What Can Other Cities Learn from the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Program?

The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments awarded over $320,000 in grants to twenty-two individual artists and organizations in the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program. A closer look at the program's mission suggests that it can serve as a useful template for other cities looking to bolster artistic development across traditionally underserved communities.

First, however, let's look at the award itself. A six-member panel comprised of artists, curators, and community representatives reviewed 40 applications for the Spring 2014 cycle. The 22 winners were awarded across three funding categories—individual artists, residencies, and unrestricted—while the recipient disciplines ranged from acoustic songwriting to theatrical performances based on the experiences of first-generation African-Americans. The application deadline for the Fall cycle is August 4, 2014.

A cursory scan of the winners underscores the breadth and scope of the program as well as the successful model that the Pittsburgh Foundation and Heinz Endowments have created. But let's get specific here. The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Program works because it:

Identifies the "root causes" of a traditional lack of funding. Foundations can fall into the trap of speaking in ambiguous terms without honing in on the root causes of local funding disparities. The program does the opposite, acknowledging the city's well-documented economic disparities, history of racial segregation, fewer individual donors, and little or no endowment income for foundations focused on the city's African-American artistic population.

Speaks to the impact of these problems. The lack of working capital in the community has profound real-world consequences: artistic risk-taking is curtailed, artists work less frequently with schools, and individuals abandon low-paying careers in the arts.

Lays out a simple, yet powerful plan. They always say if you can't explain a plan in an elevator, it's not much of a plan. The program's four-point "elevator pitch" is precise and action-oriented: Its funding should (1) build the careers of artists, (2) increase the sustainability of cultural organizations that focus on black art, (3) build community awareness around the black arts sector, and (4) support connections to "larger and predominantly European-based arts organizations."

These goals inform their subsequent funding strategies, which were first articulated in 2011. These strategies include funding general operating support, financial assistance to individual artists, and special project grants.

(Speaking of the Heinz Foundation, they have been pretty busy as of late. To read up on their recent $5 million foray into propping up the Pittsburgh Symphony, check out IP's take here.)