Last year the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta awarded over $1 million dollars in funding to 28 arts organizations in Atlanta. More than a million was granted to organizations led by people of color.
Prior to that, the organization, and other philanthropic organizations like it in Atlanta had a 27-year history of supporting mainly white organizations, according to a report from the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Why aren’t Black-led organizations getting the same funding as their white counterparts?
“This has been their practice all along. They have money that they are sitting on that needs to go to Black organizations and they are choosing not to do it,” Heather Infantry, equity and inclusion expert with Generator and the Transformation Alliance said of Atlanta philanthropic organizations. “From 1993 to 2020, 87 percent of funding was to white organizations, while Black-led organizations only received 11 percent funding from philanthropic organizations during this time. These organizations are redlining and using requirements where Black-led organizations don’t qualify for the grants.”
Frank Fernandez, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta said that the organization had a racial reckoning after the George Floyd death, that it brought up equity with Black Americans, and admitted to the 28-year history of companies like his not giving to Black-led arts organizations in Atlanta.
In 2020, the Metro Atlanta Arts Fund supported small–to mid-sized arts organizations including those that responded with safe, innovative programming to uplift arts throughout the region. With the support of an anonymous donor, the Foundation was able to provide an additional third round of grants totaling $150,000 in December 2020 to support additional Black-led arts organizations. Throughout 2020, the foundation also orchestrated broader work to better center racial equity throughout the organization, which included appointing five Black board members and two Black executives.
Fernandez said that there was a town hall meeting earlier in the month to address the equity issue where they got feedback from the Black arts community.
“Philanthropic organizations in Atlanta owe an apology to Black-led non-profit organizations in Atlanta about how we have gone about grant practices. We have been addressing equity over the past year, which will bring a strong equity lens and especially a racial equity lens to our work,” Fernandez said. “Last year the Community Foundation started meeting with different arts non-profit leaders to get critiques on our grant practices. September of last year, we gave one million dollars to the arts community. Ninety-one percent of that funding when to Black-led groups. We are currently working on a re-examination of our grants practices and new strategy for the arts.”
Visual artist Charly Palmer, who currently has a viewing at the Hammonds House Museum in Atlanta has had a successful career but said being a Black artist is hard and that many black artists are having a hard time and that they are behind because of the lack of opportunities. Over the past year, Palmer said that has changed and that he has seen Blacks getting more opportunities and said that because of the George Floyd tragedy in 2020, white guilt is starting to make people in high positions start to make a difference.
“Black is universal. We have contributed globally to the arts through theater, music, dance, visual arts, but aren’t often given the credit we deserve,” Palmer said. “These tragedies have always happened. We are responsible for so many movements. We’re here, we’re doing it, we’ve just simply have not been getting acknowledged.”
Nena Gilreath, Co-Founder of Ballethnic Dance Company in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia said they have been in business for over 30 years in Atlanta and wonder where they would be as an organization had they gotten more funding all along in comparison to now.
“When we’re the talent, it’s one thing, but there is a different level of scrutiny when we’re the managers or the leaders,” Gilreath said. “It’s disturbing to see the difference in how we’re helped in comparison to other organizations. We have been having this conversation for years before George Floyd. The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta had to listen. There is a new reckoning. Before, I knew something was wrong, but to see the actual facts, the facts are there. Hopefully, they will listen this time.”
Gilreath said she is hoping that there will be a difference moving forward as she has seen small changes. Ballethnic recently received funding from the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta and hopes it is not the last time.
“When we bring the arts and cultural expression into the planning process, our planning efforts have more innovative, creative results that are rooted in and reflect a diversity of experiences and perspectives,” Marian Liiou, Atlanta Regional Commission’s Community Engagement and Arts Program manager said. ”Infusing the community planning process with diverse perspectives and creative energy helps our communities to better tackle their challenges in a way that improves quality of life for all residents.”
“Black art is the pathway by which we all find redemption and transformation from a troubled history that continues to chip away at our humanity and undermines our best intentions,” Infantry said. “Social justice, both in the lived experience and expression of Black artists is inherent in their work. Philanthropy misses the mark on advancing equity when Black voices are excluded, or we relegate Black art to just being for Black people.”
“Over the last several decades there has been implicit bias and systemic racism across the board in public health, youth development, arts, public housing in Atlanta. Black groups have not been given a level playing field. The people giving the funds were not thinking about these things,” Fernandez said. “Today we are removing barriers for people to qualify and be eligible for our grants. We have made a long-term commitment regarding racial equity. We want to get it right, we’re listening, and we’re going to move as quickly as we can.”
“The vision for a beloved community was conceived and articulated here in this city and Black art coming out of Atlanta by extension of the movement is the leading voice in this urgent call for racial reckoning,” Infantry said.
For more information about the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, visit www.atlantaregional.org or visit cfgreateratlanta.org. Visit ballethnic.org and www.charlypalmer.com for Blacks in the arts.