The Racial Equity Coding Project: The Necessity of Nuance

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Sherylynn Sealy
Welcome to a podcast by Grantmakers in the Arts, a national membership association of public and private arts and culture funders. I'm Sherylynn Sealy, GIA Senior Program Manager. It is a matter of fact that there are large disparities between the grant funding received by ALANA or BIPOC organizations versus the grant funding received by white organizations. And while funders do become increasingly more aware of this fact, it's been a bit of a challenge to get more accurate data around how things are changing for the better. So to get some answers to this GIA is participating in a Racial Equity Coding Project, which kicked off as a culmination of research led by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with Callahan Consulting for the Arts.

And so this work actually started back in 2018 and over time we've had the privilege of working with various funders who are also interested in more accurate data collection, as well as understanding how much funding really is going to ALANA or BIPOC organizations. And this episode is part of a larger series. So, today on our second episode of this series, we are glad to hear from Eleanor Savage, program director at Jerome Foundation and Tiffany or T Wilhelm, program officer of operations at the Opportunity Fund, who will share their experience and insights working on the Racial Equity Coding Project. And so with that, I am going to kick it over to our presenters. Welcome everyone. Thanks for coming today.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Thank you.

Eleanor Savage
Thank you, Sherylynn. It's great to be here.

Sherylynn Sealy
Awesome. So how are you showing up today?

Eleanor Savage
I am showing up ready. I think that this is a very nuanced area of exploration for a lot of different funders. People are thinking about how to do data collection and how to use that information. And I'm just excited about the exploration of this.

Sherylynn Sealy
That's great. Thanks Eleanor.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah. And this is Tiffany or T. Yeah, I'm showing up. I'm just trying to be in the practice of being as present, as grounded as I can be, which is just varies from moment to moment, but I feel relatively grounded today. And I think just also just grateful to have been part of this cohort and this project, and to be with colleagues in arts philanthropy, who are just willing to kind of wrestle together and grapple with these big questions and just holding some extra gratitude, because we're a tiny foundation in this group. And so it's just been a real gift to be in these conversations and to think with folks that are thinking so nationally about this.

Sherylynn Sealy
That's awesome.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Jerome is a tiny foundation too. So we're the tiny foundations.

Sherylynn Sealy
Yes. We're hearing from the tiny foundations today and we are so excited. So in our last episode, we talked about the buy, for and about framework and what that means. Buy, for and about BIPOC or ALANA communities, how that's unpacked and Adam, Susan, and Maureen talked about kind of going through using the framework and then adding a new level of nuance to that framework in order to better understand what are we saying when we're categorizing organizations and saying an organization as ALANA or BIPOC. And so what was your experience and what were your takeaways before adding the new level of nuance versus after? And for those listening, that new level of nuance is within buy, for and about. There is high impact, medium impact and low impact so if you can both talk a little bit about that.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Great. This is T. So it's interesting. So this is our first time in the cohort. So for us kind of all of this was new. Although we have been doing it sort of internally at our organization and I have been thinking about all this for years. I just was, as we were preparing for today, I was thinking about the gratitude to have been in community with Justin Lang, who many listeners probably know as former GIA board member as so kind of such a catalyst to GIAs. Rachel equity work from the beginning and still and so it really just catalyzed my commitment and continuing to like grow my understanding and capacity as well as wherever I am and those around me. So just I've just been holding how having this kind of imperfect picture of ourselves through data analysis is just part of this holding ourselves accountable and kind of ultimately helping our communities hold ourselves accountable as well to kind of the justice and equity that we say we're working toward.

So internally at Opportunity Fund, we have been doing this work and mostly sort of focused on those, the buy and the for pieces. So to add the about, and to add the high, low, medium was all kind of things I was really doing for the first time in this cohort, which was just lovely to add that kind of level of nuance. And I think Adam in the previous podcast put it so well of just how what's always so difficult about doing this kind of data work is how it reduces people or erases people. And we're so much more nuanced than that. And so the way that adds some of that, a little bit of that nuance back in knowing that we can never kind of capture the full complexity of individuals, of entities, of everything that's happening.

And so I really appreciated that and in particular wrestling with the about piece of it for us, because so many of our organizations are small. It almost always that the for and the about were the exact same code, but there is nuance that we're losing in the process that we're doing internally, that I could see coming out in this process that I really appreciated so, that's where I'm at the moment. Love to hear Eleanor's thoughts.

Eleanor Savage
Yeah. I agree with you T. The nuanced approach so that you're not just looking at executive leadership to consider how deeply racial equity is embedded in an organization. And I also found that the nuances helped with organizational change because we looked at a couple of data sets over a two year period, and there was leadership change that if you were just looking at that would impact how you rated an organization. So getting to all of the ways in which an organization through leadership, through staffing, through the programs, the board, their expressed intentions, all of those nuances are really important.

Sherylynn Sealy
That's great. Thanks, Eleanor. I am going stay with you because you started to talk about this and this is my next question. How did you measure low impact? How did you measure medium? How did you measure high? And then I'd love to hear from you T as well.

Eleanor Savage
Sure. I'll center on the four category. So this is the grants beneficiaries and the intent. So Jerome Foundation, we're focused on early career artists. We are very involved in the programs that an organization offers and interested in who the beneficiaries are. And so our kind of knowledge of organizations really understands the beneficiaries as the artist involved in those programs versus audiences or students or communities. And having a clear definition in terms of impact of high being beneficiaries are three quarters or more ALANA artist. Medium is one third to three quarters ALANA. Low ranking would be a low portion fewer than one third and no, would be no commitment to beneficiaries, ALANA artists. So that makes it really clear when you are going through and thinking about how to rate. You have something very tangible to think about.

Sherylynn Sealy
Thank you, Eleanor. And I appreciate you really unpacking the definition and at Jerome who you're talking about when you're talking about beneficiaries. I think that's really important for understanding how you're measuring. Sorry. Yeah.

Eleanor Savage
Just one more point. So we were able as a cohort to kind of share our rankings of different organizations and noticing that another funder who is doing general operating to some of the same organizations that we're supporting programmatically, there was some difference there in terms of the rating around the for, because we are focused on the artist in the programs, they're focused on audiences. And so it's very interesting to see how, what your focus is as a funder influences, what you're paying attention to.

Sherylynn Sealy
Wow. Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Eleanor. T, I'd love to hear from you as well.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah. No, that's so interesting because I think I was thinking about it similarly, but with a different dimension of even just local context can influence these things. And so for us with that for category, Pittsburgh is unfortunately a city that is still more predominantly white than a lot of other cities. And so to reach that 75% threshold, even for our most BIPOC centered entities was really tough. And so almost really for us, a high is 50% or more in this region. So, I was thinking about that. And then in the sort of buy category, what I was really doing was using the guide as much as possible to move through this process. But in the buy category here in Pittsburgh, we have kind of one of few, I understand black led community foundations and they have a very specific definition of what a black led organization is.

And so here in Pittsburgh, and when I'm doing the process, someone internally, I'm kind of trying to follow that to just really support this community and how we're kind of thinking about it here and it's a little different than the guide. And so it's just going to be really interesting to think about how funders are going to use this guide hopefully more broadly as Maureen talked about eventually. And then find the ways to have the different focus as a funder to have the different local context and how that influences all of it in really interesting ways.

Sherylynn Sealy
Yeah. No, I mean, that's the hope that more people will use it in the future and it'll keep developing and getting a little bit more precise each time using all of the insights that you all share. And so for our next question, I'm curious about what you learned as you went through this process.

Eleanor Savage
I can start us off. This is Eleanor. So I found that the organizations that I have longer relationship with and more experience with, it was easier to feel confident of my rating that I was accurately understanding all of these parameters and how they are at work within an organization. And for those that I didn't have that information on a… I had to do some research. I found myself really digging into reports and also, relying on the organization's website to just fact check myself. So again, we talk about how important relationship is in grant making, especially in a racial equity context and I think that bringing that into this kind of data assessment is critical as well.

Sherylynn Sealy
Sure. That's great. T, do you want to add to that?

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah, I would love to. There was… I mean, so many small and larger learnings. It was like… But what I think what kept coming up to me was just, "Gosh, I've been thinking about this for a long time. And then so many other folks are adding such nuance and support to my thinking." Two things sort of came up. I think I'm grateful that we ask in a really narrative way in our application, both around, especially the kind of self-identification of who you are, who's your leadership, all of that. And the community served and really doing our best to believe folks and to use that as the sort of basis for the ratings and I'm holding the nuance. I think Adam might have talked about this in the previous episode of that sometimes people are saying more than they are at the moment or that we're all sometimes saying before we get there.

So just thinking about that, and then something that I think is a little unique to me. So I have the privilege of being in a seven year old foundation. So I am able… I am working on just the actually sort of back coding to get to the whole picture of this entity. And what's so interesting to me is to look both sort of cycle by cycle, year by year, like we did in the cohort and actually then look at the cumulative at each moment in time. And how is that cumulative shift happening and how much intentional shift has to happen cycle by cycle, year by year to shift the overall equity since the beginning of this only seven year old foundation that even that's been somewhat focused on this work from the beginning. And so, that just makes me think about just all the long history of so many types of repair. So, there's so much tied into that, but that's kind of the piece that I want to keep teasing out is just how much shift has to happen to start making the whole history look somewhat better in this moment than…

Sherylynn Sealy
So if we're going to keep at it. Keep with this iterative process, I'm staying with you T. What questions will you continue to ask as the project continues forward so that we can reshape the present. And move in the direction that we want to at a pace that we want to, which is quickly.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah. Right.

Sherylynn Sealy
And mindfully of course.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah. Oh my gosh. Questions are just present every moment. I think one of the things that I did hear came up in the previous conversation too, was this idea of getting to the dollars. For me, that is just essential, because it actually looks… When I look at ours and I'm trying to do both number of grants and dollars, it often looks pretty different. It also has felt important to us at Opportunity Fund to look at identities within BIPOC identities. And so for us, in Pittsburgh, there's such a context of really moving toward more black led organizations. But I see a still a real lack of funding for AAPI led organizations, for Native business led organizations. And we're trying to track to that level to really see that nuance as well, which is also so important. So, those are some questions I'm curious about, about how we could move all of that forward as well as this idea of how the framework could be applied to this disability, to gender, to all of the other areas like that as well.

Sherylynn Sealy
That's great. Thanks to you. Eleanor, what questions are you having kind of cycled through your mind or float through your mind either now or as you went through this process?

Eleanor Savage
Yeah. I think I definitely had questions about how there is flux within organizations, especially at this time in terms of staffing, in terms of leadership, in terms of program restructuring. And so just, data can be used in a very rigid way. And I think that we need to find ways to kind of flow with all of the fluctuations and changes that are happening. And I think another question that I have is about how we are involving arts organizations directly in the process. In my experience with all aspects of grant making, I like to take the guesswork and interpretation out and be in direct conversation with artists and arts organization leaders. And so, with the caveat that people may not always be as clear or may exaggerate kind of where they are currently. I think that there also is some very honest communication happening about where people are and what they're doing and where they want to go. And so, that's one of the things that we're thinking about at Jerome is just how do we build these questions into our application and reporting process so that we're partnering on that interpretation.

Sherylynn Sealy
Sure. Yeah, that's great. As you looked at… I'm going to say organization, a organization, A, you were evaluating that five using the buy, for about framework. You stayed with for looked at high impact, low impact or medium impact, but specifically you're working, looking at beneficiaries, someone else was looking at the same… Another group that was looking at the same organization was looking at audience and you both kind of came up with something very different in terms of your final evaluation. So, I'm wondering similar to that moment. What else surprised you for both of you as you went through this process, especially as people who are very much involved with racial equity work outside of this project.

Eleanor Savage
So one of the things that I didn't even think about until we looked at our aggregated data is that Jerome is on a alternating cycle every other year with our grant program. So for our arts organization program, we fund every two years and we give multi-year grant. So when you aggregate that, it looks like Jerome foundation is not supporting any organizations every other year. And we're all trying to move to this multi-year funding practice so that we don't put people through this enormous amount of work every year. So just thinking about, how are we aggregating and representing that? And what does it tell us because there are such nuances that you might not know unless you knew. So what happened to Jerome Foundation in the aggregation?

I wonder how, what we don't know about an organization might show up in the data just because we don't know, we might make assumptions. And so I think that whenever you are putting data together, if you see something that is a question mark. I think it's… It reminded me, I always ask the question, what does this mean? What is this reflecting? Versus making a judgment about an organization just based on the data.

Sherylynn Sealy
Right. And even if it's a good judgment or not good, just… Exactly. That's great. T anything surprising?

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah. I think that's a great question and several things are coming to mind, but I think the thing that maybe I got some reinforcement that I just think is important is just seeing trend data over time. Even beyond two or three years. It's just, now that the foundation is seven years old, it's starting to look like something and you can start to see where what's going up, what's going down. Even when I was sort of looking at our general operating support versus program support, and we put some real intention in terms shifting that percentage and to see that over a chunk of years has been really powerful and kind of just getting to that now. And so how much, how long this work is, how… It's a lot over a lot of time to get clearer pictures, to start to understand yourself more, to start to make decisions and to see if what's happening, aligns with what your intentions are and your goals are. It's a lot.

Sherylynn Sealy
That's right. Absolutely, right. And we talked about that in our first episode as well. So I'm glad that you brought it up again here today. And before we wrap up, do you, either of you have any final thoughts that you want to leave with our listeners.

Eleanor Savage
I'll dive in here. I think that it's important to just always hold central, why we're doing this work. Why the data collection work? Because I think that it does take a lot of time for any organization to collect data, to present that information. And so, the reason for Jerome Foundation is we want to be transparent and accountable with ourselves and with the artists and the arts organizations that we serve and to arts fields and the philanthropic field at large about what we're doing, who we're funding, where the going and who's involved in the decision making. And so I think it… Whenever we collect data, we always share why, what the purpose, what the intention of it is. We're asking you to do this work. This is why it's important. It's about accountability, it's about transparency. And so that's what I… A lesson learned is that communicating the why, and also holding that when you're working with data is really important.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah. I'll second and support all that for sure. And related we… And I know this is going to be really challenging for a lot of foundations, but our small foundation where we have a group of folks that is committed to keep doing this is going to… We're going to find the way, and it's coming soon to actually start putting some of this on our website so that it's not just looked at internally. So it can be really this kind of shared accountability. The community can say, "Hey, here's, what's happening. We want to see you do more, do this." And I'm sure the questions that will come up around that will be, so that being in collaboration around how this works will be really powerful.

And I think the other thought too, I think you're touching on this Eleanor is just, this is so much about power. And so the way the guide and the framework has been built is that's been thought of that all of this is about how the power was made more clear and transparent and shifts over time. So, it's been a powerful exercise and I'm really grateful to have been in collaboration with Eleanor and all of the other folks that were part of this.

Eleanor Savage
Yeah, I'll second that collaboration around this with other funders was really important and it gets easier over time to understand what you're doing and the impact of what you're doing and having others to talk to and be a sounding board just so incredibly valuable. And I would share one more story about the power piece and the reckoning with kind of looking at your data over time, especially the funding over time. Jerome was working with the Twin Cities Theaters of Color Coalition, and it's five BIPOC led theaters. And one of the things that I did right away in our work together was just invited all the funders that were involved to share the data on how much funding that they had contributed over the length of their record keeping as a foundation or a funder to the BIPOC theaters, and then how much funding they had contributed to all of the large white theater organizations over the same time period.

And it was a heart stopping moment I think for not only the funders in the room, but for the BIPOC organizations who knew this, but having the kind of tangible data to see it was stark and empowering. And also, makes you stop in your tracks when you see the level of disparity and inequity. And so I think that it can be… This can be really powerful change making work and it can help fuel the racial equity work that we're all doing.

Sherylynn Sealy
Absolutely.

Tiffany Wilhelm
Yeah. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing that Eleanor, that is the beautiful demonstration of how this can really make change and really make things clear.

Sherylynn Sealy
Yeah, absolutely. And we talk about this all the time and how important it is to fund BIPOC organizations. A lot of organizations there isn't enough money going in that direction and we talk and talk and talk, and then people don't necessarily feel it if you're not a part of that community until they're really seeing it happen before their very eyes like you just mentioned, Eleanor. I can really… I really appreciate you bringing that story into this Eleanor and I… While this particular series will only… We're planning on only three episodes stay tuned listeners, but that reflects a much larger conversation that I'm hoping more people will get involved with. And so thank you. And thank you both for being here today for our second episode of the Racial Equity Coding Project podcast series. For those listening, we talked last time about this work being work that will take time.

And also today, we talked a lot about making sure you're asking questions and leading into that why. So please continue to do that as we partner in this work together and please be sure to tune in to our future episodes of this podcast series on the Racial Equity Coding Project. If you're not already doing so, be sure to follow us on Facebook at GI Arts, Twitter @GIArts and Instagram at Grantmakers in the Arts so you can continue engaging in these conversations with us. And if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me Sherlynn Sealy at sherlynn@giarts.org. Thanks so much for listening.