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Representatives of at least 30 metro Atlanta’s black arts organizations will meet next week with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta after sending a letter Thursday that said the organization has failed to invest in groups led by people of color.

The Community Foundation — which oversees the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund — recently gave a first round of $580,000 in emergency funds to arts groups in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Only one black arts organization applied, and no black arts group received funding.

The letter, signed by 30 Atlanta-area black arts organizations, states that this “underscores a truth we have known for far too long: the Arts Fund has not made investments in the metro Atlanta black arts community in ways remotely comparable to the white arts community.”

The letter says that since the Art Fund’s founding in 1993, 87 percent of the $15 million it has allocated has gone to white-led arts organizations. “Unless we collectively stand up and address this with courage and transparency, we are certain the Community Foundation will continue to omit black organizations in spite of the rhetoric that you recently have so passionately professed about equity and inclusion.”

The letter was signed by 30 groups: African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta; Atlanta Black Theatre Festival; Atlanta Dance Connection; Atlanta Music Project; ARTiculate ATL; ArtsXchange; Ballethnic Dance Company; Clark Atlanta University Art Museum; Content Creators Hive; Dance Canvas; Daryl L. Foster Presents LIFT Men, Dance, Life; Fahamu Pecou Art; Hammonds House Museum; How Big Is Your Dream?; Impact Theatre Atlanta; True Colors Theatre Company; Kidds Dance Project; Manga African Dance; Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square; Murmur; Music in the Park Atlanta; National Black Arts Festival; New African Grove Theatre Company; Power Haus Creative; Soul Food Cypher; T. Lang Dance; TILA Studios; Urban Youth Harp Ensemble; Veracity Dance Company and Youth Ensemble of Atlanta.

They define a black arts organization as one that in their creation, exhibition and/or performance of art declare their blackness and further identify it in name, mission and/or target audience; they note these organizations are often founded and/or led by leaders of African descent.

The group said it was a “grave omission” that no black arts organizations received funding in the first round of emergency grants.

The letter expressed frustration with inequities in the funding process that impact black arts organizations. “They are the barriers to opportunity that masquerade as the simple inevitable outcomes of institutional policy,” the letter states. “The foundation’s application requirements such as audited or reviewed financials and a full-time W-2 employee disproportionately disqualify black organizations.”

The organizations said that these requirements are expensive and time-consuming. They “not only ignore the chronic underfunding that makes it impossible to afford such deliverables, it reinforces the false premise that black arts organizations are incompetent with funds or don’t care to be ‘rigorous’ in their business practices, and are therefore ‘untrustworthy’ as stewards of donor funds. If black organizations have succeeded in breaking through the Community Foundation force field, it is the exception not the rule. Your philanthropic model was never designed for our success.”

Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation, emailed a response Thursday and agreed to meet next week with the black arts groups. 

After receiving individual complaints, the Community Foundation last week posted a statement that said, “Your thoughts are important to us and we are listening. It is imperative for a community foundation to reflect and represent the diverse needs and interests of the community it serves. Last year, our board adopted a new strategic plan committed to equity of opportunity.”

The statement said that due to the rush to get Covid-19 aid to arts organizations, the Community Foundation relied on existing criteria for grant applications and “inadvertently created barriers for access by smaller and persons of color-led organizations.”

Among the issues identified by the Community Foundation was that the application did not provide enough flexibility for smaller organizations and those that serve people of color, and the application process needs to be simplified and streamlined. For example, attachments prepared by accountants are required for the grant application, and the foundation acknowledged that this may have set up an artificial barrier for groups.

Only one black arts organization applied for emergency funding, and its application was deemed incomplete. According to the letter, that organization was the National Black Arts Festival. The festival did receive a $100,000 award from the foundation on June 1, marking the first time it has received an Arts Fund grant.

The Community Foundation plans to announce revisions to its grant program June 15. These changes are intended to make the grant money more accessible.

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