Giving Compass’ Take:
• Melissa Smith describes how three Black women are reshaping funding and appreciation towards the artistic landscape in their communities.
• How can you evaluate the equity of your own donorship towards the arts?
• Learn more about systemic injustices towards Black women both in and outside the arts.
Earlier this year, City Lab published a report ranking the least livable cities for Black women. In addition to Pittsburgh, the top five were Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Augusta. Such largely Midwest areas once held promise for Black people, only for deindustrialization to usher in unimaginable inequalities.
Not surprisingly, the art scenes in these cities are microcosms of how inequity suffocates growth. Even still, Black women work both within and outside these established systems, tapping in and out through burnout and stress, to make their cities more livable places for artists and creatives.
In her early days as an artist, years ago, Vanessa German attended Harambee Ujima, a storied Black arts festival, and Black Pittsburghers lamented the lack of options for her as an creator, telling her “what the white world in Pittsburgh would not allow me to do,” she recalled. “And I remember thinking, ‘What makes you think I’m waiting for them for answers?’”
Seeing how much local funders underprivileged Black artists reinforced the idea that “Black artists and leaders here weren’t held up to the same level as the white artists and the white organizations,” she said.
“Philanthropy has not investigated its rules for quite some time,” said Celeste Smith, a program officer at the Pittsburgh Arts Foundation. The issues raised by both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter have caused her foundation to take a more honest look at why disparities persist, she said.
“There is this way that Pittsburgh is waking up to Black artists,” German said, “but they’re doing it at a scale that’s still beta, when what needs to happen over the next few years is robust investment that acts like a rocket ship—they need to level up.”
Read the full article about Black women changing their communities’ art scenes by Melissa Smith at Artnet News.
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