Baltimore, MD

Art funders simplify grant process to target underrepresented organizations

Kaleah Mcilwain

(BALTIMORE) For art organizations applying for a grant can be a tedious process. Funders ask for a lot of data and there are lots of steps in the process that make it difficult.

Jocquelyn Downs, executive director of the arts council, a part of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & Arts (BOPA), joked that grant applications do come with strings attached and they want to know everything about your life down to your blood type. While not literal, this is how smaller art organizations can feel when faced with grant applications.

Downs has found that this difficulty can cause organizations to believe the application is not designed for them, and it keeps them out rather than encourage them to apply.

BOPA’s new grant “The Communities Thrive Organizational Project Grant” was specifically designed to encourage those organizations that they did not traditionally see applying for funding to apply now.

BOPA wanted to target organizations working with underrepresented populations and those who do work in communities of Baltimore City that are ignored or underserved.

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Soul Queen by lead artist Megan Lewis, artist intern Jache Haynie and "Art @ Work" youth artist apprentices(The Baltimore Office of Promotion & Arts)

For this new grant application BOPA is allowing video submissions, and has curbed some of the questions and requirements to make it more accessible, so people can apply directly from their phones.

When people apply, they will still have to be specific with the proposal, have a detailed description of what event or events they want to be funded, show the benefit to the community, and have a letter of support from a community organization. With the new grant application organizations can answer these questions in the best way that works for them such as in video or audio form.

“It’s to try to gain more access to people who don’t apply to these grants traditionally and to let them know you too are included, we want you to apply for funding, you too can get this funding to serve your community,” said Downs.

For this application process they considered what they were asking people, figured out what questions were not essential, and thought of new ways to gather the information they did need. Overall, it was about making the application process less stressful.

Downs also searched online to find underrepresented organizations that she feels BOPA has not funded in the past or in awhile.

“I’ve literally met, in the past I would say month, artists and leaders of organizations who need funding but have never applied for grant funding because they don’t know the process, so automatically feel I’m not going to get it, so they just kick themselves out,” she said.

Downs has been a part of BOPA for two years and after reviewing the grant opportunities that they have offered, seeing who they have served, and where the money has been going, they want to serve more diverse groups and different types of organizations.

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House of Cards by OGE Group(Crystal Whitman/The Baltimore Office of Promotion & Arts)

Most of the time they see the same organizations that know how to apply for grants and get funding for their organization. “But then there’s a whole group of other people who just don’t have that background. So we feel like it’s our responsibility as the arts council to do [something about it],” said Downs.

BOPA feels a responsibility to provide technical support to get those smaller organizations up to speed through support and funding. This is one of several programs and steps they are taking to make their contribution to the city more equitable. COVID-19 was a good opportunity for them as a funder to find out what grantees want, what communities need, and what organizations are lacking.

“As the city comes back to life we know that we provide tons of events and resources and meaningful things for the community but why not have them do that for themselves. We want to provide this funding opportunity so smaller organizations can provide that one on one, individual support, to their own personal community,” said Downs.

Competition for BOPA grants is steep. Multiple recipients are expected to receive funding from the current grant cycle in $5,000 or $10,000 amounts.

The application closes Friday May 7 and recipients are expected to be announced at the start of June.

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