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Community Foundation tells black arts groups: ‘We hear you’

Maria Saporta
Jamil Jude, artistic director of True Colors, with actress Phylicia Rashad and True Colors founder Kenny Leon at an event on June 1, 2019 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

A social media exchange among black arts organizations has taken the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to task.

The issue is over the Foundation’s joint announcement with the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund on May 19 that they were awarding a total of $580,000 to 11 metro Atlanta arts organizations. What rubbed several local arts leaders the wrong way? None of those grants were awarded to black arts organizations.

The Community Foundation responded Friday afternoon saying it is “listening to the feedback and responding,” according to spokeswoman Louise Mulherin. “We are in the process of examining what adaptations need to be made to improve grant opportunities for smaller and more racially diverse arts organizations. We’ll have news on those changes on June 15.”

The Foundation also has posted a lengthy statement on its blog titled: “We hear you.”

Katrina DeBerry, Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

Katrina DeBerry, who is leading the Arts Fund program for the foundation, also is welcoming conversations with the arts organization.

Shortly after the announcement of the grants was made, several local leaders raised questions.

Heather Infantry, executive director of the Generator, asked in an email about whether the community realized that “not one black arts organization was awarded.” She questioned how the Foundation could “make such a gross oversight especially given how the pandemic is impacting black folks?”

Several other arts leaders chimed in.

Anne Archer Dennington, executive director of Flux Projects, acknowledged that many of the groups that were awarded grants do focus on African-American communities.

But that’s not the same as supporting black organizations with black artists and administrators.

“Arts organizations in Atlanta struggle for funding in good times,” Dennington said. “Many will not weather the current financial crises.  As a city, we cannot afford to lose our black organizations.  And if we do not recognize the inequity in our local philanthropy soon, we may do just that.”

She and others said there is a need to focus on the challenges facing local black arts organizations and artists – such as the National Black Arts Festival, True Colors, Ballethnic, among others.

Jamil Jude, artistic director of True Colors, with actress Phylicia Rashad and True Colors founder Kenny Leon at an event on June 1, 2019 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Leah Mann, co-director of the Seattle-based Lelavision and artistic director emeritus of Moving in the Spirit (an Atlanta-based group that did receive a grant from the foundation), said this could be a great opportunity for the Atlanta community to talk about the “systemic hurdles and the institutional racism that continues to plague Atlanta’s black community,” a problem that’s only become exacerbated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Could this be a ‘right now’ moment?” Mann asked. “It would be incredible if the call out from Heather Infantry incited some change in Atlanta’s status quo.”

The Community Foundation appears to be willing to seize the moment. In its blog post, it was concerned that arts organizations have been hit especially hard during the pandemic, and it wanted to use its arts fund to provide support to help the arts groups with their immediate needs to help insure their short-term survival.

But the foundation also acknowledged that there have been problems with its application process that made it difficult for black arts organizations to get awarded the grants.

  • Our application did not provide enough flexibility for smaller organizations and those founded, led by and serving people of color – black-led organizations in particular. This meant that we received very few applications from those organizations.
  • The application needs to be streamlined. Its complexity is a barrier for organizations to apply.
  • Our shift to rolling grant cycles instead of a single deadline for this program resulted in our first round of applications coming primarily from larger organizations with the capacity to complete the complex application while also applying for federal funding.

The foundation then pledged that its staff will reach out to arts leaders, especially those who have not received funding in the past or recently, to get their input to inform the future direction of our arts programming.

“We are particularly interested to learn more about the barriers they have experienced in applying,” according to the blog post. “Our board, volunteers and staff are committed to working in and with our community to make a difference.”

True Colors’ production of Paradise Blue (Special: True Colors)

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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