Grant Oliphant, President, Heinz Endowments
Open call to area’s Black organizations—some grants to be awarded upwards of $1 million
The Heinz Endowments recently announced the launch of Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures, the southwestern Pennsylvania program that is part of America’s Cultural Treasures, a national initiative by the Ford Foundation to boost support to arts groups and cultural organizations representing communities of color across the U.S.
The Heinz Endowments is among 10 regional foundation partners in seven cities selected by Ford to join the initiative, providing each region with $5 million in funds to develop regional Cultural Treasures programs. The Endowments is matching funding with an additional $5 million, creating Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures to expand support for cultural organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania. The first cycle of grants to arts and culture organizations in the Pittsburgh region is scheduled to begin later this year.
“We do not take lightly this generous opportunity to make a transformative impact on our region’s cultural landscape,” said Grant Oliphant, President of the Endowments, in a statement to the New Pittsburgh Courier. “Our staff has been working collaboratively with our partners in the community and the field to develop a program celebrating organizations that too often have not received the attention that they deserve and the investment so urgently needed for sustaining and expanding their work.”
The Ford Foundation unveiled plans for the initiative in the fall of 2020, not only to address extensive financial hardships and funding shortfalls of many Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American and other cultural groups, exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to provide the incentive for more significant investment in a diverse range of organizations.
The Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures program will run three to five years and initially will focus on Black cultural organizations, representing the largest community of color in the region. The Endowments will explore ways to expand the work to other arts and cultural groups of color in the future. The program is designed to elevate the contributions and accomplishments of Black-led organizations in the Pittsburgh region, to recognize their perseverance and to affirm their self-determined strategies for success.
The $10 million program —with $5 million from the Endowments as well as $5 million from Ford—will be used for significant immediate and long-term operating support. While the exact amounts of the grants have not yet been determined, some of the awards to a select group of organizations are expected to range from $500,000 to $1 million.
The multi-year duration is intended to enable the organizations not only to survive the recent economic downturn due to the pandemic but also to flourish in the future.
The Endowments is working with regional cultural and community leaders and funding colleagues to select the first grant recipients, which are expected to be announced by the end of the year. They will be Black-led cultural anchors that have demonstrated a commitment to Black people, arts and culture over a significant period time, made important cultural contributions to the region, and have been recognized as authorities in the field by both philanthropy and by the communities they represent.
A steering committee of local and national cultural leaders also is assisting Endowments staff in determining how the initiative can invest in other ways in the cultural organizations. This will include providing capacity-building resources and other support recommended by the organizations receiving grants through the program, allowing them to determine what they need most to effectively reach their goals. Some funding also will be set aside to respond to new ideas in the arts and culture community that emerge as a result of what participating artists, organizations and stakeholders have learned through the program.
Currently, the plan for allocating the initiative’s funds is for $5 million to go toward large one-time grants and $3 million to capacity-building support, with the remainder used for one-time special opportunity awards and to cover administrative expenses.
“It is a well-documented fact that the funding community has been guilty of giving disproportionately lower levels of funding to BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color) organizations—and the funding that does exist has been traditionally focused on project or short-term support,” Endowments Creativity Vice President Janet Sarbaugh said. “For organizations to not just survive but thrive and prosper, they need longer-term investments and deeper, less episodic relationships with foundations and other donors.”
Also, of particular concern to Endowments staff has been ensuring that the local program encourages community engagement and ownership. The Cultural Treasures’ funds are housed at the Pittsburgh-based POISE Foundation, America’s oldest Black community foundation, which also is a partner in designing and managing the program.
Southwestern Pennsylvania residents can go to the nomination form on the Endowments’ website to recommend organizations and institutions that they consider to be cultural treasures. This nomination process is meant to promote and celebrate “cultural treasures” as defined by those most affected by them in neighborhoods throughout the region. Having community members involved in this way also helps to ensure that the definition of “cultural treasures” is not developed solely by foundation staff guiding the effort.
“Critical components of equity include self-determination, self-identification and having a voice during the process,” said Mark Lewis, POISE Foundation President and CEO. “Too often members of the Black community are asked to respond to events or circumstances after the fact. Engaging local residents and organizations during this process affords them a sense of ownership and equity in determining what they view as cultural treasures. I applaud the Endowments and the team for recognizing the importance of this inclusion.”
Not all the institutions and organizations identified as cultural treasures will receive monetary support through the Cultural Treasures program. But they will be plotted on a digital map created by CJAM Consulting that will serve as an ongoing reference tool for the region. CJAM, a New York-based, minority/women-owned firm, is helping the Endowments to structure and coordinate the initiative.
The full extent of the Cultural Treasures’ work and potential is still being determined as Endowments staff plans to gather additional input on how the initiative can be shaped through a series of different roundtable discussions with Black media, audiences that attend Black arts and cultural presentations throughout the region, and local and national funders that have a history of funding Black-led organizations as their primary mission and scope of work.
“We’re not really interested in presenting a program that everyone has to just take or leave,” Endowments Arts & Culture Program Officer Shaunda McDill said. “We want to work with our colleagues and the community through an iterative process that is likely to evolve over time in response to the needs of the organizations we are trying to support.”