July 2020: Calling Out and Claiming Space

Dear Friends,    

This month’s update shines a light on Black Art Futures Fund, the philanthropic and Black arts advocacy arm of Red Olive Creative Consulting. 

BAFF was designed to act as an intermediary for small Black arts organizations across the country and the people who want to invest in their futures. 

Through our multiple entry points—volunteer application readers, advisory board, donors, collaborative learning volunteers—we imagined a platform within a larger ecosystem that could belong to and be held by many people at once, but with Black arts organizations at the center of it. One could come in and choose one level of engagement or all of the above, or we could work together to think of new ways to explore this necessary work. It has been an honor to dream with a community, and now watch that community expand. Thank you, and welcome!

BAFF certainly has emerged as our sexy wing—we get to give money, support orgs, advocate for orgs, move philanthropic needles, be responsive to the real needs of our grantees, and more.This effort is also an important compliment of  the work we do at Red Olive, an agency dedicated to moving people and resources to arts and culture nonprofits so that they can continue to do their own righteous work. 

I name this now to call out the ways in which Red Olive and BAFF exist in the same, we’ll call it, universe together with other initiatives, existing and to come. But for now, some BAFF updates!

In the last 3 months, we have moved $66,500 in two rounds in May and June of emergency general operating grants to 18 small Black arts organizations, many of whom have an average organizational budget of $242,000. Thank you. 

BAFF is special to us, because we believe in being “more than a grant” and we are very clear that while a $5,000 check can be impactful, it won’t change the life of the organization. So we look for ways to stand in that gap, and offer a year-long collaborative learning environment for grantees to engage with professionals and volunteers and experts in the fields of organizational development, fundraising, communications and beyond. We hold space for cohort learning, network building, and cannot wait to get to know these groups closely, and in more depth, so that we can report out to you all, our beloved community, what all we’ve journeyed together and what challenges and triumphs small Black arts organizations share for the communities they dedicate themselves to—Black people, Black artists, Black culture bearers and those who love us. 

I’ll end with 2 quotes: a quote from Ashleigh Gordon, Executive Director of Castle of our Skins, a 2019 BAFF grantee, and we were so proud to learn, their first institutional funder, and Sylvia Jung, Development Manager of Grantmakers in the Arts who was a 2019 volunteer application reader.

Being part of the Black Art Futures Fund cohort has been a blessing to say the least. In addition to the financial support, I have received a wealth of knowledge from regular co-learning sessions. Plus, personal guidance from DéLana if/when needed. All I had to do was ask. I found I was able to not only carry the newfound knowledge I learned from her and the sessions to my board, but I was also able to bring my board to our co-learning sessions (a pivotal, “ah ha” inspiring moment for my Board Chair who left the meeting fired up and ready to take charge!). BAFF has truly shown its deep level of care and consideration every step of the way, from providing time and space for professional development to financial support (pre and knee-deep-in-the-thick-of-things COVID-19 era). Thank you for your presence. You’re truly an invaluable asset to the Black arts community! —Asheleigh Gordon

When I applied to volunteer as a reader for Black Art Future Fund’s 2019 grant cycle, I was eager to learn about the work of small Black arts organizations nationally. After working in nonprofit fundraising for over a decade (and being born and raised) in New York, I was surprised by how few of the New York City based Shay Wafer Legacy Grant applicants I knew about – in particular, organizations like viBe Theater Experience. viBe is an organization and Toya is a leader that intimately, and with care, love, and respect, centers the girls, young women, and nonbinary youth of color they serve. As a product of New York City public education, I know how important the work viBe is doing, and how important it is to me. Many of my friends, like me, have become donors to viBe to ensure they continue and expand the ways they can positively impact the youth and young folks they serve. –Sylvia Jung

Let’s continue to build the Blackest Artistic Future there is possible, together.

In Black Love, 


In an Unpredictable World, Rigidity Holds Us Back

Miss Rona began shaking the world before we even knew what she was up to.

Scientists apparently knew about COVID-19 well before this pandemic hit, but the virus seemed to descend upon us with unprecedented suddenness. I didn’t understand the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic until my flight home from Chicago in the first week of March. I’d planned to go to a conference in San Antonio, but because of the outbreak there I redirected to visit some friends. As I boarded the plane back to Philly, I looked around and realized each passenger had an entire row to themselves on a Friday afternoon flight. 

At BAFF, I’d spend February updating the application to reflect lessons learned in previous years. We had just finished collecting this year’s applications and were working to assemble volunteer readers, who would also facilitate between BAFF and applicants during the second stage of the application process. 

By mid-March, though, we realized that the application process was not appropriate for the moment at hand. Art organizations of all sizes were suddenly forced to reevaluate finances and operations in unprecedented ways; small Black art organizations were among the most severely impacted. BAFF’s mission to support Black art workers is incompatible with a traditionally bureaucratic grant process during times of extreme change and strain on all Black art community members, and especially art administrators who invest in Black art. 

For this reason, the decision was made to pivot and create an emergency/relief grant in place of BAFF’s third cycle of grants. The new application aimed simply to get money into the hands of Black art administrators as efficiently and fairly as possible.. We prioritized previous finalists, who would have been awarded a grant in previous years if BAFF had the financial means. We also prioritized Black art organizations with less regional access to philanthropic resources, such as rural organizations. And all organizations received the requested amount, except in cases when other foundations were able to support, so that more organizations could receive emergency funding overall.

By remaining practical and flexible in the face of the pandemic, we were able to respond to the immediate needs of the Black art community in a completely new situation, helping Black art organizations sustain themselves and put their people first (starting with administrators and other key staff.) In this rapidly changing socio-economic climate, it’s become clear that no one can prepare for tomorrow. We must remain responsive to circumstances while also grounded in our values. In doing so, we are facilitating mutual cultural investment in the Black art world in order to ensure its sustainability.

 —Noor Ibn Najam, BAFF Spring 2020 Grant Cycle Coordinator