Heinz Endowments awards $5.4 million grants to Black cultural organizations


The Heinz Endowments, in collaboration with the POISE Foundation, on Dec. 2 announced its selection of 16 cultural organizations that are the first grant recipients through the Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures program the Endowments launched this summer. The amount of the awards totals $5.4 million.

The organizations chosen were identified as leaders in producing work that centers and seeks to advance the people and culture of Black communities in southwestern Pennsylvania. They will receive unrestricted grants ranging from $150,000 to $1 million, and have been invited to participate in additional programming to further support and honor Black cultural institutions across the region.

“Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures is a wonderful opportunity not only to support and celebrate cultural organizations that offer so much to southwestern Pennsylvania, but also to encourage growth within those organizations and collaboration among them,” Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant said in a release. “We are grateful to be able to invest like this in the future of local Black cultural organizations and the amazing contributions they will continue making to our region.”

Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures is part of America’s Cultural Treasures, a national initiative by the Ford Foundation to increase support to arts groups and cultural organizations representing communities of color across the U.S. The Endowments was among 10 regional foundation partners in seven cities that Ford selected to join the initiative, also providing each region with $5 million in funds to develop a regional Cultural Treasures program.

The Endowments has matched those funds with an additional $5 million to create a $10 million program, which will run four years and initially focus on Black-led cultural organizations, representing the largest community of color in the region. The Ford Foundation grant and the Endowments’ matching contribution 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. The Endowments will explore ways to expand the work to other arts and cultural groups of color in the future. For now, 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 16 groups receiving the first and largest grants through Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures were selected from among 165 Black-led organizations identified by local foundations and cultural leaders. A steering committee of representatives from local and national philanthropies and cultural organizations developed criteria for evaluating the list of organizations. After reviewing the identified groups, the committee presented recommendations to the Endowments, which made the final selections considering the committee’s recommendations along with the foundation’s philanthropic goals and grantmaking priorities.

“Black ingenuity, creativity and grit are the bedrocks of this country – from plantations to factory production lines and proscenium stages,” said Endowments Arts & Culture Program Officer Shaunda McDill in a release. “Scarcity often creates a challenging environment within which to find joy and celebration.  However, Black people continue to do it. We hope we will all find both joy and an opportunity to celebrate with this announcement. There is more work to be done, more resources to be raised and more counties we need to connect with in order to truly celebrate and honor the artistic and cultural contributions from which we all benefit.”

Endowments Creativity Vice President Janet Sarbaugh said in making the final decision on the first group of grantees, Endowments staff looked for organizations that had undeniable legacies of stewarding and sustaining an arts or cultural tradition from the African Diaspora or as part of African American culture.

“These cultural treasures are diverse in their connections to Black culture, to artistic disciplines, in their longevity, and in many other ways,” Ms. Sarbaugh said in a release. “What they have in common is a commitment to ensuring the presence of Black arts and culture in our city and region.  They represent organizations that have long been important to both The Heinz Endowments and to the community. We are proud to support them and to continue to develop the next phases of the Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures program.”

The organizations and the grant amounts they will receive are:

1Hood Media — $250,000

Afrika Yetu— 150,000

Afro American Music Institute — $500,000

August Wilson African American Cultural Center — $1 million

Balafon West African Dance Ensemble — $150,000

BOOM Concepts — $150,000

Hill Dance Academy Theatre — $500,000

Kelly Strayhorn Theater — $750,000

Kente Arts Alliance — $250,000

Legacy Arts Project — $250,000

Manchester Bidwell Corporation — $500,000

New Horizon Theater — $250,000

PearlArts Studios — $150,000

Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company — $250,000

Ujamaa Collective— $150,000

Women of Visions — $150,000


Beyond establishing a steering committee and selecting this first group of awardees, the Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures initiative has included a public process for nominating community cultural treasures and round table conversations with local youth, Black media members, and leaders who traditionally support Black-led organizations.

CJAM Consulting, a New York-based, minority/women-owned firm helping the Endowments to structure and coordinate Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures, is working with community leaders to develop a digital asset map. The online reference tool will provide information about the many Black-led cultural organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania and their contributions to local Black communities. Ideally, the community conversations and data gathered from the asset map will enhance connections between philanthropic organizations and these critical cultural groups as well as provide an additional platform that will honor the cultural organizations and their work both nationally and internationally.

Looking ahead, a collection of stories, historical moments, community memories will be gathered and local artists will be commissioned to commemorate and celebrate the people, places and moments that have contributed to the wealth of Black cultural amenities that helped shape the region.

Other plans for the initiative include a major investment in the creation and implementation of a unique capacity-building program for Black arts and cultural organizations in the southwestern Pennsylvania region. Also, special grants will be provided to a variety of cultural organizations in 2023 to combat more systemic challenges within the arts and cultural sector as part of subsequent phases of the Cultural Treasures initiative.

“While we are very excited about this first round of grant awards,”  McDill said, “we also are looking ahead to what we hope will be a transformative impact of the entire Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures program on Black cultural organizations across southwestern Pennsylvania and on region’s cultural landscape overall.”

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