A report from Grantmakers in the Arts highlights how arts and culture grantmakers can engage in systems-change work to address the root causes of cultural inequity and advance a more just economy.
Funded by the Barr, William and Flora Hewlett, and Kenneth Rainin foundations, the report, Solidarity Not Charity: Arts & Culture Grantmaking in the Solidarity Economy (121 pages, PDF), provides an overview of the “Solidarity Economy,” a community-controlled ecosystem based on five principles — cooperation, intersectional equity, participatory democracy, pluralism, and sustainability — and how grantmakers can help strengthen such an ecosystem by supporting Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) arts workers and culture-bearers. According to the report, the cultural sector in the United States as currently configured reinforces systemic racism, with 60 percent of philanthropic funding concentrated among just 2 percent of cultural institutions and BIPOC artists experiencing higher rates of unemployment and loss of income than their white peers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Grantmakers, artists, and culture-bearers interviewed for the study unanimously called for rejecting pre-pandemic models and strengthening efforts already under way by artists, organizers, community groups, and nonprofits focused on strengthening movements for racial and economic justice. The economic system needed for cultural equity is not only possible, the report argues, it already exists in the form of mutual aid networks, time banks, community land trusts and gardens, worker and investment cooperatives, and credit unions.
Moreover, arts and culture grantmakers are well positioned to advance the Solidarity Economy, the report argues, because “philanthropy excels at building and supporting infrastructure and institutions;…funders are seeking to learn about ways to support cooperative business structures; and…artists and culture-bearers are leading this work.”
To that end, the authors call on funders to embrace systems change and conduct a “power analysis”; commit to supporting long-term work with multiyear grants, loans, and equity investments; support collaboration, leadership development, and study groups; and advocate for policies that support Solidarity Economy infrastructure. The report and interactive website provide examples of arts and culture groups and initiatives involved in the Solidarity Economy, actions that grantmakers can take, and additional resources.
“Artists and culture-bearers were already suffering from low wages and precarity and for many, the COVID-19 pandemic was the final blow to their livelihoods,” said Natalia Linares, one of the report’s co-authors. “From artist-owned and -governed enterprises, to efforts to build community control of the resources all people need to survive, we have the tools to build a transformative culture that inspires many more people to resist oppressive systems and build life-affirming ones. That is the power of culture, to renew our collective imaginations and push people everywhere to sow systems-change at the root.”