Statement on Racial Equity

After five years of grantmaking and considerable deliberation, the Sustainable Arts Foundation has decided to promote racial equity in the arts. Starting in Fall 2016, at least half of our awards will go to applicants of color.

We have been motivated in part by the leadership of Grantmakers in the Arts and their compelling 2015 statement, “Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy.” We are also disheartened by recent current events showing that despite progress, our country still suffers from persistent structural racism.

We have been collecting statistics about the racial and ethnic identities of our applicants for three years. According to this data, roughly 20% of our applicants identify as persons of color (African, Latino/a, Asian, Arab, and Native American). However we have decided that simply matching these statistics is not enough: we will give at least half our awards to these applicants as a commitment to increasing diversity.

In addition, we also intend to more carefully and deliberately publicize our grants to artists and writers of color.

The very specific nature of the Sustainable Arts Foundation, which supports parent artists and writers, makes racial equity all the more important as we help to ensure that our awardees can serve as creative forces both in their communities and in their own families.

Further Perspective

The history of racism in this country can’t be denied. While we have undoubtedly made progress with respect to equal rights, the inequity that our laws and principles have shaped are still with us today. This inequity can be easily calculated with statistics about funding for public schools in predominantly non-white neighborhoods, in the imbalanced representation among politicians, and more to the point of our efforts, in the racial makeup of arts organizations. The arts sector is doing better than most with regard to hiring diverse employees. However, the boards, senior staff, and decision-makers of these organizations are still largely white.

But those are just the numbers. What’s harder to quantify is the bias — whether it’s intentional or not — that compels our society to recognize familiar forms of art, familiar poems and stories over and over again, while those stories and expressive viewpoints that are less familiar are often overlooked.

One of the unique features of our organization is that we invite past awardees to serve as jurors in future rounds. We’ve recognized for some time the potential danger of nepotism in that approach — that we’d end up being an organization that only funds a certain kind of writer or a certain kind of artist. However, that’s not been the case at all — our awardees have produced such a wide variety of work, it’s been inspiring to appreciate their breadth. That said, we can’t help but acknowledge that the diversity of our awardees does not match the diversity of our applicants. And after 5 years of grantmaking, we’ve decided to address that explicitly.

We’re making a bold commitment to artists of color not only because we want to support them and their families directly, but also because we want to give them a seat at the table — specifically, we want them to be able to serve as jurors to make sure that our funding decisions are being influenced by a broad group of creative parents.

While our organization is small, our program is large and competitive. For the past several years, we’ve received roughly 20% of our applications (over 400 per year) from applicants of color. There’s no doubt we will find strong applicants who merit these awards.

We certainly don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t white artists and writers who aren’t struggling financially and who need the kind of support we’re offering. This isn’t meant to punish them. This decision is about acknowledging the additional effects of racism — beyond economics — that make pursuing a career in the arts a challenge.

The name of our foundation is sometimes puzzling to folks. We’ve gotten our fair share of inquiries about art projects involving recycled materials. But the “sustainable” in our title has to do with the importance of family and the passing of beliefs and ideals to one’s children. We created this foundation because we think it’s important for children to grow up with artists and writers as parents, to think that being creative is both a normal and necessary thing. This holds doubly true among artists and writers of color. They have fewer role models, fewer works in the community and in museums, and fewer published books. Our hope is to promote extremely talented artists and writers of color so that they may serve as sustainable leaders both in their communities, but also — and just as importantly — in their own families.