A Renewed Vision for the Creative Communities Program


A Renewed Vision for the Creative Communities Program

The William Penn Foundation makes grants to help improve the quality of life in the city and the region, and periodically, we review our grantmaking objectives and practices to ensure that we are achieving that aim. In early 2019, our Creative Communities team began a process, along with members of the William Penn Foundation board, to analyze the breadth and depth of arts, culture, and public space organizations funded in the region and to better understand who the work was impacting and whether it reflected the diversity of the region’s people and cultures. Along the way, a global pandemic took hold as did a national reawakening brought on by the murder of George Floyd and urgent calls for racial, social, and economic equity. All of this furthered our commitment and informed our process, which included research, conversation, and reflection within our own team as well as with grantees, researchers, community leaders, and consultants. 

The result is a refinement of our Creative Communities grantmaking program that is more people-centered with the goal of supporting as diverse an array of cultures and experiences as possible. To do that, we’re building on our history and experience in supporting public space, arts education, creation of new work, and arts organizations, but we’ll ask questions that lead to a different approach to funding. We’ll emphasize how work is made and who benefits. And we’ll work with the organizations, people, and places that comprise our arts and culture and public space sectors to provide support that is inclusive of more people to achieve that vision.

To arrive at this point, we asked questions like how do neighborhoods and residents benefit from urban public spaces? What is known about the benefits of engaging in and with arts and culture? And how in a region rich with assets – including ambitious cultural organizations, inspired creative leaders, and innovative community-based organizations as well as thousands of acres of public space – do we ensure that those assets and resources benefit everyone equitably?

For what we know is true – both anecdotally and through research – is that communities of color experience smaller concentrations of wealth and resources, reflecting the underlying inequity in our economic systems and structures. As a result, the labor of artists and creative professionals of color, the work of many valuable organizations and leaders, and public spaces in these communities have been systematically undervalued; and with resources inequitably distributed, racial and economic injustice in our communities is exacerbated.

These dynamics were reflected in the findings of two separate research projects – from Temple University and NORC at the University of Chicago – both commissioned by the Foundation to deliver insights and promote understanding of the benefits of arts and culture and public space. The research found arts, culture, and public space do produce positive effects including social benefits, community building, and environmental improvement. Together, they also provide diverse benefits ranging from increased health and wellness, higher levels of education, and even less heat stress.

However, as we look more closely at the findings, negative associations emerge when cultural diversity and neighborhood goals and aspirations are not appropriately considered within design, programming, and business decisions. There is less investment in low-wealth neighborhoods which means the many positive effects of arts, culture, and public space are experienced primarily in well-funded, well-resourced neighborhoods. This disparity creates resource gaps in poorer communities, leaving the people and organizations with the greatest knowledge and potential to create relevant, meaningful, and beneficial opportunities for social change at a disadvantage.

This research paired with the learnings from our work in communities across the region was central to evolving the new approach of the Creative Communities program. With this refinement, our new program goal is that Creative Communities invests to ensure that Philadelphians and other residents of the region benefit from inclusive, equitable, and high-quality arts, culture, and public space.

Funding eligibility and guidelines will be available on our website in early September, and our program team will be offering a variety of ways for organizations to learn more. In the meantime, you can click here to view the recording of our recent public webinar featuring our research partners and an overview of our program.

Have questions? Click here to view our FAQ page that shares more detail about the program refinement.

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