10 Nonprofits You Can Support to Amplify Black Voices in the Arts
The Laundromat Project’s 2017 Bed-Stuy Create Change Artist-in-Residence Lizania Cruz collaborates with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) for a series of immigrant-centered story circles at caribBEING House at the Brooklyn Museum. Photo by Yeji Jung. Courtesy of The Laundromat Project.
Though many bigger, more commercially driven art institutions like museums and auction houses continue to disproportionately recruit and address white men, certain nonprofit organizations have been modeling the kind of diversity needed in the art world for decades. Whether they operate at a local, national, or global scale, these organizations are often far better at speaking to more inclusive communities. And while diversity in programming at nonprofits doesn’t always go hand in hand with diversity in hiring and board membership, there are still many that understand that meaningful change requires a holistic approach and people of color in leadership roles.
Below, we’ve highlighted the work of 10 nonprofits across the United States that have a history (and in some cases a stated mission) of uplifting the work of Black artists and serving predominantly Black communities. We encourage you to support them however you can—follow them on social media, join their mailing lists, attend one of their events, donate your time and/or money.
We also want your input: If there’s a Black-led art nonprofit doing meaningful work to support artists and communities of color that isn’t on this list, please let us know by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “Nonprofits for Black artists.”
Art + Practice
Los Angeles, California
Since its founding in 2014 by artist Mark Bradford, collector Eileen Harris Norton, and activist Allan DiCastro, Art + Practice (A+P) has become a magnet in south Los Angeles’s Leimert Park neighborhood. In addition to hosting a robust program of public events and exhibitions—past solo shows in A+P’s gallery have featured Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, Fred Eversley, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and John Outterbridge—the organization has partnered with nonprofit social services provider First Place for Youth to help foster young people between the ages of 18 and 24 through paid internships, a scholarship program, and support for securing education, housing, and employment.
“Foster care is a crisis mode…it’s an epidemic. They need jobs, places to live, and then we can talk about everything else,” Bradford said in a short documentary produced by the Hammer Museum. “I feel like artists are outsiders, for one reason or another, and in many ways foster youth, through no volition of their own, are outsiders. So I thought, well, one outsider group to another, maybe we can create a platform and maybe we can create a conversation.”
Arts Administrators of Color
Study after study has shown that the people who hold leadership positions in the arts remain disproportionately white. Arts Administrators of Color (AAC) has been working to change that. Founded by Washington, D.C.–based music educator Quanice G. Floyd in July 2016, the organization focuses its efforts on networking and community-building among cultural workers of color through mentorship programs and workshops, a podcast, and an annual convening. It has also established the Accomplices Leadership Institute, which is aimed at training white arts workers so they can dismantle systems of racism and oppression in their professional and personal lives.
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, AAC launched an emergency relief fund for artists and arts workers of color, and is still currently crowdfunding for that initiative. Recent industry layoffs have disproportionately affected BIPOC arts workers, as freelance and education programs and budgets at many institutions dissolved in anticipation of the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Black Art Futures Fund
Brooklyn, New York
Founded in 2017 by writer and philanthropist DéLana R.A. Dameron, the Black Art Futures Fund (BAFF) focuses on supporting artists and arts organizations devoted to community-centric projects. The fund does this in two ways: by cultivating and advising new philanthropists on how their support can be most impactful, and by issuing grants of its own. Last year, BAFF distributed $21,000 to six grantees including TILA Studios—an Atlanta-based organization supporting Black women artists—and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies in Iowa City. The Fund’s efforts focus specifically on supporting organizations with annual operating budgets at or under $750,000, making the BAFF’s support all the more valuable.
“Today, we need affirming spaces, places that mirror us,” Dameron told Hyperallergic in 2018. “But, when I want deep community, I turn to the smaller arts and culture institutions, those that I would say are ‘closer to the ground.’ Small community-based organizations are in the schools. They are at, or are hosting, the block party. They are at City Hall. They are most often the first-responders.”
Black Artists and Designers Guild
Brooklyn, New York
Since it was founded by Brooklyn-based artist Malene Barnett in 2018, the Black Artists and Designers Guild (BADG) has sought to amplify Black voices in the design and culture industries. It has done this through its robust online directory of member artists and designers, but also by forging links between those members, promoting their work through connections with fairs, workshops, pop-up displays, and more.
“As a collective we would like to continue to create opportunities for our members as well as support the next generation of young Black artists, makers and designers by providing tools for them to thrive,” Barnett told Saatchi Art’s blog Canvas last month. “In addition we want to become a resource for hiring talent, Black design aesthetic, and create a residency that connects the Black diaspora to collaborate creatively.”
By Us For Us
New York, New York
The year after its founding, By Us For Us (BUFU) was crowned “The Dopest NYC Art Collective You’ve Never Heard Of” by Vibe magazine, which was both accurate and conveyed something of its unique high-low mash-up sensibility. The group’s approach is grounded in pedagogy, critical theory, and protest movements, but also brings ambitious programming and technological knowledge to bear on self-care and wellness, all with a focus on members of the African and Asian diasporas. Since it was founded in 2015 by Jazmin Jones, Jiun Kwon, Tsige Tafesse, Katherine Tom, and Suhyun Choi, the collective has partnered with a huge range of organizations and individuals on an equally rich array of programs. BUFU and its partners have worked on month-long pop-up programs, a free summer school (with classes like “Reimagining Debt and Sustainability: A Collective Approach” and “Twerk Shop: Workshop”), a how-to zine for direct action, and much, much more. Most recently, BUFU teamed with the nonprofit China Residencies to create CLOUD9, an online program of virtual events in March and April that was open to anyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t want to be experts on what black-Asian solidarity is, but we’re hoping, through our politics, to have an influence on what’s going on globally,” Tom told Nylon back in 2017. “In light of what’s happening politically in the world, how do we show up for each other in a way that extends beyond theory?”
New York, New York
Launched in 2016 by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms draws its inspiration from Norman Rockwell’s famous illustrations of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, which articulated the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The nonpartisan group has organized events, exhibitions, nationwide campaigns, and public art projects—including works by Pedro Reyes, Carrie Mae Weems, Jorly Flores, and Christine Sun Kim—to advocate for the importance of those core principles. In 2018 it launched the “50 State Initiative” timed to the midterm elections in the U.S., and sought to heighten civic engagement by coordinating exhibitions in every single state.
Last year, Thomas and Gottesman collaborated with photographers Emily Shur and Wyatt Gallery on a series of images reimagining Rockwell’s series of “Four Freedoms” illustrations with a more diverse and inclusive vision of America. “The response to the images were so overwhelming,” Thomas told the New York Times. “We’re doing town halls to turn critical dialogue into political discourse about fine art practices. But, we also think it’s important to be visionary not reactionary. When thinking about long-term impact, we want to aim to make statements that will last beyond the current moment.”
The Laundromat Project
New York, New York
True to its name, when The Laundromat Project (The LP) was founded in 2005 by Risë Wison, its programming revolved around projects, events, installations, and performances staged at laundromats in communities of color throughout New York City. For Wilson, these businesses were one of the few places in the city where a cross-section of people of different backgrounds and income levels could come together to share and exchange ideas. “Laundromats are literally a place that everyone has to go—everybody has to wash their clothes,” she told Americas Quarterly in 2013. “That space is ripe for organizing, it’s ripe for some sort of community-building and recognition that we’re in this together.”
Over its 15 years, The LP’s activities have expanded all over the city and into plenty of non-laundromat spaces. In 2017, artist and designer Lizania Cruz worked with The LP to place bespoke newsstands stocked with zines created by immigrants in small businesses throughout Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Last year, the organization teamed with artist Jevijoe Vitug to stage karaoke singing sessions in tunnel underpasses in East Harlem to honor immigrants of color for whom such spaces can be a vital refuge. And earlier this year, The LP started working with artists Xenia Diente and Jaclyn Reyes to seek community input for what will eventually be a public art festival in the Little Manilla area of Woodside, Queens.
Project Row Houses
Since its founding in 1993 by seven artists—James Bettison, Bert Long Jr., Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith—Project Row Houses (PRH) has steadily grown in ambition, reputation, and sheer size. Now spanning five blocks and 39 structures in Houston’s historic Third Ward neighborhood, PRH not only hosts exhibitions, artist residencies, performances, lectures, and readings, but also serves as a small business incubator, provides housing for young single mothers, and has a community development and preservation branch. In short, PRH has radically expanded the function of art as a fulcrum for fostering community.
“Project Row Houses is an art project. I always tell people, creating anything, it’s art, especially if it’s something experimental. If it’s new, it’s always hard,” PRH co-founder Rick Lowe told Bloomberg CityLab in 2014, when he won a MacArthur Fellowship. “We’re working within a community context and sharing that with young artists.”
Artist Theaster Gates founded the Rebuild Foundation in 2009 as a kind of extension of his own practice, which revolves around reclaimed and repurposed materials. The foundation has undertaken the transformation of several buildings on the south side of Chicago, including the transformation of a former bank building into the Stony Island Arts Bank, which hosts exhibitions, events, and a library. The foundation also operates the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, a complex of 32 renovated housing project townhomes devoted to a mix of housing for artists alongside public, affordable, and market-rate housing.
Despite its ambitious scale—the Rebuild Foundation also transformed a former candy store to house an eclectic set of archives it has acquired, created an art-house cinema, and holds an annual retreat for Black artists—Gates said it all started innocently enough with the purchase of a single building in 2006. “There was no grand ambition,” he told Smithsonian Magazine. “When you root in a place, you start making things better. I wasn’t on some divine mission.”
Tessera Arts Collective
Based in North Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, the Tessera Arts Collective (TAC) has only been around for two years but has already developed a broad slate of initiatives, from exhibitions, lectures, and workshops to its fledgling publication Abstractions Magazine and its “Free Art Bin” program, which makes small abstract works of art by Black and Brown women artists available for free. The TAC was founded by artist A’Driane Nieves to support and show the work of artists of color who are womxn (including femme, nonbinary, queer, and trans individuals) and who make abstract art.
Discussing her decision to create a space focused on showing abstract art in a recent interview with Artblog, Nieves explained that “as a Black person, especially, if you have had to fight for your survival, nothing about your existence or your imagination is abstract. Everything has to be concrete and tangible.” She added, “I really feel that people of color, especially, have a pretty significant disconnect with abstraction and another reason why I wanted to create a space like this in a community was to be able to give people that kind of access.”