by Guest Contributor Tiffany Bradley, originally published at BlackEstinienne
One of my friends thoughtfully shared a link with me about Kickstarter’s impact on indie artists: “Kickstarter Expects To Provide More Funding To The Arts Than NEA.” To which I squealed, “NEA funding is a pretty low bar!” Not to disdain the valuable work of the National Endowment for the Arts, but their impact on individual artists is negligible, and on individual artists of color…minimal. To assume otherwise is to misunderstand the role of the NEA.
The NEA funds organizations, not artists. People create art, teach kids, and perform. Institutions showcase these artists, give them space to grow, and a platform to share their vision of the world. But institutions are gatekeepers and serve the interests of structural inequity.
Last fall, panelists John Killacky, Dr. Susan Cahan, and former NEA Deputy Director for Programs A.B. Spellman shared their experiences with a group of culturally specific arts organizations in NY. For those of you that don’t speak arts manager, “culturally specific organizations” are those that focus on a non-white culture (i.e. people of color.)
A lot of ground was covered between these three leaders, but the best was a historical perspective on these organizations. Cahan outlined their growth as a “gesture of integration that was really a form of segregation.” To get funding, artists of color had to form organizations and partner with [older, whiter] nonprofits. Spellman pinpointed the detrimental effect: “a part of the trap is that you aspire to institutionalize yourself.” Continue reading