The $1 billion Ford Foundation Social Bonds sold in June 2020 included $85 million to establish America’s Cultural Treasures, a program to support Black, Latino, Asian and Native American arts and culture organizations. Several other foundations provided additional funding to raise another approximately US$75 million.
At the time, South Arts, a regional nonprofit that supports the arts in the southeastern United States, noticed that no organizations from the region were among those represented by this funding effort, so they contacted Ford, Charles Phanoff says. vice president of strategy at an Atlanta-based nonprofit.
This led to the creation of Southern Cultural Treasures, a $6 million initiative to direct funding to organizations in nine Southern states that are either led by or serve Black, Native and Colored, or BIPOC, communities.
On Wednesday, the group announced 17 arts organizations as its first cohort of Southern Cultural Treasures in theater, dance, visual arts and music. The groups are based in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Each organization will receive unrestricted total operating grants of up to US$300,000 over a three-year period in addition to capacity-building support through consulting and networking that will enable them to be more effective.
“These groups are expanding the boundaries of creative expression, anchoring their local communities and growing the arts in our nine-state region,” Susie Surkammer, president and CEO of South Arts, said in a statement. “We hope that this initiative, with the help of these organizations, will foster a more equitable art community throughout the Southeast region.”
For Collage Dance Collective, the $300,000 grant it received is in recognition of the work it has been doing for nearly 13 years in Memphis, Tennessee, “to engage a community that has not traditionally been engaged with this art form ” says Marcellus Harper, founder and CEO.
“It’s exciting to have your work recognized in this way, especially as a black performing arts group,” says Harper. “I hope this is the start of a movement where Southern artists and BIPOC performing arts groups get more recognition and support.”
Specifically, the funding will allow Collage Dance—which recently completed a major capital campaign—to strengthen its chronically undercapitalized organization as it grows and now struggles with the continued uncertainty of the pandemic. Money is needed for staff, infrastructure and integrated institutional marketing efforts.
“The organization has achieved so much and is in such a growth phase that this funding will help us execute some of the strategies, particularly around staffing and marketing, to help us grow our profile,” says Harper.
Grants are intended to allow recipient organizations to use the money as needed. “A lot of them talk about technology, others talk about fundraising and marketing,” says Phaneuf. The Otis Redding Foundation in Macon, Georgia, for example, needs funds for its capital campaign to support its music education programs, while the cultural arts incubator Diaspora Vibe in Miami will use its grant funding to support emerging visual artists from the Caribbean and Latin diaspora.
The South Art program team also builds a peer support network by regularly bringing fellows together.
Finalists who are not selected will receive funding to compensate them for the time spent in the application process, Phaneuf says.
Ford committed $3 million to the program, an amount that South Arts matched by contacting local and regional funding organizations. Initial donors include the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, the Infusion Fund – a partnership between the city of Charlotte, the Foundation For The Carolinas and individual donors – and the Zeist Foundation.
“We’re trying to get to the root of funding inequity,” says Phaneuf. “What we want to make sure we do is think long-term about building relationships so that there is a strong partnership between national local and regional funding organizations working together to address these inequalities.”