Zion (age 6) sharing a poem in the Summer Block Party in the Langston Hughes House (courtesy of I, Too Arts Collective; photo by David Flores)

Zion (age 6) sharing a poem in the Summer Block Party in the Langston Hughes House (courtesy of I, Too Arts Collective; photo by David Flores)

On Tuesday the Black Art Futures Fund (BAFF), a young organization working to support small cultural groups focused on supporting the work of artists of African descent, announced the winning grantees for its inaugural funding cycle. The winners include groups in New York City and organizations in smaller, regional centers: a $6,000 award to the Center for Afrofuturist Studies in Iowa City, Iowa; a $4,000 award to the I, Too Arts Collective in New York; and two $2,500 awards to the Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance in Brooklyn, and The Watering Hole in Columbia, South Carolina.

“I could rattle on for days about the contributions from artists of African descent, and organizations centering those artists, to the larger universe of arts and culture,” BAFF founder DéLana R.A. Dameron, who is a poet and arts administrator in addition to her decade of experience in non-profit fundraising, told Hyperalergic over email. “Today, we need affirming spaces, places that mirror us. Here in New York City, I think about the large, known beacons of Black artistic production: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Studio Museum of Harlem, places I patronize. But, when I want deep community, I turn to the smaller arts and culture institutions, those that I would say are ‘closer to the ground.’ Small community-based organizations are in the schools. They are at, or are hosting, the block party. They are at City Hall. They are most often the first-responders.”

Center for Afrofuturist Studies artist-in-residence Tiona McClodden’s youth workshop in May 2016 (image courtesy of Public Space One/The Center for Afrofuturist Studies)

Founded by Dameron as an initiative of her boutique arts and culture firm, Red Olive Creative Consulting, less than a year ago, Black Art Futures Fund is a collective of artists and philanthropists dedicated to both showcasing and preserving the work of black artists. Initially a volunteer-run operation, the project quickly became a Donor Advised Fund in cooperation with the Brooklyn Community Foundation. Its other board members include: Opé Bukola, Project Manager at Google Education; Jessica Lynne, writer and editor of ARTS.BLACK; Edward Brockhoff, Operations Manager at Ollie; and Rickey Laurentiis, writer and the poet-in-residence at the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics. BAFF currently provides grants to small and mid-sized nonprofits working to, as the group puts it, “enhance the future of Black arts and culture.”

BAFF received 34 applications when it announced an open call earlier this year. Six volunteers selected finalists before the board made its final call. BAFF formally recognized the finalists in its announcement: Blackboard Plays, the Bushwick Starr, the Houston Museum of African American Culture, Idiosyncrazy Productions LLC, Liberation Theater Company, The Beautiful Project, The Carpetbag Theater, Vibe Theater Experience, and the YGB Preservation Collective.

Center for Afrofuturist Studies artist-in-residence Krista Franklin’s installation, “…to take root among the stars” at Public Space One, September 2016 (image courtesy of Public Space One/The Center for Afrofuturist Studies)

“Small, community-based and Black arts organizations also operate with a budget comprised of approximately 90-98% of restrictive programmatic funding, or government funding,” Dameron added. “This means they’ll have funds to support the … presentation of arts and culture of the African Diaspora, but only 1 to 2% of funding comes from individuals — gifts that are unrestricted to the organizations and sorely needed. Black Art Futures knows the value of a general operating grant — that is, a check to quite simply, if needed, keep the lights on — as well as provide small organizations access to a fundraising and organizational development agency to help continue to grow their organization.”

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Monica Uszerowicz

Monica Uszerowicz is a writer and photographer in Miami, FL. She has contributed work to BOMB, Los Angeles Review of Books' Avidly channel, Hazlitt, VICE, and The Miami Rail.