Category Archives: Non-Profits/Philanthropy

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Researching Inequities in Pittsburgh Arts Funding!

imbalanced-scalesVery excited about The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council forming a Learning and Leadership Committee to study issues of equity in funding for the arts in greater Pittsburgh, both current and historical. The committee will collectively determine an approach to examine the allocation of arts funding in Pittsburgh through the lens of race and will then share their findings with the larger community. In no small issue of equity, participants will receive a $1,000 stipend for their labor and since there are ten people on the committee, they essentially become a collective $10,000 consultant, but with the dollars going to the people who are to benefit, namely Black artists, the issue of trickle down community engagement is prevented. In the past, looking at Heinz giving by race, one of the things that I’ve found interesting is trying to figure out what I think defines the racial classification of an organization. Is it the CEO? The majority of staff? The majority of staff & board? The majority of staff, board and audience? What if the grant is for Black led work in a predominantly white organization? Is that the same as dollars to a white led organization for work primarily impacting white people?

In a study done by consulting firm TDC called The Unsung Majority, which was commissioned by The Heinz Endowments, an anonymous foundation & the Pittsburgh Foundation, an organization was racially defined by saying “it’s race” was whatever its majority was in 2 of the 3 categories of board, staff and audience. The Equity in Funding project will work on answering those kinds of questions as well as deciding what are the critical questions to ask funders when it comes to thinking about how our funding is dispersed in racial terms. I’m super interested in what they come up with.

The research is supported by a grant from a program jointly funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments called the Advancing Black Arts Program. To see more about the project copy and paste the link below.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfJZCiFCJykxtRl-X6sTnIANqwYfV8nNEb9KJUfg2dLieTaxw/viewform?c=0&w=1

We Are All Neoliberals Now

trump-devosBefore U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, was Betsy DeVos, she was Elisabeth Prince, older sister to Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, the private security (military) company.
(Shouts to my friend Chaka who mentioned this to me, but I didn’t catch it at the time). This book, the inside of cover of which is pictured below, Blackwater, was an eye-opener when I read it almost a decade ago. It introduced me to the issue of outsourcing public services to private contractors and writers like Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and who laid a framework for me to think about neoliberalism, the political ideology wherein taxes are cut and/or kept low, public services like education, prisons or military services are outsourced to private companies, and “the market” or competition is the model to answer any vexing policy question.

According to Scahill, in 2007 when this book was written, Blackwater had more than 2000

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My dusty old copy of Blackwater

private soldiers spread over 9 countries on its payroll with a database of more than 20,000 former U.S. Special Forces, troops, soldiers and retired law enforcement it could call at a moment’s notice. Blackwater had grown to this size thanks in no small part to Dick Cheney , who served as Secretary of Defense under Bush I and Vice President under Bush II, and Donald Rumsfield, who was the Sect of Defense under Bush II, and had a desire to see the U.S. military have a “smaller footprint” in terms of the size of the active force and to become more flexible by outsourcing  major services to companies like Halliburton, from whom Cheney made a fortune when he sold his shares earned from his time as CEO, a position he held between his terms as Secretary of Defense and Vice President. Prince’s company eventually unraveled due to a number of horrors, including convictions of employees for slaughtering 14 people while serving as private contractors in Iraq. Prince sold the company in 2010 although there are concerns he is attempting to bring back a new and improved security company under the Trump administration. Today, Prince has a reported net worth of $2.4 billion.

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Erik Prince testifying in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2007 in response to charges of abuse

But, despite these references to Trump, Devos, Bush I & II & Cheney, as Kufere Laing said in his last post, it’s too easy to tell ourselves that the privatizing we see in DeVos/Prince is a Republican problem. This is the state of U.S. capitalism, and we could not be here without active Democratic Party participation. However, I recently came across an article on an 1819 Supreme Court Case: Dartmouth vs. Woodward,  that has me considering  the non-profit sector as a whole area of privatizing public services and wondering why we criticize and point out the dangers of charter schools, while not making the same case about non-profits. Dartmouth vs. Woodward is thought by many to set the stage for the non-profit sector in that it decided that corporations, such as universities were not representatives or under the control of the state, as had originally been intended in colonial England, but were instead private corporations whose governance and thus direction could be decided by their boards without outside interference from the government. In this sense, the non-profit sector represents the idea that we should not look to government for our general human needs be they artistic, human service, higher education, job training or health care, but rather look to comparably small corporations that can serve these needs through the entrepreneurial management of staff and boards and the funding largely from the private sector. This is especially true in the arts where government support pales in comparison to financing from the private sector. Of course receiving this support feels great when we get it, but what does the largely private financing of our non profit art sector do to our sense of an artistic life as a public benefit or even right?

In 1971, Richard Nixon, had attributed to him a quote from Milton Friedman, the eventual friedman-and-reagan(1976) winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and author of the paper linked above on neoliberalism, and was said to have remarked  “We are all Keynesians now”. What Nixon actually said was “I am now a Keynesian in economics” reflecting on how his coming budget was going to increase government spending and the similarity of that approach to the one recommended by John Maynard Keynes, the famous economist who advised increasing government spending in economic downturns. This was a dramatic statement since Nixon was a Republican and it was likened to a staunch Christian deciding Mohammed was right. As we in the non-profit sector rightly go hard on Betsy Devos for the neoliberal strategy of privatizing public education, we gotta ask ourselves, are we all neoliberals now?

If equity were so painless, wouldn’t we have it by now?

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(reposted from my LinkedIn page)

Writing or thinking about some question on equity recently that involved the need to think about history, the “equality/equity” slide above flashed to my mind. If you are a follower of conversations on equity, the image is likely familiar to you: three people of three different heights are all positioned at a fence, standing on a box and watching a baseball game. The two taller figures on the left are able to see over the fence to see the game, but the one on the right is stuck looking directly into the fence because the height of the box is not enough to get his head above the top of the fence. The idea in this frame is that they are all being treated equally, in that they are each standing on a box, but they are having disparate outcomes in that one of them is not able to see the game, even with the help of the box. In the 2nd frame, the shortest of the three is now standing on two boxes and this allows them to see, the middle person is still standing on one and can still see and the tallest is now not standing on a box, but can still see because of how tall they are. The difference between the first frame and the second frame is in the outcome. Now all can see over the fence because the shortest person is standing on the box that the tallest did not need in order to see the game. How that transaction of box giving happened, we are not sure, although I always assume that the tallest person gave his box to the slump shouldered shortest person, particularly since I’ve seen this image as one of descending ages aligned with descending heights.

The image is very popular as an explanation of how treating people equally can still lead to inequitable outcomes and that equity is about assuring equal outcomes not equal treatment.  It was recently redone by the Interaction Institute and artist Angus Maguire (I tweeted about this recently without giving the artist or organization credit. Apologies!) and in the two years since the original was first created by Craig Froehle, it has had quite the evolution. Of course, there are only two words “Equality” and “Equity” embedded in this picture and so much must be inferred, but this is the intent, right? Make us think. Now,  that’s some background on the image, but what I want to reflect on is what is not in the image and how this missing information is emblematic of our racial equity conversation: We don’t see any representation of history that has lead to inequity and we don’t see the tension that is all over these conversations of redistribution. As I work in the non-profit arts sector, I will look at this image through the lens of the arts, but the arts touch everything and I think these ideas apply to other sectors as well.

As, I say above, what is not in the image is a frame or two or three about how our arts landscape came to be inequitable in the first place. Whether a report from the Devos Institute, Diversity and the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts’ Racial Equity in Philanthropy Statement of Purpose or even the rationale for the program we fund with The Pittsburgh Foundation, Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, it is clearly established that we have an inequitable, and by this I mean unfair, arts landscape when it comes to ALAANA artists, organizations, audiences and communities having the financial means to create and experience art as compared to white artists, organizations, audiences and communities. If we look at the image initially created by Froehle, and apply it to the arts landscape, we would understand this inequity to mean white arts organizations were simply naturally at a larger scale because of their DNA, or maybe they were just born earlier (although Froehle says that his image was designed to show youth of different heights). However, we know from reports such as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s Fusing Art, Culture and Social Change that in the late 19th century arts philanthropy began supporting art of the white western canon and did not begin supporting “community” arts until the 1960s, which is about the same time philanthropy began capitalizing orchestras in many large U.S cities. Around the same time the National Endowment for the Arts was born as was the state arts agency model and government arts funding priorities looked much like philanthropy’s. I serve on the PA Council on the Arts and when I look at the 100 largest budget organizations in the state, I see 4 that would be considered ALAANA led.  The National Large Western canon organizations and art forms are not simply taller. They were cultivated for ‘height’. ALAANA arts organizations are not simply shorter. They were not given access to the same resources to grow.

Staying with this image, and moving beyond how the larger predominantly white arts organizations got tall to the boxes they are standing on, what would it be to take one box away from them? What is this thing that can be taken away and causes them no less of a “view” and simultaneously provides a full view for the ALAANA arts organization? This is where the “Equality/Equity” slide greatly oversimplifies the problem we face, because as I think about the conversations I am involved in, this unneeded box doesn’t exist on the side of the predominantly white arts organization, and one box isn’t tall enough to get the heads of “shorter” ALAANA organizations over the fence. Of course, this issue is only compounded by the fact that many of the predominantly white arts organizations may not really have their heads over the fence either and that is a whole other issue that is not limited to the non- profit arts sector. The image does not reflect the issue of how competition for scarce resources is fundamental to the capitalist economic mode. So, feel like we need an image that shows on one end the history that has lead to inequity, the negotiation among the various “box providers”, the process of redistribution & the discomfort that is a part of this process and then more equitable outcome. Then we need some symbol for lather, rinse, repeat. We know from the history of racial inequity that this will not be done in one neat step and so don’t we need symbols that when it gets rocky and tense that remind us this is how it is supposed to happen and will need to keep happening if we are going to really build a fair or equitable landscape?

ROOTS in Culture. ROOTS in Justice.

Sunday morning, thinking of a master plan, and perusing the amazing body of work of Alternate ROOTS, the southern based, artist membership organization with a mission to

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From the ROOTS blog post “Honoring each other through our work” by Rasha Abdulhadi

support the creation and presentation of original art, in all its forms, which is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. As a coalition of cultural workers we strive to be allies in the elimination of all forms of oppression. ROOTS is committed to social and economic justice and the protection of the natural world and addresses these concerns through its programs and services. In wanting to learn more about their work, I found  The Resource for Social Change, ROOTS’ training publication describing how they bring their 40 years of experience working at the intersection of arts, justice, community & place to  developing  responses to range of problems & challenges of arts, culture and community. The model is built on five principles of POWER, PARTNERSHIP, DIALOGUE, AESTHETICS & TRANSFORMATION & the publication includes case studies of their work in different communities, a comprehensive  bibliography and set of internet resources at the end. It is soooo challenging to do the work and document the work. HATS. OFF.

And, Alternate Roots, put me in the mind of #ArtsinHD, the planning and implementation process to increase the visibility & quantity of artists and arts activities in the Hill District. For this work that I sit on the steering committee with my wife Bonnie Young Laing, Co-Director of the Hill District Consensus Group, Kendra Ross, who is the consultant helping us keep our train moving, Diamonte Walker, Program Associate of the Hill District CDC, and newly joined Samantha Kellie-Black, our next steps will include a Hill District artist meet up, collaborating with Sembene Film Festival for a film showing, quarterly story telling events and an arts festival next summer. How dope it would be to have an annual gathering of Hill District artists and culture workers like Alternate ROOTS?!  Maybe the artist meet up we are planning for September will be the first of 40…

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At the end of the strategic planning weekend, pie charts of the grantmaking budget Heinz staff developed with the TAP Advisory Board. #participatorybudgeting Photo credit: Germaine Williams

On another note, I feel similarly about the value of this document for the work we are doing at The Heinz Endowments with, The Transformative Arts Process. This program, an experiment in participatory grantmaking, is building the field of those teaching artists, arts organizations, youth and grantmakers who work at the intersection of arts, justice, youth and African American neighborhoods. Just the way ROOTS has codified their work is an incredible accomplishment and I hope to see us do some of this with TAP. It has been an awesome learning experience to work with TAP Advisory Board and they have done some amazing work. If you are connected to an arts organization, program or artist with three years of experience working in a particular African American or “distressed” neighborhood, you may be interested in checking out the current Request for Proposals. The informational being held on September 6th has plenty of openings. Please email Siovhan Christensen at Schristensen@heinz.org to register.

Shouts out to Alternate ROOTS and all working to make a #justculture, a #justpgh.

 

 

#BlackLivesMatters To #ChangingSystems

Sunday I was trying to think thru something and so went back to this piece I really appreciate,  “Leverage Points: Places To Intervene In A System” by Donella

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Photo credit: Gail Manker. Silent Protest 7.12.16 organized by Ayodeji Young

Meadows and it hit me, again, how a lot of us are sleeping  the demonstrations strategy  of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Meadows ranks the  ways to move a system from the weakest, changing out specific people (e.g. elections) or the numbers of a system (e.g. tax rates), to the most powerful lever, the mindset that sits behind the overall culture. The murders of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile by police followed by the murders of five Dallas police officers, again put the need for a new system front and center. In explaining mind shift as the most powerful of all system change levers, the actions of #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations become not just clearly courageous… but strategic and it’s that last piece, strategy, that’s not getting  enough love. We should support and join the demonstrations as the highest level of  system change i.e. mindset change because the demonstrations go right at the core idea of white supremacy: Black lives do not matter as much as white lives, ideas and comfort and Black lives really only matter when they contribute to white lives (this is also, a core idea of Critical Race Theory, the framer of which, Prof Derrick Bell, came right from this Hill District. Love and Light to him.) The demonstrations insist our lives cannot go on undisturbed while Black people are murdered by police. These reverberations are felt society wide, including in the halls of institutional power.

At the most recent Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference, Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Network, gave a short talk and I had the honor of moderating the Q & A. To help stimulate conversation about Ms. Garza’s talk, I wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to the opening reception and as a result, a couple of colleagues shared what I hear as a lingering and often held doubt: “#BlackLivesMatter is great, but I am curious to see what it accomplishes.” In addition to the speaker positioning themselves as a spectator, I also think it misses what the #BlackLivesMatter movement has already accomplished just in that moment: we are discussing police violence and killings of Black people right there and then and what has been known for decades upon decades in Black communities is now one of the most talked about subjects all across the country. But what it really misses is how by marching, stopping traffic, calling for us to #shutitdown, #BlackLivesMatter and its leadership, so many of whom are young & female & Queer, have correctly identified the key lever of change: the mindset that Black lives could never warrant this kind of attention, particularly not in ways that inconvenience and make uncomfortable the lives of white people, and the mindset of too many of us Black people that our murder and unjust treatment by police is part and parcel of what it is to be Black and living in America. These shifts in mindset simultaneously shift the world. Meadows point is that the mindset lever then lets the other weaker levers like policy change do their work, including the set of policies that Campaign Zero released yesterday. Amen to that.

 

 

I Feel Like Zora. Black art & Black (in)visibility.

TLOP2A few days ago I was on TIDAL, the struggling music streaming company owned by Jay Z, listening to Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” (TLOP) and I came across this piece,“Kanye Unfinished: The Evolving Life of Pablo”, about how Kanye’s ongoing changing of “The Life Of Pablo” shows him to be of a quality and insight that puts him among artists of the (White and mainly male) Western Canon, particularly those who’ve seen art as an always unfinished product.  I was all excited about my art insight & set to post it to my facebook page when I reflected on the fact that I had come to the article clicking “Kanye” on TIDAL, which was originally the only way to listen to TLOP, unless you pirated it (which a 1/2  million people did). What gave me pause after pressing “share” and starting to write a little context for the post was that the comparison of Kanye to the artists of this Canon felt eerily familiar to Kanye’s ongoing positioning of himself as Shakespeare and Warhol . So, was this a thought piece or the secret marketing where the poster exclaims to us something that the company has told them to tell us (real buttery taste!)? And if it’s a placed message (I just doubt TIDAL is posting blogs that could set Kanye off because the only incentive to get TIDAL right now is Yeezy) why aren’t any of artists that Kanye  is being compared to of African descent?  By comparing himself just to  white male artists and reminding us of “The Canon”, Kanye adds to the arts industry’s marginalization of Black male and female voices as well as ALAANA (African Latino Asian Arab & Native American) women and white women artists.  It’s hard for me to believe that that hasn’t occurred to Kanye and that bugged me enough to not want to post it. But rather to say something more about it.

At the same time it bugs me, Kanye is too special to dismiss. There is still something special & brilliant about Kanye challenging “the arts” industry by saying a Black male hip hop artist, married to a Kardashian, talking about his dropoutness and his dark twisted fantasies and designing sneakers and calling out billionaires on Twitter is more than worthy of the company of the “canonical” artists. That’s kind of revolutionary in and of itself, right? That’s a Black man taking on his internalized inferiority  , right? However, as he  scales the walls of race/hip hop by showing us he belongs on the pantheon of what we’ve been told our whole lives are the all-time arts greats, he heightens those walls for himself and the rest of us by reemphasizing the idea that white male artists are the true measure of whether an artistic practice is innovative.  For example, by definition jazz is also an ongoing, evolving artistic product, but at its height they didn’t have the technology to change albums once released. Still, John Coltrane, among others, is surely an ongoing genius tinkerer, right? Kanye’s choice to show us who he is by comparison to others brings to my mind Zora Neale Hurston’s comment “I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background.” Does she mean she felt most visible? Or most invisible? I’m curious. But, unlike Ms. Hurston who shows us the violence of racialization by pointing out how she is thrown against this sharp white background, Kanye seems throw himself against this background to be sure we see him. But in this case, I don’t see him, rather I see the (White, mainly male) Western Canon and the artists Kanye (errr TIDAL blogger) is not mentioning. So, while I both really admire Kanye’s courage to do what he feels he has to do to be seen, I also feel some kind of way about his lack of interest in making sure other Black artists are seen. I also think it’s a bad strategy. No matter how bad we are (“not bad meaning, but bad…”), we can’t take on white supremacy by ourselves.

But I don’t want to get too twisted up in feeding the pop culture monster and miss a chance to celebrate an artist I actually know who is here in Pittsburgh, among other places, directly taking on this question of Black visibility and that is Kilolo Luckett. Kilolo, invokes for me the memory of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), with the title of her  “By Any Means” Project (BAM),  opening in Pittsburgh this month with both an exhibit and symposium.“BAM seeks to address black artistic (in)visibility in Pittsburgh through a strategic convening of arts workers and stakeholders that will spark debate, constructive dialogue, and positive growth to our regional cultural institutions and visual arts community nationally and globally.”  BAM will feature an exhibit by an artist named Nathaniel Donnett opening April 22nd thru May 22nd at 709 Penn Ave, as well as a symposium to take place April 23rd in the Carnegie Lecture Hall from 10 am to 3 pm, with one of the talks being a panel on “Black Art Making in the 21st Century”. BAM is a project supported by Advancing Black Arts in its  “Advancing the Field” category, a funding initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. I worked with Kilolo in my capacity as Senior Program Officer for Arts & Culture with The Heinz Endowments. Looking forward her latest response to (in)visibility. I actually think a conversation between the two of them about art & (in)visibility would be fascinating.

 

No Colour Barred

I was in London to see  The Edge Fund two weeks ago for my work as a Program Officer for The Heinz Endowments (I’ve written about the Edge Fund before) and was taken by the fierce Isis Amlak, the chair of Edge, to this art exhibit No Colour Bar: Black British Art In Action at a place called the Guildhall Art Gallery. Now, I don’t always get amped upon hearing “We’re going to a museum” partly because of their general formality and I’ve resisted that part of the arts world since I was a youth, but largely because I associate it with a whiteness and class orientation that has left me feeling othered. So, sometimes the lights in my mind even dim nocolour,jpgas the generator slows preparing me to feel like an outsider to the style & context of the art. But even more so than the art, it’s actually many museums themselves that send an “othering” message as I approach. And, according to the headlines of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2015 publication on arts participation, as a person of African descent, as a man, and as an American, I am probably pretty typical in this way. African Americans visit museums in numbers much lower than our numbers in general pop and we are even less likely to be on the curatorial staff. To complete the picture, men attend in lower rates than women and Americans are thought to be going less and less. Great. I am average.

But “no colour bar” was different. I got all wrapped into so much of the show, including a recreation of the Walter Rodney Bookstore, and this artist, Keith Piper, who I learned was at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University teaching from 2000-2003. After seeing his work, I went home to read about him and then watched a 30 minute video he produced

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Tam Joseph’s “UK School Report”

called Pathways to the 1980s about the Black Art Group 1979-1984. Piper had this one video/photographic piece, “Go West Young Man” simulating his father talking to him that I had to get right up on to explore whether my own father wanted me to understand this message. Then there was this painting from Tam Joseph called “UK School Report” that perfectly sums up what “good” Black boys are supposed to look like.  We should be ashamed that so many beautiful, intelligent Black boys that look the like picture of the Black boy on the right continue to meet the standard of “Needs Surveillance” from white controlled structures of power.

I would not be thinking about my relationship to museums were it not for the work of a number of dope Pittsburgh & non-Pittsburgh cultural instigators. For the last year or so, Kilolo Luckett, D.S. Kinsel & BOOM Concepts (a project supported in part by The Heinz Endowments) have been pushing into my consciousness the need to rethink the relationship of Black people to museums and museums to Black people. Separately & together they’ve been hosting visits, silent dance parties and talks in Pittsburgh Museums & Libraries. In doing so I hear “What public cultural spaces aren’t ours? What spaces shouldn’t welcome us?” Then this point was driven further home by this article in the NY Times article in November “Black Artists and the March into the Museum” Finally, this past week, my good colleague from the National Guild for Community Arts Education, Robyne Walker-Murphy, focused her monthly twitter chat #flychat featuring Ravon Ashley, Aleia Brown,& Stephanie Cunningham  on “#BlackGirlMagic on Museums” and had this super interesting dialogue in response to questions like “How do we make museums revolutionary spaces?” So, in what is the continued evolution of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, things are heating up for museums, which is exciting and good for museums and audiences. #NoColourBarred.