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Support Black Artists: A Call to Funders

As we watch the removal and destruction of monuments that reflect the pain felt by so many people around this country, funders of the arts have an opportunity to galvanize the creation of new public displays that call out the portrayal of racism embedded in our history, system, and values.

The recent debate surrounding the calls for the removal of the Emancipation Memorial, or Freedman’s Memorial, in Washington, D.C., is a crucible moment for funders to contribute to the national dialogue—not in deciphering the meaning and messages of what some monuments are trying to convey—rather around emphasizing the criticality of incorporating Black voices in creating monuments (and art) that reflect non-white perspectives of history.

One need only look at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, created by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), to witness and experience how art can powerfully reveal and amplify the truths of our history. Leading Black artists—Kwame Akoto-Bamfo , Hank Willis Thomas, and Dana King—contributed to the creation of the Memorial, which according to EJI, “(the national lynching memorial) is a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy.”

Artist Titus Kaphar spoke about the idea of “amending history” through art back in 2017. His Impressions of Liberty piece was installed on the campus of Princeton University that same year. Kaphar suggested that “rather than just taking these things down, we can engage contemporary artists to make work that actually pushes back against these public monuments.” Ada Pinkston, a Baltimore-based artist, is one such example. Her project Landmark explores new ways of activating the empty spaces left by the 48 Confederate monuments that have been removed. Movers and Shakers NYC, a non-profit artist collective, is using augmented reality to digitally create monuments that highlight underrepresented narratives.

Many funders already commit themselves to connecting, supporting, and strengthening artists of color. Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) has placed racial equity at the core of its funding focus areas and advocates that grantmakers consider “root causes and systems to understand historic inequities in funding ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists and arts organizations.” GIA recently created a Black Arts & Cultural Funding and Justice Resource Hub that shares funds and resources that explicitly center Black artists, cultural communities, and experiences.

Additionally, there is fresh momentum and calls to action to address racial inequities, underrepresentation, and discrimination in the arts. The Mellon Foundation, which focuses on humanities and the arts, recently prioritized social justice in all of its grantmaking; ForTheCulture 2020 is circulating an open letter to NYC’s Cultural Institutions calling out white supremacy; and YouTube has created a $100 million fund dedicated to “amplifying and developing the voices of Black creators and artists and their stories.”

More can, and must, be done to identify and foster the creative works of Black artists to express their truths and experiences through their lens—a history that has been written and told by those in power, and the cause of deep harm.

TCC Group works with funders across focus areas to think differently, to connect and partner creatively within and across sectors, and to identify those small steps that can add up to bigger change. In partnering with our clients to create and encourage an intentional focus on arts and culture work, we are reminded of the immense power of the arts in shifting public consciousness and catalyzing great change.

As a firm committed to collaborating with leaders to solve social issues and injustices, there is no greater urgency than working to right the wrongs and address the detrimental social norms that are embedded in a broken system that perpetuates racial and economic injustices.

Imagine the power and inspiration that could come from installations, monuments, and exhibits across this country—not just displayed in African American museums—that reveal and magnify truths that have been silenced. The time is now to amplify the voices of those who have been aching to depict their reality of a brutal history. Supporting Black artists to share their truth about this country, their history, their realities, and their stories will create the space for all Americans to listen, learn, and understand the history of Black Americans in a way that our education system unfortunately has not. Here is a great place to start.

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