First-Ever National Strategic Initiative for Black Theater Institutions

 

The Black Seed embodies the profound words of Richard Wright, as we – the Black theater field – “fling [ourselves] into the unknown . . . to see if we could grow differently, if we could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.”

WHAT IS THE BLACK SEED?

The Black Seed is a first-ever national strategic plan to create impact and thrivability for Black theater institutions, unprecedentedly led by a Black-led theater institution in collaboration with other Black leadership for communities of Black artists and Black audiences. Black theater institutions have been and will continue to be the guardians of the true American story, beginning with those institutions from the 60s and 70s and continuing to this era of racial injustice and unprecedented awareness.

The Black Seed will be a force for systemic change in the arts and culture world: a 21st century ecosystem for institutional thrivability, collectively tackling racial injustices and inequalities, and creating profound, world-class relevant art and replicable institutional and national partnership models.

  • The Black Seed Fund will award up to 50 grants
  • A national Think Tank of up to 50 non-profit Black theater institutional leaders from across the country
  • The Black Seed National Leadership Circle to serve as a platform for major donors to invest in Black theater institutions across the nation;
  • The Black Seed Cohort comprised of national networks and coalitions, including Black Theatre Commons, Black Theatre Network, Black Theatre United, The International Black Theatre Summit, Project1Voice, and We See You that will convene twice a year to move the field forward;
  • A national marketing campaign to tell the story of Black theater in America.

It is a brand agnostic endeavor that is not individualistic, celebrity-driven, or based on a scarcity-model geared towards creating a hierarchy of Black theaters. This optimistic enterprise developed by everyday leaders who serve on the front lines of leading Black institutions for Black artists and Black communities IS impact oriented.

Anchor Institution and National Advisory Committee 

The Billie Holiday Theatre, founded in 1972 in response to the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements and theater home to the largest African American community in the nation – Central Brooklyn – collaborates with three Black-led theater institutions, The CRAFT Institute, Plowshares Theatre Company, and WACO Theatre Center.

The Black Seed Cohort

Comprised of six Black-led service institutions: Black Theatre Commons, Black Theatre Network, Black Theatre United, The International Black Theatre Summit, Project1Voice, and We See You White American Theatre.

Philanthropic Partner 

The Black Seed is profoundly grateful to the Lead Philanthropic Partner of The Black Seed, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation who is joined by a cohort of funders whose work is committed to social justice and equity in the arts, including The New York Community Trust, Ford Foundation, and The Howard Gilman Foundation.

WHAT DOES THE BLACK SEED NOT SUPPORT?

The Black Seed is not focused on the diversity and inclusivity efforts of predominantly white institutions nor artistic work by and with Black artists that will be viewed by predominantly white audiences. The Black Seed is not focused on other artistic disciplines beyond the theatrical realm.

WHO CAN APPLY? 

The Black Seed will support Black-led theater institutions who serve predominantly Black communities and who produce, present, and/or commission new works and classic works, readings, conversations, festivals, summits and conferences, and/or performance art, as well as Black-led institutions focused on Black audience development, all rooted in the full diversity, complexity, and intersectionality of the Black experience.

HOW CAN I APPLY FOR A GRANT FROM THE BLACK SEED?

Please keep an eye out for a Request for Proposals that will be available October 2020 and shared via social media channels, networks and via press.

WHO WILL DECIDE ON THE GRANTEES?

In order to ensure the most equitable, innovative, and widest participation for Black theater institutions across the nation, The Black Seed RFP Reviewers will be 5-7 anonymous and independent subject matter experts in the fields of arts and culture, non-profit infrastructure, academia, community development, etc.

Please Note: No member of the National Advisory Committee will be a reviewer of grant proposals and the anchor institution has recused itself from applying.

WHEN WILL GRANTEES BE NOTIFIED?

December 2020

WHY ONLY BLACK THEATERS?

Artists play a critical role in shaping our national narrative and public discourse. Yet, disparities in funding for the arts determine whose stories get told, what communities have access, and which artists thrive. Of the $4 billion in philanthropic support given by foundations to arts organizations, 58% of that support goes to the largest 2% of organizations. The other 98% of organizations split the last 42% and arts organizations serving communities of color shared only 4% of that pie. As a result, arts organizations that do the vital work of promoting the stories of people of the global majority are left struggling: the median budget size of the 20 largest arts organization of color surveyed by the DeVos Institute is 90% smaller than their mainstream counterparts, and more than half of these organizations were operating in 2013 with budget deficits. According to the Bridgespan Group’s report Racial Equity in Philanthropy: Closing the Funding Gap, the unrestricted assets of groups with leaders of color were 76 percent smaller than those with white leaders. For groups that focus on improving the lives of Black men, unrestricted assets are 91% smaller at Black-led groups, than at their white-led counterparts. 

There are close to 100 Black theaters across the US currently producing, presenting, and commissioning theatrical works, readings, and community programming. The majority of these organizations survive on budgets of less than $3 million a year and have been made more vulnerable due to the devastation of the converging pandemics of COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustices. Until The Black Seed, there has been no national, coordinated response to support Black theater institutions whose stories are so vital to a complete American narrative.