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Racial Equity Progress Report (Sept ’22 – Jan ’23)

Cheyenne Cohn-Postell, Program Officer

A quarterly report on our anti-racism work

photo of a former church pew outside painted bright yellow with various flowers and leaves and the works "Let' All Heal"
Public art work by Tran Vu. “Let’s All Heal” 2022, former church pew, public art installation In collaboration with Newton Community Pride’s Sit and Soar Project, this bench’s theme centers on healing embedded with flowers and vibrant colors to amplify hope and renewal.

In 2021, Mass Cultural Council launched a three-year Racial Equity Plan outlining some of the internal and external steps we will take to support and encourage an anti-racist cultural sector in the Commonwealth. As part of the plan, the Agency has committed to sharing our progress on this work each quarter:

Reflecting on a Year of More Equitable Grant-Making

Too often we don’t have the time to pause and reflect on how we got to where we are today. We know whether or not we achieved our goals, but don’t always take full stock of the effort and time put in along the way. This blog post is my effort to share the journey Mass Cultural Council started with our Racial Equity Plan and continued with our recruitment and engagement efforts this fiscal year.

The overall goal was —and remains— to spread the Agency’s public investment to communities that are under-resourced, under-served, and under-funded.

Thanks to our advocacy victories and due to the ongoing support of our partners on Beacon Hill, Mass Cultural Council was tasked with the incredible opportunity to equitably invest almost $100 million in state dollars into the cultural sector in FY23.

We began the fiscal year by putting a number of the Agency’s grant programs’ guidelines and processes through a racial equity lens. Through these cross-department conversations, we surfaced a number of changes to improve funding equity, including;

  • Implementing “priority points” across most programs to ensure funding is targeted to those in under-funded, under-resourced communities.
  • Expanding the eligibility of STARS Residencies grants to individuals and cultural organizations (not just schools) in order to simplify the application and payment process and get funds to teaching artists as simply and quickly as possible.
  • Encouraging acquisition projects from Cultural Facilities Fund applicants so that communities harmed by years of policies that prevented property ownership could possibly leverage this opportunity to secure space.
  • Expanding the eligibility of Festivals & Projects grants for-profit entities in order to support cultural entities that are often, small, BIPOC led cultural entities that find nonprofit incorporation a barrier/burden.
  • Expanding opportunities for unincorporated entities beyond the Local Cultural Council Program to ensure informal, community-based groups could access funding as well.

Ramping Up Outreach and Engagement Efforts

In FY23 we also launched one-time Cultural Sector Pandemic Recovery Grants for individuals and organizations. To make real progress toward our goals of recruitment and equity, we undertook unprecedented Agency-wide outreach and recruitment efforts.

Our staff worked on crafting grant programs to serve an intentionally wide array of applicants, which resulted in:

  • Simpler guidelines and applications to understand and complete
  • Application materials made available in different languages
  • Robust marketing and outreach activities to reach more, new potential applicants
  • Ongoing, individualized staff support to people throughout the granting process

This outreach and engagement slide deck offers a summary of how we tried to operationalize this work, making it a guide for the future. The presentation goes through our targets, tactics, and products throughout the fiscal year.

Now that the Cultural Sector Pandemic Recovery Grants have been awarded, we can reflect on the amazing opportunity the Agency had in FY23 to make record investments and to make them more equitably. Check out an overview of how these recovery grants were awarded and who they benefitted to get a deeper picture into how much more funding was distributed this year, and how many new people the funds went to.

Spoiler alert: It’s a lot!

Track on-going progress using our racial equity journey map.

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