10 Minnesota cultural organizations led by people of color get $500,000 each

Eric Sharp and Meaghan Kreidler in the Mu Performing Arts production of "F.O.B." Theater Mu is one of the 10 Minnesota cultural organizations that will receive grants under a new philanthropic program announced Tuesday.
Photo by Michal Daniel 2014

Ten Minnesota cultural organizations including Theater Mu, Mizna and Juxtaposition Arts will each receive unrestricted grants of at least half a million dollars under a new philanthropic program announced Tuesday.

McKnight Foundation arts program director DeAnna Cummings said the regional Cultural Treasures program grew out of a national initiative — born out of concern about the pandemic's impact on communities of color.

“The Ford Foundation had the wisdom to say we want to create this fund that will provide additional support above and beyond to Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American cultural organizations so that they will emerge from the pandemic even stronger than where they were before the pandemic started," she said.

Funded by the Ford, McKnight, Bush and Jerome foundations, the regional Cultural Treasures initiative surveyed some 600 cultural organizations led by people of color, and then winnowed it down to the 10 finalists.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Cummings said they all add to Minnesota's culture and economy.

"Without Ananya Dance, Indigenous Roots, Mizna, Pangea, the Somali Museum, Theater Mu, Walker West, Minnesota is a lot less fabulous,” she said. “A lot less creative. A lot less attractive for folk who are thinking of moving here, about communities of color thinking about a job here."

Rounding out the list are TruArt Speaks, American Indian Community Housing Organization Arts Program and Pangea World Theater.

Junior art director D.J. Bryant, 17, works on a vinyl mural design.
Junior art director D.J. Bryant works on a vinyl mural design for one of Juxtaposition Arts' clients during lab time in a temporary workspace nicknamed "The Annex" in Minneapolis in May 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News 2018

Because the money is unrestricted, Cummings said, each organization may use it differently.

"So some of them will be using it probably for capital development projects that they are working on,” she said. “Others may start a reserve fund; others will likely invest in their human resources in ways maybe they couldn't do before, you know, pay folks who had been volunteers. "

Cummings said she expects the grants will give the companies some breathing room and more time to focus on their artistic work — and less about fundraising. She anticipates patrons will see better shows as a result.

It’s been Cummings’ job to spread the news to the lucky recipients. She said she has been struck by a common theme as people have thanked her.

“Folks saying, 'Thank you for recognizing my work and for seeing me, and seeing the work that I do. I feel seen.' I thought that was really powerful," she said.

These initial grants are just the first phase of the project. The four foundations are now beginning work on phase two calling it “Seeding Cultural Treasures.” That will involve offering more than $5 1/2 million in grants to grow cultural organizations led by people of color in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

A group of advisers will meet in coming months on how to do that most effectively, with grants expected to be opened up for applications in 2022.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.