Building a Racial Equity in Arts Funding Community of Practice

Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) has just completed our second Racial Equity in Arts Funding workshop - this one for the greater Seattle grantmaking community with over 30 funders.

In this workshop, GIA shared some key insights from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and the just published How to Be an Anti-Racist. In Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi draws the distinction between what he calls segregationist racism and assimilationist racism. Segregationist racism manifests as the belief that the inferiority of African, Latine, Asian, Arab, and Native Americans (ALAANA) is a product of nature and immutable. Assimilationist racism is the belief that the inferiority of ALAANA folks is cultural and can be corrected.

Assimilationist efforts are often well intended. Many early abolitionists believed that African slaves could be saved and freed – as long as they abandoned their African religions and embraced Christianity, assimilating into the culture of their owners and would-be saviors. Well-intentioned assimilationist thinking persists to this day in many forms – including in philanthropy, in culture, and in the overlap between the two. The very notion of inclusion is predicated upon the acceptance of a power imbalance between the structure, process, culture, and people who include those who are less valued.

Assimilationist thinking often manifests as our saying to communities of color, “We will fund this effort so that you can gain the privilege of access to Western European cultural forms, processes, and organizations,” as though this access accords value to those in ALAANA identifying communities.

These practices are not necessarily ill-intended or recently developed. It is seldom asked of us that we change long-standing practice. But, our failing to change long-standing practices results in opportunity costs that have racialized impacts. Among the costs of assimilationist strategies is the loss of the opportunity to replace inclusion with interdependence. Supporting efforts that treat ALAANA cultural forms, structures, culture, processes, and people as having inherent value for all replace inclusion with interdependence.

As I’ve stated in the past, during the time I’ve spent as a foundation program officer and as a public servant, I’ve made every mistake imaginable. I do not present these insights from the perspective of an expert. I am a professional learner. I know the vulnerability that comes with learning in public – a public that includes your peers, your grantees, your applicants, your employer.

GIA’s members express this vulnerability in our workshops and other engagements in various ways – direct and indirect. Our members express it as the desire for a community of support. “Am I alone out there in trying to work differently? What happens to me when I make these changes? Who is with me?”

This is why GIA shares examples of collaborative efforts like Enrich Chicago, Minnesota’s Racial Equity Funders Collaborative, New York City’s Mosaic Network and Fund. GIA shares the nuts-and-bolts grantmaking techniques that these funders employ. GIA also shares these models as examples of networks that center the value that artists and organizations of color bring to these processes. We share these models as examples of how artists, organizations, and grantmakers come together to support one another while they are all learning in public. GIA knows we all need a community of practice to reinforce and support our efforts. This is why GIA’s workshops are intentionally designed for groups of funders rather than for one foundation or agency at a time.

GIA is more than a platform for learning – GIA is a community of practice for learning. Because we need more than learning, we need one another. This is interdependence in action.

GIA’s Racial Equity in Arts Funding workshops help participants recognize that cultural philanthropy is a system that has been historically racialized like so many societal systems and helps guide approaches to re-designing cultural funding as an anti-racist system. Please contact GIA President & CEO Eddie Torres at to find out more about hosting a workshop in your community.