Pittsburgh Opportunity Fund steers mission to "advance racial justice" | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Opportunity Fund steers mission to "advance racial justice"

click to enlarge Pittsburgh Opportunity Fund steers mission to "advance racial justice"
Photo: John Maina
Olorgesailie Maasai Women Artisans of Kenya and Tereneh Idia in Olorgesailie, Kenya
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Opportunity Fund, a Pittsburgh-based private foundation, awarded grants to small and mid-sized arts organizations or those geared to social and economic justice. Grants have supported people working in the performing or visual arts, and to organizations that fight for civil liberties, civil rights, human rights, reproductive freedom, and safety net resources.

For Jake Goodman, the program's Executive Director, the pandemic and the protests for racial justice across the country raised some questions about the organization's leadership and the work they were or were not doing to support Black artists and justice initiatives.

An email says the foundation worked with eight Black and African American individuals to "chart a path forward to advance racial justice."

“If we truly do not accept the current status quo of many Black people living and dying under worse conditions than almost everybody else,” says Goodman in a press release, “then we need to change the way we generally go about business at the Opportunity Fund. Otherwise, we are tacitly accepting that status quo.”

As a result, the Opportunity Fund named racial justice as the focus over all of its justice funding, allocating $50,000 in initial seed money to establish a fund designed by Black people for Black people.

A part of interrogating their role in white supremacy culture came with asking for the help of yvette shipman, a consultant who has previously worked for the Pittsburgh Racial Justice Summit and the Union Project, a multi-use community space in the city's Highland Park neighborhood.

With the help of shipman, the fund formed the Opportunity Fund Innovation Venture Community Advisors, an intergenerational group of Black contributors from as far away as Ghana, Africa.
click to enlarge Pittsburgh Opportunity Fund steers mission to "advance racial justice"
Photo: Courtesy of yvette shipman
yvette shipman
For three months, the group collaborated on ways to support the “rich diversity of our Blackness; intersectional, transformative justice; our creative, spiritual, entrepreneurial, social, and civic intellect; Black health and wellness, including rest as a corrective, restorative, human right; and Black cultural and spiritual presence in shaping America.”

Says shipman, “Some funders say to give everybody a little bit of money, often making it more challenging to achieve goals. We want to give people what they need so they can do what needs to be done.”

The group sought to challenge the traditional grant funding process by recommending changes like a “process for channeling funds toward groups and individuals who exist outside of the in-network of social justice folks; collective decision-making to ensure the presence and participation of those from the community who have the most to gain or lose by what gets funded; and shorter applications that allow folks to present themselves in a manner truer to who they are, whether by phone, video, or front porch conversations,” says a press release for the initiative.

To sum up their work, the Opportunity Fund sees OFIV as an explicit step toward reparations. As recommended by the Community Advisors, the Opportunity Fund will directly support two of the creative projects the group proposed. Atasa Solar, an initiative led by artist and Pittsburgh City Paper columnist Tereneh Idia, partners with the Maasai in Kenya and the African diaspora to "uplift Indigenous women’s design and technology and create a model for culturally relevant, renewable energy to provide energy justice for the community."

“It is important to see ourselves reflected in solutions and answers to problems of injustice,” says Idia in a press release.

Also receiving funding is Remember, Re-member, Reclaim, Repair, an exploration of ancestry and genealogy for Black and African American residents in Pittsburgh and the South.

“Black people discern the most direct and impactful route to transform what it is we need for ourselves," says shipman. "Philanthropy’s role is to clear any obstacles to this transformation."

To find out more about the fund and see their instructions and timeline for applying for a grant, visit their website.