In the 1970s, a series of fires — set as arson for profit — rocked the Bronx. This story, acted out against a soundtrack of salsa and hip-hop, is currently being told by Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater at Pregones Theater in the Bronx.
These are the types of stories and organizations that the Wallace Foundation, which aims to foster equity and improvements in the arts, will support in its new initiative. Eighteen arts organizations of color across the country, including Pregones/PRTT, will each receive up to $3.75 million over the next five years.
“One of the things that distinguishes this opportunity is the acknowledgment that organizations of color have a certain history of undercapitalization,” said Arnaldo López, the managing director of Pregones/PRTT. “And that means that, for many years — compared to primarily white-serving organizations in the arts and culture — we worked with a fraction of the money.”
The 18 grantees were selected from over 250 applicants and include 1Hood Media in Pittsburgh, Chicago Sinfonietta, the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project in San Francisco, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., and the Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Neb.
This marks the first phase — aimed at organizations with budgets between $500,000 and $5 million — of a broader national arts initiative by the Wallace Foundation. A future phase will focus on a second, larger group of grantees with budgets below $500,000. In total, the foundation has committed to providing funding of up to $100 million.
This iteration, though, was designed around a specific guiding question: How can arts organizations of color use their experience working closely with their communities to stay resilient and relevant?
“It’s about: What are the aspirations for their future?” said Bahia Ramos, the director of arts at the Wallace Foundation. “And how might these resources — time and space to breathe and learn together — give them the wherewithal to meet those aspirations?”
The first year of the initiative will focus on planning before the next four years of project implementation. Over the next year, grantees will map out their funding in partnership with advisers and consultants, including researchers, ethnographers and financial management planners.
One recipient, the Laundromat Project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, hopes to dig deeper into its 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 fellowship,” Ilesanmi said. “And all of this is allowing us to figure out how to do that citywide — and do it in the context of Bed-Stuy.”
Grantees will also work 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 histories and practices.
“All of us have a great deal to learn from organizations founded by and with communities of color,” Ramos said, “who have deep legacies of working with and on behalf of their communities.”