In the 1970s, a series of fires — lit as arson for profit — shook the Bronx. Played against a soundtrack of salsa and hip-hop, this story is currently being told by Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater at Pregones Theater in the Bronx.
These are the kinds of stories and organizations that the Wallace Foundation, which aims to promote equality and advancement in the arts, will support in its new initiative. Eighteen colored arts organizations across the country, including Pregones/PRTT, will receive $2 million to $3 million each over the next five years.
“One of the things that sets this opportunity apart is the recognition that organizations of color have a certain history of undercapitalization,” said Arnaldo López, Pregones/PRTT CEO. “And that means we’ve spent years — compared to mostly white organizations in the arts and culture — with a fraction of the money.”
The 18 beneficiaries were selected from more than 250 applicants, including 1Hood Media in Pittsburgh, Chicago Sinfonietta, the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project in San Francisco, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and the Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha. , Neb.
This marks the first phase — targeting organizations with budgets between $500,000 and $5 million — of a wider national art initiative from the Wallace Foundation. A future phase will focus on a second, larger group of grantees with a budget of less than $500,000. In total, the foundation has pledged to provide up to $100 million in funding.
However, this iteration was designed around a specific guiding question: how can arts organizations of color use their experience working closely with their communities to remain resilient and relevant?
“It’s about: what are the ambitions for their future?” said Bahia Ramos, the director of art at the Wallace Foundation. “And how can these resources — time and space to breathe and learn together — give them the resources to fulfill those aspirations?”
The initiative’s first year will focus on planning for the next four years of project implementation. In collaboration with advisors and advisors, including researchers, ethnographers and financial planners, the grantees will map out their funding for the coming year.
One recipient, the Laundromat Project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, hopes to dig deeper into his work: helping artists and neighbors become agents of change in their own communities. The Laundromat project was founded 17 years ago by a black woman, Risë Wilson, at her kitchen table in Bed-Stuy, said the project’s executive director, Kemi Ilesanmi.
“We have residencies with artists, we do community engagement, we have a professional development scholarship,” Ilesanmi said. “And all of this allows us to figure out how to do that across the city — and this in the context of Bed-Stuy.”
Grantees will also collaborate with a research team from Arizona State University and the University of Virginia to refine their research questions and approaches. Researchers from the Social Science Research Council will develop “deep-dive” ethnographies of each organization to document their history and practices.
“We can all learn a lot from organizations founded by and with communities of color,” Ramos said, “who have a deep legacy of working with and on behalf of their communities.”