The Racial Equity Coding Project: The Path Ahead

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This is part 3 of a three-part series:

  1. The Racial Equity Coding Project: Unpacking The “Why”
  2. The Racial Equity Coding Project: The Necessity of Nuance
  3. The Racial Equity Coding Project: The Path Ahead

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. To get some answers to this, GIA is participating in the Racial Equity Coding Project, which kicked off as a culmination of research led by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with Callahan Consulting for the Arts.

This work actually started back in 2018 and over time we've had the privilege of working with various funders who are interested in more accurate data collection, as well as understanding how much funding is really going to ALANA or BIPOC organizations. In this third and final episode (see also part 1 and part 2), we are glad to be joined by Eddie Torres, president and CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts. He's going to be closing our series with his reflections as a leader of a philanthropic serving organization, and he'll also be sharing his hopes for the next steps of the project. Welcome, Eddie, and thank you for joining us today.

Eddie Torres
Thank you so much for doing this, Sherylynn. I really appreciate this.

Sherylynn Sealy
Of course. How are you showing up today? Let us know.

Eddie Torres
I am showing up eager and optimistic. I'm really excited about this project, and I'm excited that we're covering this.

Sherylynn Sealy
Awesome. Well, thank you. Let's kind of get into the meat of the conversation. In past episodes, we talked about the framework that folks are using. The framework presents the why behind collecting racial equity data and offers funders nuance for their phase of racial equity tracking and data collection. What recommendations can you share with listeners that will sort of tip their grant making?

Eddie Torres
Let me ask you just a point of clarification, when you say tip their grant making, what do you mean?

Sherylynn Sealy
When I say tip, I'm saying kind of like what is that one small change that a funder can make that will make a significant difference? Because there are, of course, so many different things that we're all trying to do. But if you were going to pick that one thing that can make the biggest difference, what would that be? What would that recommendation be?

Eddie Torres
I think that the Racial Equity Coding Guide, the working guide that Callahan Consulting and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation are developing along with the cohort of Grantmakers, actually represents what could be a real game changer in the field. We're going to release it sometime in the near future, and it'll become something that the field can adopt, engage, adapt, give us feedback on, and ultimately use. It basically functions as a guide to be able to record the changes in your grant making over time in relation to racial equity, the extent to which your grant making is becoming more, sometimes less racially equitable. But it's really developed as kind of a retrospective guide.

That is to say you look at your... At the end of your year, you look at the prior year, et cetera. I think it's a great guide to inform how you assess racial equity in your grant making. But I think that the really exciting opportunity that it presents is to inform your grant making from the start so that it goes from being retrospective to being perspective. As we've been going through this project with a bunch of other funders, Duke, obviously Hewlett, Jerome Opportunity Fund, folks have basically said some version of, "Well, of course, racial equity is a criteria that we apply when we're making our grants," which is fantastic, but they're still having to go through a bit of a process in documenting after the fact the extent to which each individual grant was by, for, or about BIPOC communities.

Basically my argument is, this is a great opportunity to make that kind of documentation of to what extent your funded project or your funded organization is by, for, and about BIPOC communities, make that a part of the determination, a documented part of the determination from the start. This way you're subsequent coding after the fact, one, is just easier, and two, you're able to document changes over time. I think that this becomes something more than just a recording device, something more than an assessment device. It actually becomes part of your process for the considerations that inform your grant making.

I think that is the really, really exciting opportunity or one of the exciting opportunities within this that could actually really have a big, big impact on the field.

Sherylynn Sealy
Yeah, that's great. Thanks for going into that, Eddie. It just kind of reminds me of like years past when I'd hear about what different foundations or funder organizations were doing, maybe looking at the board to see like what the racial demographics are, maybe looking at different aspects of what the grantee or potential grantee is bringing to the table. I think that's excellent. Just kind of thinking about these things in advance as part of like that kind of prerequisite or like pre-screening process I think will be really helpful. Thanks for naming that. This project's inception took place before 2018. What are some of the highlights of the project as you've seen it take form?

And what have you learned along the way? I specifically want to ask you, because you're not a funder right now, but a leader at GIA who aims to organize and guide the funder community. But at the same time, even before this, you were on the GI board and you were a funder, so you kind of have that very unique perspective. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Eddie Torres
It's an interesting point about my coming out of grant making. I always say that what GIA does is facilitate learning and that's a participatory process that we're all a part of, that GIA is a part of, and we facilitate it peer to peer. We are as much learners as anything else. I always say that my experience is such that I've made every mistake imaginable. I think that coming from that point of view that it's only through the embrace of humility and the embrace of recognition of your mistakes, both looking back and in real time, that I think that's the only way learning happens.

So much of what we teach and share and learn about racial equity in arts funding is about being explicit in your intentions and trying to be transparent about your work, and that means transparent about your learning. I remember that when I joined the board of Grantmakers in the Arts, I was at the Rockefeller Foundation at the time. Making sure that our arts funding was racially equitable was always a part of the work. But the meta frame that Rockefeller used at the time wasn't around equity or certainly not around racial equity and arts grant making. It was around innovation and innovation in the cultural sphere.

I was fairly easily able to rationalize increased support to BIPOC communities, whether it's Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in Brooklyn or Casita Maria in the South Bronx, as innovation. But I still always adopted kind of the meta frame of the institution where I was situated, right? Now, that's I think well and good as a tactic, but it didn't engender change that lasted beyond my tenure there. So then after I left, while it was certainly documented, it wasn't something that lasted beyond my time there. I remember when I'd left Rockefeller and I joined the government for the City of New York.

I remember being contacted by a predominantly white institution that Rockefeller Foundation had commissioned to, "We want you now to administer the program that Eddie Torres used to run while he was here at the foundation." They contacted me when I was working for the city government and they said, "Look, this is a program that you used to run, right? They want us to run this grant making program, which we have no experience doing it all, one. And two, they want us to focus it in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, where we have no real experience. We have no relationships there. We don't have an infrastructure for that."

Since I had gone to this city, I had basically taken the opposite tack that I'd taken at the foundation, which was to be really explicit about increasing support to BIPOC communities. We'd actually established our capacity building program there to resource communities that actually included the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn. We were paying the salary of a coordinator for sort of cultural organizing in those communities. So then I was able to say, "Oh, hey, look, I appreciate your candor," to this institution that was running the grant program for Rockefeller now. I said, "I appreciate your candor. Luckily, we actually have a paid cultural organizer in each of those communities.

Their job is to coordinate with the BIPOC organizations in those communities. Let me just broker the introductions." I had gone from kind of doing this under the radar, kind of thinking on a slick strategy to an explicit strategy that considered systems and considered how do you resource those systems for sustainability. And that's how I was able to let that change last beyond me. Had I not done that, that would've just withered away in my absence. It took me that time to realize that, one, you need to be explicit, and two, you need to resource systems to sustain things over time.

Sherylynn Sealy
That's right. Thanks, Eddie, for that. I appreciate you kind of naming that very specific change, like before and after. The key there was being explicit. That was what made such a significant change, and that's what you did as a funder. I hope listeners can kind of be inspired by that. Did you find that that was sort of the same thing with a lot of the people in the cohort, that being more explicit over time kind of helped the project take a little bit more form or something else?

Eddie Torres
The short answer is yes, but I think that what really impressed itself upon me watching this project evolve, watching the Racial Equity Coding Project evolve, was just the embrace of nuance that has been involved all the way through. And that anything that involves an embracive nuance involves time. Ultimately, it comes down to the time it takes to watch things evolve. By way of example, the Racial Equity Coding Project really lays out considerations of the extent to which your grant for either a project or an organization is by, for, and/or about BIPOC communities, right? Each one of those considerations is really nuanced, which basically means that it's not a formula for rating.

It informs your rating, but it doesn't dictate your rating, and you see different grantmakers sometimes considering the same organization or project differently depending on just who they are, their point of view, but also their level of intimacy with the organization and the folks involved. Not only is that kind of an organizing opportunity, that is an opportunity to inform one another's work, right? But it's also an opportunity to check in with yourself and check in with your grantee over time to see, all right, to what extent have they evolved and to what extent have I evolved so that I'm able to sort of represent this more fairly in a more nuanced way and in a more informed way, and to do so transparently.

For a lot of the folks that have been involved with this project, with the Racial Equity Coding Project, they're being very, very explicit, and I think sensitively so, that they don't want to turn this into more paperwork on the part of an applicant, which is fantastic. They shouldn't want to do that. In a perfect world, if it becomes more paperwork in anybody's part, it becomes more paperwork on the grantmaker's part. But it's not the kind of paperwork that's checking boxes, but the kind of paperwork that is reflective. And if you look at the working guide for the Coding Project, it is meant more than anything to inspire reflection rather than to say, "Okay, here's your rating system and here's one, two, three."

Sherylynn Sealy
Yes, absolutely. Great. Well, thanks. I am looking forward to seeing how people use the framework and what's coming up next, which leads me to my next question, what do you see or hope to see as next steps for the project?

Eddie Torres
I mean, what Grantmakers in the Arts hopes to see as the next steps for the project I think is exactly what Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and all of the organizations that have been participating in the project thus far hope to see, which is a combination of things. One is we want to see the Racial Equity Coding Working Guide becomes something that's publicly accessible, that gets released out into the field and people begin using it and adapting it and applying it. So that as a field, we're able to be more self-determined in terms of being able to say, "Oh, as a field, we're seeing improvements in racial equity here and here, and we're seeing the struggles there and there." Toward that end, though, we need a higher level of engagement.

Thus far, the project has been a small cohort, and that was by design because this has all been very experimental and we just thought too many participants just creates too much complexity early on. What we would like to do now is to do this next iteration of the coding with a larger cohort. I specifically say this because I would love for more folks to get involved. Just email me at eddie@giarts.org or contact our colleagues at Doris Duke or at Callahan Consulting for the Arts to become involved. This involvement will inform what it is ultimately that we release, what the Racial Equity Coding Working Guide is that gets released out into the field and how we check it with our colleagues, right?

When do we do check-ins? How frequently and in what manner? We ultimately want this to feel as organically helpful to our grantmaker community and their grantees and their applicants as possible. And that requires the design of a process that says, "Hey, how can you use this in a way that doesn't create a whole bunch of extra process for you or your applicants?" And that's what we want to do with a larger cohort. This is a call to action to our field. Get at me. Let me know if you want to work with some of your grantmaker peers.

We would be basically playing with this guide to apply it to the coding of the cohort's grantmaking over time, and then say, okay, let's release this out into the field and say, "Here's how you use it and here's the frequency with which we're going to check in with each other and just say, 'How's it going? What have you been struggling with? What are you happy with? What would you like to celebrate? How would you like to celebrate it?'" That's ultimately what I want to see for the future of this project and that I'm convinced can happen. It can happen quite soon.

Sherylynn Sealy
That's great. All right, everyone, email Eddie, eddie@giarts.org. Reach out. We would love to have you involved with the Racial Equity Coding Project. Do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Eddie Torres
Ultimately, what I would like to end with is that I've spent a lot of time talking about the Racial Equity Coding Working Guide. It makes it sound like it's this big intimidating thing. It's actually not. It's actually meant more than anything to spur reflection. When you consider to the extent to which your grants are by, for, or about BIPOC communities, the issue of by is just to what extent is the organization's leadership and content reflective of the communities you most want to support. When it comes to about, to what extent is the grant's leadership, content, structure, and intent about the communities you want to serve, whether that's the organization or just the project. And when it's the issue of for, it's about the grant's beneficiaries and intent.

These are all subtle. It gives you some parameters for what counts as high, medium, or low for each one of those things, by, for, or about, but it's meant to spur reflection. It's not meant to be a check the box. That means it does require more time, but it does give you more space. That is to say more space in your head and in your heart to consider these things so that they're not pro proscriptive, but they're in fact an aid. I'm really excited about it.

Sherylynn Sealy
All right. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Eddie, for joining us. You offered so many incredible insights. Some of the hot takes that I might highlight right now are being explicit about what you're doing as you review your funding toward BIPOC and ALANA communities, organizations, and embracing nuance, and also being open to change as the project develops and learning continues and exploration continues. Thank you so much for that. To our listeners, we look forward to continuing these conversations. Be sure to tune into other episodes of our GIA Podcast series. This was our last episode of the Racial Equity Coding Project, but stay tuned for more. Be sure to follow us on Facebook @GIArts, Twitter @GIArts, and Instagram @grantmakersinthearts.

If you would like to get involved with the Racial Equity Coding Project, remember, reach out to Eddie at eddie@giarts.org. And if you have general questions about the podcast or anything else, feel free to reach out to me, Sherylynn Sealy, at sherylynn@giarts.org. Thank you so much for listening.