREA provides novice to professional-level training for dance, workshops (including an AREA + AILEY Extension workshop) and performance opportunities. It also hosts arts-based events and after-school arts programs in partnership with local schools. Due to COVID-19, all internal programming halted, affecting 250 youth and young adults and over 300 adults who participate in weekly programming. Some classes and workshops are now being held virtually.
- ART Station ($75,000) ART Station is a professional, multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary arts center and theatre company dedicated to the production of the visual arts, literary arts, performing arts, arts education and community arts outreach. Located in the old trolley barn in Stone Mountain, the organization offers theater, arts education programming, youth arts leadership and a gallery. Due to COVID-19 performances and children’s summer programs were cancelled. Virtual programs, including a partnership with PBS to showcase a new play, are in progress.
- ARTiculate ATL($10,000) ARTiculate ATL promotes and markets the various forms of traditional and modern artistic expression in our culture, giving exposure for artists and an opportunity for them to sell their work and earn 100% of the proceeds. It also raises funds for youth arts programming, connecting high school students to arts experiences throughout the city. The organization is working on ways to provide access virtually for artists to be able to share and sell their art, and it has hosted virtual events for high school students to be exposed to arts in this new format. The organization has continued to provide exposure and sales opportunities for artists during the pandemic.
- ArtsXchange (Southeast Community Cultural Center) ($80,000) Arts Xchange is an inner-city arts center that creates a multicultural, multi-disciplinary space for local artists to engage. ArtsXchange provides workspace to local artists and space for events and workshops for artists and community members, primarily in Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties. Like many organizations, ArtsXchange has had to cancel programming and shift to online programs including Art and Social Justice Conversations, live performances and a socially distant artist market. It has also partnered with Fulton county, the Colonial Hills Neighborhood Association and Food Well Alliance on food drives for residents, including ”make-and-take” arts stations for those picking up food.
- Atlanta Music Project ($85,000) Atlanta Music Project (AMP) serves 350 students at five sites in metro Atlanta, providing intensive, tuition-free music education for underserved youth. Students receive an instrument, a teaching artist, classes and public performance opportunities through AMP Orchestra and AMPlify Choir. During COVID-19, after-school classes and in-person instruction have been significantly impacted and performances cancelled, creating funding gaps. Programming continues to evolve as AMP discovers new ways to work with students remotely, including masterclasses led by teaching artists and guests and partnerships with other youth organizations both locally and nationally supporting collective advocacy efforts.
- Ballethnic Dance Company($84,842) Ballethnic classically trains culturally diverse youth and adults by providing education, performances and community programs that blend ballet with modern, jazz, African and other ethnic dance forms. Ballethnic is Atlanta’s first African American founded professional ballet company. It has created and performed major ballets for 30 years and has a robust academy and youth ensemble in East Point. COVID-19 caused the organization to cancel its performance schedule for The Leopard Tale, and through a donor’s support performers were still paid. Community shows and summer camps were also canceled, though the organization was able to perform in the East Point Juneteenth celebration using newly purchased face shields and has begun re-launching some programs virtually.
- ChopArt($40,000) ChopArt provides dignity, community and opportunity to middle and high school aged youth experiencing homelessness through multidisciplinary arts immersion and mentorship. Founded by a young woman who has experienced homelessness, ChopArt works intensively with 25 youth experiencing homelessness through a six-month targeted multidisciplinary arts instruction that includes painting, voice, dance or theater. These participants receive support with transportation, food, hygiene supplies, a stipend and are featured in a professional art show. COVID-19 has completely disrupted ChopArt’s programming with limited one-on-one instruction and mentoring provided for students. This fall the organization will design programming using social distancing.
- \City Gate Dance Theater Company($11,550) City Gate Dance Theater (CGDT) unites communities through powerful, dynamic and relevant works and professional dance education that celebrates the diversity that exists within our society. Key performances have included, DREAMERS: Mothers and Sons, that presents a new perspective on the narrative of Black men in America; and ROSES, the organization’s first full length contemporary ballet. In light of COVID-19 the organization will present DREAMERS and other performances virtually, transitioning from the stage to a visual experience that combines multimedia accounts of current events intertwined with the choreographic work.
- Clark Atlanta University Art Museum($25,000) Clark Atlanta University is a culturally diverse, research-intensive, liberal arts institution that serves 3,900 students annually and offers 40 major areas of study with its largest school being Arts and Sciences. The on-campus Clark Atlanta University Art Museum (CAUAM) maintains and cultivates a representative collection of American and African diaspora art, and encourages scholarly research giving special attention to the development of African American artists. Because of COVID-19, the CAUAM exhibitions and programs were either modified, postponed or cancelled and digital presentation has become the primary form of outreach. The museum is preparing complementary exhibits both online and outdoors in the campus landscape and planning an exhibit in partnership with a number of other art museums and universities.
- Dance Canvas($40,000) Dance Canvas provides opportunities and venues to promote professional dance in metro Atlanta through choreographer career development, youth outreach and leadership and community engagement. It provides a platform for emerging professional choreographers to create new work. In addition to dance techniques, students attend workshops in careers, branding, marketing and composition. COVID-19 put all programs on hold including performances, field trips for 400+ high school students and 10 masterclass residencies. Unlike other arts organizations, Dance Canvas did not rush into online programming at the start of the pandemic. Instead it chose to be intentional and develop an online series, Choreo Chat, that includes conversations and footage showcasing past choreographers’ work. It will move forward with the help of a strategic planning grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and continued partnerships with similar organizations to reimagine the road ahead.
- Flux Projects($20,000) Flux Projects produces temporary public art projects that connect artists and audiences in Atlanta through the creative power of place. Through more than 120 projects engaging more than 600 artists, Flux has connected community through free public art, expanded arts accessibility to diverse audiences, presented artists working in all media and transformed public space with projects last from a few hours to a few months. When COVID-19 hit, Flux postponed its major public projects and programming until next year and launched its virtual arts series to commission artists and give them a platform to experiment and engage with audiences through dance, music, video and the written word.
- Giwayen Mata($18,000) Giwayen Mata celebrates the lives of women and uplifts communities and the planet, while perpetuating the cultures of Africa and the African diaspora through dance, rhythm, songs, poetry and prose around the world. Giwayen Mata was formed in response to a call from the women of the Atlanta Mas-jid Al Islam for live female African drummers and dancers, and its name translates to “Elephant Women,” a term for leaders of women’s organizations in Nigeria. Giwayen Mata reaches approximately 11,000 individuals annually, 91% of whom are African American or Black. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the ensemble was contracted to deliver five to six performances per month which were cancelled as were paid, in-person classes. The organization shifted to shorter, virtual rehearsals and workshops conducted through its social media platforms.
- .gloATL($20,000) gloATL offers free public performances in schools, urban environments and rural communities with venues that range from Ponce City Market in Atlanta to historic sites in Walker county. The performances engage audiences that may not have access to other arts opportunities and are structured so that audience members actively participate in performances. gloATL also uses its performances as vehicles to educate audiences on local issues in the hopes of engaging them as advocates. The pandemic led to canceled performances, workshops and fundraising events since its work is place-based and dependent on the location and personal interactions. Its first digital art public intervention, “Stitching (up up up) the Sky”, will occupy four public sidewalks on the Westside, downtown, midtown and Reynoldstown with human-sized monitors where people can experience art ‘face-to-face’ without risk.
- Hammonds House Museum($83,000) Located in Atlanta’s historic West End, Hammonds House Museum (HHM) is a unique setting to explore the cultural diversity and legacy that artists of African descent have made on the world culture. HHM is the former residence of the late Dr. Otis Thrash Hammonds, a prominent Atlanta physician and a passionate arts patron. Its yearly calendar of events includes visual art exhibitions by significant mid-career and established artists, artist talks, panel discussions, workshops, art education for young people, book readings, concerts and more. Anticipating the need to remain closed through the end of the year, HHM is developing HHM Digital, which focuses on visual arts, literature, music, humanities, creative conversations and children’s programs. HHM Digital was tapped by theKennedy Center as a national partner in its Millennium Stage Couch Series project.
- How BIG Is Your Dream Foundation($10,000) How Big Is Your Dream Foundation (HBIYD) provides young singers, dancers and musicians with usable, real world knowledge through interaction and performances with exemplary music educators and experienced industry professionals. It began when its founder, Jorel “JFly” Flynn, was a touring musician and realized music was more than a hobby or talent – it was a business that could sustain him if he knew how to make the most of it. The organization reaches 800 students annually through programming including a summer camp focusing on music theory, technology and production; HBIYD also has a band that performs at various functions. Due to COVID-19 HBIYD adapted with an online curriculum that allows students to engage in the technology side of the arts by creating visuals, self-recording, performance review and final production including mixing and mastering. It also hosted a virtual summer camp with instruction on various instruments, voice, dance, film, lyric/story writing and lifestyle management.
- Manga African Dance($21,000) Manga African Dance is dedicated to preserving and teaching indigenous African arts through dance, drama, songs, games, fashion, drum and adornment. The company’s high-energy repertoire includes dances and rhythms from Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Liberia, Congo, South Africa and Nigeria. Manga offers an annual Dance and Drum Conference for novice and professional dancers and drummers from around the country as well as children’s camps that include dance and percussion workshops, arts and crafts, storytelling and African games. In response to the pandemic, Manga canceled all in-person programming and moved its summer youth program online, featuring a different African country each week.
- Murmur Media($10,000) Murmur Media supports and exhibits do-it-yourself (DIY) and emerging contemporary art and media that serves as a provocation inspiring a more open and engaged world. It is a community resource for contemporary, ephemeral and provocative art and printed matter. Makers are directly involved in production and distribution. As art spaces in Atlanta have disappeared or relocated, Murmur seeks to make engagement as accessible as possible, and its staff is especially trying to connect with underserved and untapped groups including BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities. When COVID-19 hit, Murmur had to shut down its gallery space, halt space rentals and shift to digital programming, which led to financial losses. Murmur has launched Produce Row, its digital publishing, radio and visual arts content arm, is planning a virtual Atlanta Zine Fest later this fall and is collaborating with Art Papers on the Atlanta DIY Symposium.
- PushPush Theatre Company($16,000) PushPush Theatre Company advances the south’s cultural discourse through innovative, original work and 21st-century ideas for collaboration, inclusion and advancement. PushPush has produced hundreds of theatrical events, an international exchange program, a film incubator and literary events. In 2019, PushPush moved to a new home, a former church campus in an underserved and rapidly growing area of historic College Park that will ultimately house three performance spaces and 27 affordable artist studios. During the crisis PushPush has kept spaces open for artists who work in private studios. All spring and fall programming including a summer arts camp and after-school workshops have been cancelled, and PushPush has been exploring multiple ways of presenting its experiential art in safe and innovative ways, including outdoor film screenings.
- re:imagine ATL($85,000) re:imagine/ATL equips the next generation of storytellers by providing mentorship, training and career exposure opportunities within the film and digital media industry. re:imagine hosts a six-month documentary filmmaking intensive, a podcast and workshop series for teachers and hands-on media production training to over 500 students. Due to its primary partnership with metro Atlanta schools, programs were cancelled when schools closed and most of its corporate contracts and sponsorships were suspended. In spite of these challenges, re:imagine has moved its documentary curriculum program online and is planning a nine-month apprenticeship program in partnership with Arts2Work, DeKalb County schools, DeKalb Entertainment Commission, Worksource DeKalb and CareerRise.
- Soul Food Cypher($15,000) Soul Food Cypher (SFC) celebrates the voices of Black men, utilizing the power of freestyle rap and lyricism to transform individuals and communities through events and outreach in a safe and nurturing environment. It serves African American men and boys, primarily in Fulton county, through public events and an afterschool program. With programs that revolved around in-person gatherings, SCF has had to drastically adjust programming amid COVID-19 and has faced financial strain from canceled programs and events. The organization has been working with the City of East Point to promote the 2020 Census through a series of digital ads aimed at young Black men, launched pilot education programs with regional schools and shared online programming featuring notable guest speakers.
- Staibdance($25,000) Staibdance uses contemporary dance to promote healing, unity and discourse among many cultures and countries, incorporating Iranian-Armenian music and movement to engage people and diverse perspectives. Its core programming includes a two-week summer intensive in Italy, a three-day dance workshop and a newly created city-wide dance series slated to begin in 2021 and open to the public. COVID-19 has forced the organization to cancel all touring and performances and has paused all revenue-generating fundraisers. It’s newly created online series, RADAR, curates local and national BIPOC artists for additional exposure and the company will launch a podcast series in the Fall.
- T. Lang Dance($10,000) T. Lang Dance combines contemporary dance instruction with provocative performances that are grounded in founder T. Lang’s framework of “Black Endurance.” The organization nurtures Black dancers through dance instruction and workshops, providing audiences with professional artistic programming while simultaneously supporting an environment that fosters liberation through dance students and performers across the African diaspora. In light of the public health crisis, the T. Lang Dance company canceled its Sweatshop Summer Dance Intensive and successfully pivoted in June to a single-day virtual session that included a movement workshop and a panel on the future of dance after the pandemic.
- Trey Clegg Singers($20,000) The Trey Clegg Singers (TCS) make music to promote healing, justice, reconciliation, equality and unity. Founded in 2016 by Clegg, a faculty and choral director at Spelman College, TCS was created to be a multicultural and inclusive chorus that performs music from a variety of genres and cultures, regularly performing works by African American composers. COVID-19 has impacted TCS personally as its founder was diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID-19 in March and program planning and fundraising was postponed and/or cancelled. Virtual events are being coordinated and the group has discussed sending recorded performances to medical staff caring for COVID-19 patients, highlighting its focus on healing and reconciliation.
- True Colors Theatre Company($85,000) Founded in 2002 by Kenny Leon and Jane Bishop, the True Colors Theatre works with African American playwrights and productions that tell stories for and about the African American experience. Each season is a culmination of three plays, a play reading series and education programs including community conversations that create pathways for rich and deep community discussions. Like most theaters, True Colors has had to cancel programming, fundraising and its education series. As planning for fiscal year 2021 comes with much uncertainty, the organization is planning in phases that align with municipal reopening guidelines, initially with virtual programming then moving to a virtual/in person hybrid model as guidelines allow.