When Is It Actually Arts and Culture?

by Justin Laing (bio), program officer, Arts & Culture Program, The Heinz Endowments

For me, one of the most useful elements of NCRP’s Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change was the section titled “A Funding Typology and Pathways to Change” (p. 30). The typology is organized as a series of questions to provoke grantmakers to reflect on their grantmaking across five areas: Sustaining the Canon, Nurturing the New, Arts Education, Art-Based Community Development and Art-Based Economic Development. What I like is that it provided a structure to think about questions of diversity and inclusion across our entire portfolio, and this was a step we had not yet taken. However, with the tool in hand, it was easier respond to a request from my boss, Janet Sarbaugh, to think about a more general diversity framework for our grantmaking. I applied the typology as though it were a grading rubric, which in itself was a useful thought exercise, and this provided several insights. I noted that because of our work as a lead funder of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, the Advancing Black Arts Initiative and Culturally Responsive Arts Education (CRAE) we received a solid B for our work in the first three categories: Sustaining the Canon, Nurturing the New and Arts Education. Conversely, in the areas of Art-Based Community Development and Art-Based Economic Development we had grades that, while not exactly failing, would surely get us an ear beating in most households. In reflecting on the lopsided nature of our report card, I thought I saw implications for our grants programs, but it also sparked for me a possible distinction in grantmaking with an arts focus vs. grantmaking with a cultural focus.

My read of our report card says we have been intentional about disbursing money to a diverse set of organizations and communities (primarily diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in sexual orientation, size and income), and that we are doing some thinking about equitable education at the system level. However, what is it about community and economic development that has caused us to come up short on the typology? An obvious takeaway is that as a foundation program area we will need to decide whether we want to respond to or encourage Pittsburgh’s arts community to respond to larger community/economic issues such as displacement, jobs or violence. But I also believe it points out that the typology may have embedded within it two levels of grantmaking when the focus is social change. Level 1– equitable support for artists to enable them to perform and produce; and Level 2– support for equitable community outcomes. In other words, grantmaking in the areas of Sustaining the Canon & Nurturing the New supports the activities of performance, production, grantmaking that is more typical for arts and culture philanthropy. On the other hand, community and economic development are much more about providing support for a specific change being sought in the community. In this sense the first two areas of the typology are focused on artistic equity and the final two are more about cultural equity in a larger sense i.e. history, spirituality/ethics, social organization, politics, economics, ethos and art or aestheticsi. Arts education grantmaking then is a bridge between arts equity and cultural equity.

All of this then suggested to me that an addition should be made to the typology to help focus on impact, so I added a column for indicators of change. The current typology does an excellent job of asking funders to consider how we are allocating our budgets. This is a critical step and could point us to the next question: “What broad changes do ‘marginalized communities’ want to see for themselves?” To help our foundations consider the questions raised by the NCRP’s recommendations as to what constitutes a fair share, we could move into related discussions of how we move along a continuum of artistic equity to defining and instigating broader efforts of cultural equity; the kind of approach I heard at GIA’s social justice pre-conference during the discussion of the CultureStrike work being done in Tucson, AZ.


i   Karenga, Maulana. 1987. Introduction to Black Studies, 4th edition. Los Angeles: Kawaida Publications.

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