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Assessing Recent Outreach & Recruitment Efforts

Bethann Steiner, Public Affairs Director

photo of a high-ceiling room framed with columns, numerous tables of people standing and sitting and talking with each other
Attendees networking at the Western Mass BIPOC Artist Salon & Resource Share in Holyoke on October 24, 2022.

Informed by the goals outlined in our Racial Equity Plan, Mass Cultural Council’s program staff has collectively focused on deliberate outreach and recruitment efforts throughout this year’s grant application cycles to ensure that eligible residents who may not have previously applied to our grant programs are informed and encouraged to engage with us.

In doing so our teams have intentionally identified and prioritized engagement and relationship building with cultural sector stakeholders who also identify as Black, Indigenous, or as a Person of Color (BIPOC), Deaf, as a person with a disability, as well as those who live and work to advance the Power of Culture in under-resourced communities. We hope these efforts will allow Mass Cultural Council to continue improving our grant making and policy development decisions – building towards a more equitable and anti-racist cultural sector – and intentionally invest in the most marginalized and historically underfunded applicants.

Our goal is to work towards a 50% increase in funding for the above listed applicants and grantees by July 2023. Fortunately, due to the historic amount of state funds Mass Cultural Council is charged with investing across the cultural sector this fiscal year – $23.4M in the state budget, $60.1M in one-time pandemic recovery funds, and $10M for the Cultural Facilities Fund – we have ample opportunities to engage with new applicants across every community in Massachusetts.

Our FY23 pandemic recovery programs – Cultural Sector Recovery Grants for Organizations and Cultural Sector Recovery Grants for Individuals – provided the perfect opportunity to enact a prolonged, full-scale recruitment process to encourage new applicants to apply for assistance. We first announced these COVID relief grant opportunities in June and worked hard to amplify and market the programs for months, until the application periods closed this fall. Now that the application deadlines have passed for both programs, we are able to review and begin to assess whether our efforts were successful.

A first look at the application pool shows that both programs received historic levels of applications – proving once again the great need for pandemic recovery assistance across the cultural sector. An initial review of the application pools indicates that:

Cultural Sector Recovery Grants for Organizations received 1,364 applications, of which:

  • 14% self-identify as BIPOC-centered organizations
  • 37% are in priority, under-resourced communities (as defined in the program guidelines)
  • 39% are first-time applicants to a Mass Cultural Council grant program
  • 52% have not been funded by a Mass Cultural Council grant program in the past 3 years

Cultural Sector Recovery Grants for Individuals received an astounding 7,593 applications, of which:

  • 16% self-identify as a person who is Deaf or who has a disability
  • 33% self-identify as People of the Global Majority*/BIPOC
  • 36% live in priority, under-resourced communities (as defined by the program guidelines)
  • 72% are first-time applicants to a Mass Cultural Council grant program
  • 92% have not been funded by a Mass Cultural Council grant program in the past 6 years

Anecdotally, Jen Lawless, our Operations Director, who has been with Mass Cultural Council for 16 years, says that the Cultural Sector Recovery Grants for Individuals is the second largest grant program she has seen (only the LCC Program receives more applications – and that is a statewide funding network!)

We are thrilled at the response we received in terms of applications and engagement with these programs. We are excited to develop funding relationships with these newly identified cultural sector stakeholders and hope to continue to meet and engage with individuals and organizations across the Commonwealth who are working to advance the Power of Culture.

However, our resources are finite. We expect to award 3,000 Individual Recovery Grants, and so we know now, even before the funding decisions are announced early next year, that many applicants – nearly 60% – will not be successful in this grant round.

Our challenge is to continue to foster a relationship with these new contacts and encourage them to maintain their engagement with us. As a state agency our mandate is to serve the entire cultural sector – and we are prioritizing efforts to ensure everyone in Massachusetts who identifies with our mission is aware of the programs and services we offer.

As a state agency we are also dependent on public funding and support. The next calendar year brings with it a new legislative session. We’ll be building the case for continued robust state investment in arts and culture through Mass Cultural Council’s annual budget appropriation and hope to use data like this to illustrate and explain the unmet needs we know to exist to our partners on Beacon Hill.

*People of the global majority — Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Latinx, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, and all other ethnicities of color.

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