The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh initiative has awarded $388,000 to local artists and art programs for its fall cycle. In a press release, the funding helps “build the careers of individual artists, increase the sustainability of cultural organizations that focus on Black arts, expand community awareness of the Black arts sector, and support efforts toward greater collaboration and the elimination of racial disparities within the larger arts sector.”
Dating back to 2010, Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh claims to have awarded 356 grants totaling $5.6 million.
“We don’t think an investment in Black artists is important to addressing racial disparities in the city — we know it is,” says Shaunda McDill, arts and culture program officer for The Heinz Endowments.
“Supporting Black artists and Black art is not only a justice issue but it is also a workforce issue, a retention issue, a quality of life solution, and critical to forging the democracy we profess and hope to one day see realized," she says.
McDill points to the many articles and reports confirming that Pittsburgh’s Black population “lags behind other cities in quality of life.” This includes a 2018 report released by the City of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission citing Pittsburgh as the worst U.S. city for Black women.
McDill also appreciates the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council study showing that 84 percent of non-white respondents found Greater Pittsburgh’s arts funding inequitable. “[Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council]’s work in an era where data is such a driver in decision-making,” says McDill. “We now have local statistics to point to.”
She also points to a 2017 report by the Helicon Collaborative showing that, nationally, inequity in arts funding has increased despite the efforts of various foundations and consulting firms. Pittsburgh was among the 10 cities included in the report, along with Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City, San Francisco, the Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C.
The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants range from $3,000 to $25,000 and went to recipients working in a variety of fields and media.
One grant went to Wali Jamal to produce an audiobook and video series based on a book published in 1852 by Martin Delaney, Pittsburgh's first known African-American doctor. Asia Bey received a grant to complete and release EXA, an original graphic novel exploring Bey’s experiences of growing up as a Black girl.
Duane Binion, co-executive director of True T Pgh, will use his grant to create an interactive installation at True T Studios depicting the history of queer people of color in underground ballroom communities.
Some grants went to film projects, including respective documentaries by Fatima Jamal, Gregory Scott Williams Jr., and the Afro American Music Institute. James White will produce short documentaries on five Pittsburgh-based Black artists, while Jasiri X of the Pittsburgh Black arts and activism collective 1Hood will develop a soundtrack for the 1925 silent film Body and Soul by early Black film pioneers director Oscar Micheaux and actor Paul Robeson.
Artists Image Resource, Chatham University, and Pittsburgh Glass Center all received grants to support residencies for local Black creatives.
These are in addition to over a dozen other local artists working in music, dance, cultural events, and more. A complete list is available at the Pittsburgh Foundation website.
“Black artists are invaluable members of the Black community and a large portion of the city’s citizenry,” says McDill. “Supporting their work is equally as essential as supporting transplants to our area, encouraging civic discourse, economic planning with business leaders, and developing policy with politicians. The opportunity is to deeply impact the aforementioned decision-making, activities, and processes by including and leveraging the gifts of Black artists in providing innovative solutions to the problems that literally are now a matter of Black Life and Black Death.”