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Art feeds a human desire to know who we are and where we come from. It anchors us to a sense of place and community. It has the power to validate us and make us feel seen.
But art can also amplify our absence from the cultural imaginary. It can emphasize the lack of outlets for our experience. This is most evident in our cultural institutions, which determine which artists get elevated, funded, and celebrated. In many ways, these institutions reflect where we are culturally as individuals, communities, and societies. They also can perpetuate the "othering" of historically marginalized (and erased) people.
We need disruption on all levels before we can rebuild the institutions that no longer serve us.
Reshaping Our Cultural Spaces
As stewards of culture, philanthropic institutions have the extraordinary power to deepen their commitment to inclusivity and create tangible value systems that respect the experiences of artists and communities historically excluded from our cultural landscape. Philanthropy can be critical in reshaping our cultural spaces to mirror the diversity in humanity.
The first step is self-reflection to unearth the internalized beliefs and social norms dictating how and why our cultural spaces remain largely exclusive. These internal assessments are needed to redirect our attitudes, priorities, and actions toward supporting the full spectrum of the human experience rather than a slim segment.
Then, funders must foster authentic partnerships with artists based on mutual respect and understanding. These engagements should focus on elevating the unique experiences, perspectives, and ideas that compel curiosity and learning and deepen our connections to one another.
The next step is funding through a human-centric lens — an approach allowing philanthropy to adopt equitable funding practices that reach the communities they seek to serve.
A Human-Centric Funding Model
Culturally, we must do better at supporting the diverse needs of artists who primarily work outside the definition of traditional work models. Coupled with societal perceptions as a vastly undervalued profession, artists often rely on themselves for healthcare, sick time, and 401k's.
A human-centered funding model begins by considering the needs, desires, and abilities of the whole person. To achieve this, consider the following questions that go beyond a traditional arts and culture grant and that examine the holistic experience of the artist or cultural worker:
How does your funding support artists directly? Is it calculated solely for the production of artwork?
Why are the current limitations of your funding process in place?
Are access accommodations included at the forefront or only when/if someone with a disability asks? Are you informed on the nuanced needs of people with disabilities?
Who are institutions funding with your philanthropic dollars? Are they perpetuating a white-male-dominated, ableist cultural ecosystem?
Does funding consider the artists' needs beyond creative production? (e.g., knowledge building, professional skills, access to industry consultation, professional services, and mentorships) Do artists have the discretion to use funds for childcare, healthcare, or rent?
Are the changes you are making permanent or "of the moment"?
Through a human-centric lens, funders and the philanthropic sector can leave behind preconceived ideas of who is qualified enough to be an artist, who claims the authority to define art, and which communities deserve a place in our cultural spaces. If we value the impact of the arts on society, we cannot leave the artists behind by limiting who they are, where they come from, or what they choose to express.
A Path Toward a More Equitable Cultural Sector
Cultural institutions are responsible for recording the human experience and validating the intangible facets of life that bring us together, enabling us to persevere through pain and loss and to thrive with joy and abundance. If our cultural spaces are where we celebrate and mourn the experiences of our ancestors, they cannot continue to be places for some and not others.
Investing in a human-centric funding model fosters authentic inclusion and a more profound commitment to equity work. Funding through a human-centric lens cuts through belief systems that do more harm than good. Fundamentally, it can open the door for people who have grown accustomed to feeling excluded.