Photographer Adam Davis demonstrating the tintype photography process during the Black Image Center's grand opening in 2022 (all photos by Momodu Mansaray, courtesy the Black Image Center)

Born from the racial tensions that boiled over in 2020, the Black Image Center (BIC), a nonprofit cultural organization that recently acquired a community space in Culver City, California, is crowdfunding to keep its doors open and maintain its free programming and services for Black residents of Los Angeles County. The organization’s executive co-directors, Maya Mansour and Kalena Yiaueki, noted that the downturn of material support for BIC aligns with the waning interest in the “betterment of Black lives” among both the corporate and community-aid spheres, citing hollow diversity, equity, and inclusion statements and empty promises of financial support.

“The inspiration that fueled the start of BIC came from the fact that we were seeing that all these images of Black people dying were being taken by White people,” Yiaueki told Hyperallergic. “That inspired us to create a space that wasn’t just filled with Black pain because that’s what the world was seeing, and that’s also what the world wanted to see. So how could we create a reality where there was so much more nuance?”

Last year, the Black Image Center hosted a series of Black Family Photo Archive events to digitize personal photos from Black residents of Los Angeles County.

BIC works to remove cost and accessibility barriers for Black photographers — from camera clinics, Black family photo archiving events, and educational workshops to community fridges stocked with free film and collaborative artist residencies through the Getty Center. BIC’s no-cost programming is meant to provide agency to LA’s Black residents to reclaim their stories through creative and documentarian means. But things that are free for the community come at a great cost to the organization, which is currently buckling under the burden of rent payments, programming and supplies, and unpaid volunteer labor.

“From a community standpoint, we’re thriving,” Yiaueki continued. “It’s really this sort of utopian version of the world that we want to live in. But unfortunately, we have rent to pay every month and all of our offerings are free. We’ve had a lot of conversations and relationships with corporations who have made us a lot of hollow promises on ways we could potentially collaborate with them to keep the space open that they haven’t really been able to deliver on.”

Yiaueki and Mansour both mentioned how seeking grants from foundations that support other nonprofits has also been fruitless so far, as the organization is still too young to qualify for a majority of opportunities. They also expressed hesitation about accepting money from large corporations that contribute to the displacement, environmental harm, and labor exploitation of the community BIC serves and uplifts.

BIC is seeking $380,000 for operational and programming costs for the 2024 fiscal year, $200K of which will fund four full-time salaried positions so that staff members like Mansour and Yiaueki, who have been contributing dozens of unpaid hours to the center a week on top of their full-time jobs, can continue to push forward and expand the organization’s mission. Approximately $80K will be dedicated toward rent and utility payments to ensure that the La Cienega Avenue headquarters are up and running for the public, and the remainder will be split across staff healthcare, educator and facilitator compensation, and supply costs for educational workshops and events.

The Black Image Center’s grand opening

“At this moment, there’s this economy of care [where] how much people can care is being highlighted through what they share on social media, such as an infographic a day,” Mansour said.

“Our biggest takeaway in the last couple of years is that social media is a great resource for our community to crowdfund, but we don’t want to keep resorting to that,” Yiaueki continued, expanding on Mansour’s point. “So much of the nonprofit industrial infrastructure is rooted in who you know, and who you can be introduced to. We want to build an infrastructure where we never have to rely on crowdsourcing again and just give back to our community.”

BIC outlined that those who are not able to provide monetary support at this time can help the organization by donating equipment, connecting them to resources and other Black-owned businesses and organizations, and volunteering their time.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...