Creating Access for Grantees (Podcast Transcript)

This Podcast was recorded on January 27, 2020. The full transcript of this podcast is published below.
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Sherylynn Sealy:
Welcome to a podcast by Grantmakers in the Arts, a national association of public and private arts and culture funders. I’m Sherylynn Sealy, GIA’s program manager. GIA is a community of practice with a shared vision of investing in arts and culture as a strategy for social change. Since 2008, GIA has been elevating racial equity as a critical issue affecting the field. To actualize this work within the sector, GIA published its Racial Equity In Arts Funding statement of purpose in 2015. Since then, this journey has reaffirmed that the many intersections at play as we leverage our dollars for the deepest impact and continue exploring new ways to be agents of change.

This podcast is part of the 2020 Grantmakers in the Arts Racial Equity Podcast Series. In this podcast episode, we are glad to have the Black Art Futures Fund joining us. We’ll be hearing from DeLana R.A. Dameron, the founder of the Black Art Futures Fund and Red Olive Creative Consulting. We will discuss new ways of funding small art organizations in black communities, refining the definition of who can be a funder and uplifting the additional and crucial support that Black Art Futures Fund offers grantees throughout the process of applying for funding.

So, DeLana, thank you for joining us today.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
My pleasure.

Sherylynn Sealy:
And happy early birthday.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Thank you.

Sherylynn Sealy:
So, what is the Black Art Futures Fund, and how did it come to be what it is now?

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah. So, the Black Art Futures Fund is a collaborative grant making project that started in 2017. We started making grants in 2018, actually. And, I came about the idea after having a lunch with one of my mentors, Shay Wafer, who was formerly the executive director of 651 Arts. And at this lunch, we were commiserating about our work at small black arts organizations and at non-black arts organizations, and trying to figure out what was the difference. Why was small black arts organizations fundraising so much harder and different? And, you know, I say that cash flow knows no race, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And that when checks come in and when we need to pay the bills for those checks, that’s an ever-evolving schedule and timing thing that just doesn’t matter who you are or what size organization you are. You can come up against cash flow issues. But what happens next, I would argue, was cash… Was race-based, in that I found myself sitting at a table with an executive director, speaking about cash flow and how we were going to make payroll, and that the white institution executive director got up, made a few calls and at the end of the week, had $100,000 raised. And at the black arts institution, the ED started talking about furloughs and layoffs. Honestly, that’s how I ended up at the non-black art organization.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yeah.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Was because of not being able to make payroll. And so, Shay had asked at that lunch, like, where is the fund for black arts? Where is the thing that people can give into that would then redistribute back to black arts organizations? And in the ways in which I like to operate in my world, which is with my strengths and my abilities, I started thinking about how I could answer that question. And so, BAFF was founded very swiftly after that lunch.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah.

Sherylynn Sealy:
That’s awesome. Yeah. So, you’ve had quite a start, and I think it’s… I mean, I think it’s pretty incredible that instead of saying, ’Wow, this is terrible. Someone should do something.’ Right? You were like, ’Wow, this is terrible. Someone should do something, so where do we start? How do we begin?’ So, I mean, I think that in the spirit of sort of diving right in, how does that set the Black Art Futures Fund apart from other funds, and can you talk a little bit about Black Art Futures Fund structure?

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah. So, when I sort of left that lunch, I gathered a few people, and these were folks who I just kind of trust me, right? So, when I call and I say, ’I have this idea. I don’t really know what it is yet, but I think it’s going to be this. Will you ride with me? And also, will you help me make the $10,000 minimum to start the fund?’

Sherylynn Sealy:
’By the way.’ Yeah.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And I had a core group of friends who said, ’Yes, absolutely.’

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yeah.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
’Let’s go.’ And so, you know, from the jump, it was always a collective effort, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And a collective decision-making process and a collective ownership. And we continue to invite people in to that space to help us make the decisions about who’s going to receive funding, to help us make the amount of money that we give out each year possible. It’s all individual dollars, so we start each year with almost a zero dollar bucket and fill it in, and then when we get to May is when we decide we kind of want to decide on who gets funding.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
We look at what’s in our pot and then that’s what we distribute. And, you know, I think that this idea that many people or anybody can participate in philanthropy and the moving of funds to small black arts organizations, I hope is empowering for folks who participate in any way, right? As a volunteer reader, as a board member, as an applicant and as a grantee.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yeah. That’s… I mean, that’s awesome. So, what I’m hearing then is, in theory or, I mean, in practice, if I wanted to… If I wanted to give $100 as a donor, then I would be considered a donor and I would be giving money to this fund. Is that about right or…?

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah, absolutely. And that could be the extent of your participation or you could say, ’I want to give $100 and I am interested in how people make granting decisions, so I want to also be a volunteer reader. And maybe I have a really great living room and I want to host a brunch to raise money for the next round of grantees.’ Right? And so, we have people that do all of the above and people who just come in at one level, whatever is most comfortable for them to participate in the project.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Yep. That’s awesome. So, everyone who’s listening, you are very much able to be a donor, so be sure to check in post the podcast. And, yeah…

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah. Anyone can give.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Awesome. Awesome. So… So, that sort of disrupts the idea of what or who the donor is, because typically when we talk about donors, we’re thinking a very wealthy individual giving this large lump sum. And so, it’s really exciting that Black Art Futures Fund sort of removes those types of barriers. So, can you talk a little bit more about the removal of barriers and how that sort of manifests in Black Art Futures Fund? And I’ll leave it at that.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah. I mean, I think that the ways in which money up against art up against traditionally underrepresented and underserved, and we’ll call it underfunded, groups, interacts is… There’s always still going to be a barrier, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
So, we are not barrier-free, per se.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
If we were, maybe we’d just have more money and we could give everyone who applied money. But we’re not there yet. I hope that we will be there at some point. But, you know, I think that when people think about how their money might move in an ecosystem that is reliant on disposable income, we always think that it has to be a big amount of money. Or it’s the opposite, right? You hear people that say, ’Every penny counts.’ And while that is true, if we’re all only giving pennies, it’s also sort of a different barrier that we’re setting up for these groups that are only seeking really, really small amount of dollars.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
But what I’m really interested in disrupting is this idea that, or my experience of being a development director at small black arts organizations that are so heavily reliant on foundation dollars and granting dollars and not necessarily having access to individuals who are giving unrestricted money, for the most part, right? So, the vast dollars that are coming from grants, from granting institutions, are generally programmatic with restrictions as to how the organization can use the money, which can also contribute to that cash flow problem that we talked about earlier.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And if you were just giving us $100, you might not say, ’This is only for children programming.’ Right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
You just sort of say, ’This is for your organization. Use how you need to.’ And so, we get to collect a group of individuals who are saying, ’We want to give money to small black arts, full stop.’

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yeah. No. Of course.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And no questions asked, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
So, we’ve had groups that have used the money for rent to be able to be in a cultural center of a suburban downtown Southern city. We’ve had groups use it to fly in artists from London. We’ve had groups use it to pay their first paid staff member. And we celebrate all of those uses and encourage donors to understand that their $100 within this fund can still do a lot of good.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yeah. No, and I think… I think that’s key. Sort of, like, inviting more people to be a part of this process. And two things that you mentioned, unrestricted funds and funding general operating support is something that is… I think a lot of people are talking about because you can fund programs, but if an organization doesn’t have funding to keep the lights on or for staff to actually come in and run the programs, it becomes a problem. And so, I think you highlighted some great points there. And sort of going back to the point of the sort of funding cycle, can you talk a little bit more about how the cash flows from year to year and how it gets distributed to arts organizations?

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah, sure. So, we generally, in the last.. We’ve done two cycles. We’re in our third. So, our first grants were made in May of 2018 and we gave $15,000. Our second set of grants were made in, also, May of 2019 and we distributed $21,000. We are on track for… I won’t say how much we’re going to give. But we are going to give more than $21,000 in our third cycle.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah. And I’m super-excited about that. So, again, we empty the pot and then we have about a half a year, so about eight months, to fill it back up. And each year, we kind of get a little bit more momentum and understand the ways in which the money can come in. And then the cycle for applicants looks like a top of the calendar year process.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Okay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And it has changed each year, for a number of reasons. This year, we’re looking at doing a two-part process for applicants. One is what we might understand to be a letter of interest and a normal granting world, we’re calling an application of interest. So, folks are really presenting what they might have presented last year if they applied, which is kind of your standard information that they already might have on tap, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yep.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Their mission, their history, board, staff, revenue and so on. And then, because we have had a pretty robust roster of national volunteers who say that they want to participate in the selection of the grantees, we’re inviting the volunteer application readers to come in and really kind of partner with select applicants to build a strong secondary application that will then be scored.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Nice.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah… And selected. And hopefully… Yeah. So, hopefully we’ll have a good roster of folks. What’s been interesting each year, though, is… Or, I should say, this year… So, we just closed our first section and we have 32 applicants, which…

Sherylynn Sealy:
Oh, nice.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah.

Sherylynn Sealy:
And is that typical for you?

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Initially, I found… I was going to say initially, I was a little disappointed, I’ll say.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Okay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
So, last year… Our first year, we had 34 applications. Our second year, we had 54 and then this year, now we have 32.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Okay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And I had to sort of check my own self, right? And reject this growth mindset that we are so often up against, that growth equals progress. And not even answering or under… Remembering that our process also shifted.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Right? So, we, in the first two years, were open to non-black arts organizations applying for programmatic funds for black programming.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Black artistic-led programming. And this year, we decided not to do that. So, it was only specifically for small black arts organizations. So, already, our pool of applicants would have shrunk, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right. Of course.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Or, potentially. And then, just again, as we’ve watched the philanthropic space change and shift, I wouldn’t say necessarily in response to Black Art Futures Fund, but I would find it interesting that at the same time that Black Art Futures Fund is sort of out in the world, other funding institutions are also changing their funding patterns to reflect some of our funding guidelines, which means that some of our earlier applicants are having more access to dollars that they didn’t three years ago.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Mm. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And so, when I think about that whole ecosystem…

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
I’m still excited about the 32, especially considering most of them are new applications to us altogether.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Of course. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s awesome and, I mean, congrats on the growth. You know? Because even though… I mean, it’s still very exciting, the growth and the amount of money that you raise, and also the growth and sort of seeing what’s happening with the arts organizations who’ve been applying year after year, or more information about who’s been applying year after year. So, kudos to that and very exciting about year three. Very excited to hear more. And so, my next question was about how your unique funding practices create a more equitable community, but I feel like this whole podcast has been responding to that question. But if there’s anything specific that you want to call out at this moment, would love to hear.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Well, I think that it’s important for us as a collective and just kind of us, you and me in this conversation, to understand that Black Art Futures Fund is not changing the lives of these organizations.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Okay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
I wish that we were.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
But, you know, our $5,000 is not a salary, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right. That’s right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
If an organization has no unpaid staff, our $5,000 could make a difference.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Sure.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
But it still is… Sometimes feels like a BandAid on the hole of a sinking ship.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Okay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Right? Which is that, there’s this bigger problem of money and resources flowing towards community-based small arts, specifically small black arts organizations, that does not allow them to be fully realized. And so, once we sort of accepted that we’re not going to… We can’t change the life of that organization, but we can uplift and celebrate and nod in their direction. I think that is a step, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Right.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Because people are watching. People watch and people… And again, like I just said, we can make an art… I certainly, in the narrative of the history of Black Art Futures Fund, might make an argument that the ways in which "capital-p" philanthropy has started to look towards funding for small, underrepresented community-based organizations is a shift, and we are certainly within the conversation of that shift, can be leaning in the direction of a more equitable community, but, oh, there’s so much more that has to happen before we can actually create one.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Well, I mean, I think it’s great to be leaning in that direction, to use your word. And, yeah. To lead in shifting a community and shifting dollars is not one person’s job, right? It’s a community effort, and because it is a larger ecosystem, so… Before we go, I want to open it up for any final thoughts that you might have for our listeners.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Mm. Yeah. I mean, like I said, anyone can participate in the engine or the project that is Black Art Futures Fund. They can find out more information at blackartfutures.org. And, you know, they can also think about what small community-based organizations are in their arms’ reach, and make themselves known to them, right? I mean, I think that at the end of the day, you know, the old adage, I don’t know that we say it anymore, but the old adage of mission-based programs and organizations was that to, ’If we were really doing our job, we would work ourselves out of a job.’ Right? Like, if we were really programming to our mission, then eventually, the problem would be solved. And I don’t necessarily believe that we will see a moment wherein small black arts organizations are fully realized to the ways in which they could and should be. And so, I say that to say that Black Art Futures Fund will probably always be here in some way or be needed, the mechanism of it, of moving funds to small black arts organizations.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
But if we find ourselves losing folks giving money to our effort because they are with their own small black arts organizations, then we, too, will find that as a win, right?

Sherylynn Sealy:
Okay.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And so, encourage folks to find their own black art organization to love up on and support.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Yes.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
And that, too, will be in alignment with our mission.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Well, extra, extra special thank you to you, DeLana, for this conversation and for participating in our Racial Equity Podcast Series.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Yeah.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Your work sheds light on an extra-special… You’re so extra-special. I just keep using those two words.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Thanks.

Sherylynn Sealy:
On an extra-special model of micro-granting that many can model after. And your dive in head first style has proven to do wonders for black communities.

DéLana R.A. Dameron:
Thank you. Thank you so much.

Sherylynn Sealy:
Of course. And to our listeners, we look forward to continuing these conversations. So, be sure to tune in to the GIA Racial Equity Podcast Series and be sure to follow us on Facebook at GI Arts, Twitter @GIArts and Instagram @grantmakersinthearts. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, Sherylynn Sealy, at sherylynn@giarts.org. And remember, as Audre Lorde says, ’Without community, there is no liberation.’ Thanks so much for listening.