Investing in the Future of Washington’s Arts Community

Leanne Campbell (Coeur d’Alene Tribe) examines the Burke Museum Basketry Collection. Photo by Timothy Kenney/Burke Museum

ArtsFund and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced a historic investment in Washington’s arts and culture sector. The Community Accelerator Grant, one of the largest private grants for the arts, will help deliver $10 million dollars in funding to cultural organizations across the state of Washington in early 2023.

The Community Accelerator grant is intended to boost organizations whose primary mission is to produce or support arts and cultural activities, improving their ability to invest in their teams and missions. To celebrate this announcement, ArtsFund CEO Michael Greer and Lara Littlefield, Executive Director, Partnerships and Programs on behalf of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation discussed the growth and future of the arts and culture sector in Washington state and how investing in arts is an investment in healthy, thriving communities. For more information and to sign up for updates about the grant, visit ArtsFund’s website.

two headshots. the first is of Michael Greer smiling in a suit and tie. The second is of Lara Littlefield in a green blazer.
Michael Greer / Lara Littlefield. COURTESY OF ARTSFUND

Michael Greer: Hi Lara, and great to be having this conversation. This program is critical to the future of many communities at a time when we need it the most. We are witnessing a cultural sector that has weathered a tumultuous several years. Art making survives because it’s human nature. However, our institutions and organizations that support that work, and the public’s ability to engage with art and culture are facing a structural change in how that work is done. Organizations are finding new ways to relate to one another and the communities they serve. They are getting closer to their neighborhoods and finding new ways to reflect the values and the diversity of their communities.

What’s exciting about the Community Accelerator Grant is that it advances our ability to invest in the future of a vibrant arts and culture scene and all the benefits associated with that. This program will support organizations’ ability to celebrate creative expression, tell important stories, and inspire people of varied ages, backgrounds, and lived experiences. And unrestricted funding allows organizations the capital they need to support their mission. This flexible funding gives communities the ability to invest in their greatest needs, and ultimately foster a stronger arts and culture ecosystem for all.  That support will strengthen our communities and create a better quality of life for everyone, across all of Washington State.

three young girls wearing hijabs are outside painting on easels.
DNDA summer youth program. COURTESY OF DNDA STAFF

Lara Littlefield: When the foundation was considering how best to invest in the future of our arts and culture sector, we knew one of the most important aspects was to ensure that resources were getting to grantees quickly and seamlessly. We were looking to accelerate the funding process, making it frictionless for arts and culture organizations who already have so much on their plate. The Community Accelerator Grant’s model allows these organizations to access and distribute funds based on needs they are defining. It is important that our arts and cultural organizations regardless of size or location, are trusted and supported by funders—we can ultimately learn a lot from grantees. As a funder supporting the most pressing needs in the arts and culture sector, we will analyze and share the data we get back to help determine needs-specific trends for arts organizations of all resource levels around the state.

MG: The Community Advisory Panel is really the heart of how this program will be responsive to the needs of the sector right now. As a funder, we stay as close to our grantees as we can, but there are limitations based on positionality and power dynamics. By bringing in a Community Advisory Panel to support the decision-making, both in the creation of the guidelines and requirements, as well as in the evaluation of the applicant information, we get closer to the true needs of the sector. The cultural sector has been historically funded through a lens of “excellence”—but who gets to define what that means and for whom? An approach like the Community Advisory Panel allows us to center decision-making conversations with community members.

We are being intentional with the make-up of this panel. Not only does the Community Advisory Panel aim to represent the geographic scope of Washington State, but the individuals who are sitting on the panel also reflect a wide array of lived experiences, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities. Through this process, we want to ensure that decision-making is closest to the impacted communities.

two black men work in a glass blowing studio. one stands observing and the second sits turning an orange glass object.

LL: The Community Advisory Panel was an especially important aspect of being more inclusive and prioritizing community input into our approach to funding arts, culture, and heritage organizations.  We want to learn from this process to help other funders better embrace collaborative approaches to grantmaking, especially in a sector like arts and culture that is so deeply embedded in and critical to the communities their organizations serve.

MG: As you noted, Lara, it is vital to get these resources distributed to grantees quickly and seamlessly. The Community Accelerator Grant will be open from January 4–31, 2023, with distributing of funding by the end of Q1 2023. It’s a fast timeline for us as a grantmaker, but it’s been developed so that we can both get feedback on the creation of the program and move quickly to move resources where they are needed most. For people looking to sign up to get updates about the program as soon as they are available, please visit ArtsFund’s website.

About ArtsFund

ArtsFund supports the arts through leadership, advocacy, and grantmaking in order to build a healthy, equitable, and creative Washington. Founded in 1969, the Seattle-based nonprofit has been building community through the arts for more than 50 years. ArtsFund was originally founded to bring corporate and civic leaders together to help establish and sustain our region’s arts and cultural institutions. Over its grantmaking history, ArtsFund has supported more than 650 arts organizations with more than $100 million in grants, and provided valuable leadership and advocacy.

About Paul G. Allen Family Foundation

Founded in 1988 by philanthropists Jody Allen and the late Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, the foundation invests in communities across the Pacific Northwest to enhance the human experience of arts & culture, center under-served populations, and mobilize young people to make impact. In addition, the foundation supports a global portfolio of nonprofit partners working across science and technology solutions to protect wildlife, preserve ocean health, and create lasting change. The foundation also funds the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, which works to advance cutting-edge research in all areas of bioscience.