Commonwealth Magazine

Katie Allan Zobel
President and CEO, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts
[email protected]

Leonard M. Lee
President and CEO, SouthCoast Community Foundation
[email protected]

Support BIPOC artists, develop vibrant communities

Second in a series comments on community arts

THE ARTISTS, AND THE the cultural expression they create, are essential to the future of Massachusetts towns and cities. Communities must do our part to support their development, celebrate their work and amplify their voice.

Justin Beatty creates visual art in Western Massachusetts based on his worldview as a person of Anishaabe (Ojibwe) and African American descent. “We are all connected. We are all relationships – humans, animals, trees, grass, water, they all encompass what it means to be a being on earth,” he said. “We are not separated from the spiritual world even though we may not be able to access it easily. The visual aspects of my art often try to evoke some of this sense of understanding.

Justin is one of 60 artists to date who have received a $1,000 working capital grant through the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ ValleyCreates initiative. These funds are accompanied by coaching and workshops provided in partnership with the Assets for Artists of the MASS MoCA. “Workshops teach you the craft of being an artist,” Justin said, citing sessions on licensing, courting businesses that sell art, and marketing, including better use of his website, as particularly helpful. . “Doing business is not what art is,” he said. “But it’s important that artists learn to be business people.”

This support for individual artists brings many benefits. “Launching a grant program that funds artists directly has strengthened our relationships with BIPOC artists across the Valley,” said ValleyCreates Advisor Vanessa Pabon-Hernandez. “Organic collaborations form and projects evolve in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.”

Chandrea Grant began dancing and writing poetry as a child after moving with her mother and siblings to New Bedford. Attending a free concert at the age of 14 gave him the idea to put his lyrics to music and set Chan on a life path. “It inspired me to get into the arts,” she said. The concert was hosted by 3rd EyE Youth Empowerment, a non-profit organization that engages young people through hip hop and other art forms, helping them grow through creative expression.

Chan Grant at 3rd EyE Unlimited Star Series Performance, UMass Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts, Star Store Campus, New Bedford, MA. (Photo courtesy of Chandrea Grant)

Today Chan writes and performs in the hip hop, R&B and pop genres. She choreographs and dances with a troupe from New Bedford and leads a collective of three young musicians, helping to record and promote their songs. Chan is the driving force behind a group of young advocates who won a grant to take 16 local students on a cultural trip to the UK this summer. His broad interests include the culinary arts: Chan opens a food truck business based on a string of successes with pop-up food kiosks.

Chan’s long relationship with 3rd EyE Youth Empowerment is an integral part of these efforts. “Life’s journey is lonely and can lead to depression and anxiety,” Chan said. “They taught me the value of unity. And they helped me see that I didn’t have to restrict my choices – I could be a musician and an entrepreneur and still dance. understanding that I can focus on what I want to do.

The 3rd The EyE approach is about meeting young people where they are, connecting them to the creative interests that intrigue them as a starting point for self-awareness, confidence and empowerment. “We help them gain perspective on the limitations they perceive and open their minds to new concepts,” said Peter Lonelle Walker, program director for 3rd Youth Empowerment EyeE. “We know that young people can use their creative skills and interests to create a life for themselves and impact others.”

The SouthCoast Community Foundation supports 3rd EyE and other partners who champion the arts and culture of BIPOC through its “Building Blocks” program. The program combines grants, workshops, and expert assistance to help organizations in New Bedford and Fall River build capacity in strategic planning, fundraising, and financial management.

Our community foundations support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists in ways exemplified by these examples. We recognize that, for too long, the talents and aspirations of BIPOC artists and their communities have not been a priority for philanthropy. Representation within established arts and cultural institutions has also been limited.

Fall Road, courtesy of Justin Beatty. Justin creates visual art in Western Massachusetts based on his worldview as a person of Anishaabe (Ojibwe) and African American descent.

In fact, a significant number of Massachusetts residents believe that systemic racism is present in arts and culture organizations. A 2021 survey by Slover Linett Audience Research shows that, for example, 47% of all residents believe systemic racism is present in history museums, and 42% believe it exists in art museums. . And those percentages increase dramatically, to 83% and 78%, respectively, for residents who identify as black or African American.

At a time when racism and inequity tear at the fabric of communities, BIPOC artists and the often small organizations that support them seek ways to elevate their work, expand their networks, and engage new audiences. Local donors, foundations, public bodies and corporations can make a big difference by funding their efforts. These investments enable greater access to the arts and cultural expression of BIPOC communities – and help ensure that all voices are part of the conversations that shape the trajectory of cities and towns across Massachusetts.

Achieving a more equitable future, with places where everyone thrives, depends on realizing the hopes, creativity, and resilience inherent in all population groups that call Massachusetts home. In this light, individual artists from diverse cultures are essential to the well-being of all Commonwealth communities. Their brilliance propels social, economic and physical progress in the places we love.

Katie Allan Zobel is President and CEO of Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Leonard M. Lee is President and CEO of SouthCoast Community Foundation. These organizations are part of a network of five community foundations working to strengthen the arts and creativity in areas of Massachusetts through the Creative Commonwealth initiative sponsored by the Barr Foundation. Their Creative Commonwealth partners are the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Essex County Community Foundation, and Greater Worcester Community Foundation.

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