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Funding BIPOC arts

Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts establishes grant program

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Funding BIPOC arts
Musicians from Castle of Our Skins, one of the 15 organizations receiving support from the grant program. PHOTO: Robert Torres Photography

The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) has announced a new philanthropic program, the Powering Cultural Futures initiative. In partnership with the Barr and Ford Foundations, CFWM will distribute $10 million in grants to 15 BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) arts organizations in Massachusetts over the next three years.

“It’s critical work. BIPOC arts communities have been disinvested for years,” says Emma Mesa-Melendez, CFWM’s director of communications. “This is an opportunity for philanthropy to step up and do more for a community that hasn’t had adequate resources and that have systemically been devalued.”

CFWM has centered its efforts on equity and inclusion for years, but has primarily operated in Western Massachusetts. In this new effort, they expand their reach across the state, supporting organizations from all regions, including Boston.

Castle of Our Skins, a Boston-based education and concert series celebrating Black artists, is one of the 15 organizations receiving support from the program. Over the upcoming season, big changes are coming to both the programming and the organizational structure, says Anthony Green, Castle of our Skins co-founder and associate director. The funding from this initiative will go toward supporting that evolution.

Funding is a powerful and necessary tool in making change, but Powering Cultural Futures is about more than a temporary infusion of revenue; it’s about changing the cultural landscape in Massachusetts over the long term. Both the granters and the grantees hope that the program acts as a template for other philanthropic organizations to get involved in BIPOC arts and for the artistic community to recognize the important work of BIPOC creators.

The Free Soil Arts Collective, based in Lowell, is a participant in the program.

“Up until very recently,” says Green, “artists of color have been practically left out of important conversations surrounding artistic practice and importance to greater communities. I would love to have these organizations be much more prominent in the fabric of artistic endeavors and
artistic recognition in Boston.”

For CFWM, working toward that institutional shift begins first with funding BIPOC artists and arts organizations. The second wave of the project is leading research that will inform, test and be used to shape more equitable philanthropic processes. The organization is hopeful that this research will lead to more sustainable funding in the long term.

Giles Li, senior program officer at the Barr Foundation says, “This is just one step in what we hope is a journey with many, many steps towards a more just and equitable and inclusive arts sector.”