The Racial Equity Journey of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation

Programmatic Efforts:

2014 & 2015

  • CEO joined the Board of Grantmakers in the Arts and began to participate in its leadership work around building racial equity in cultural grantmaking. This included participating in the multi-day “Undoing Structural Racism” training of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and several day-long trainings with Race Forward.
  • Foundation Board held strategic planning retreat and commissions an outside assessment of operations and programs, with a separate assessment of the Livingston Fellowship Program. While not specifically focused on racial equity, this work raised awareness of these issues with the Board, resulting in a new strategic framework that incorporated equity in our strategy.
  • Added first person of color to the Foundation’s Board, which has increased over the past seven years, where currently, as of 2020, 1/3, are people of color.

2016

  • Commissioned a study of the cultural sector’s effectiveness and progress in serving diverse audiences and building diverse staff and board. Shared the report with the field.
  • Following the completion of the report, facilitated the formation of the Arts & Culture EDI Leadership Council, to share information and ideas around building a more inclusive cultural sector.
  • Created the Arts in Society grant program, with other funding partners, to provide a vehicle for supporting work that utilizes artists and the arts to address social issues, such as race, LGBTQ, immigration/refugee, homelessness, poverty, teen suicide, veterans and a wide array of other issues.

2017

  • Board retreat focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Created the capacity for Staff-level grants of up to $4,000 each, which has allowed the Foundation to be much more nimble in supporting time-sensitive, often grass-roots needs, including many projects supporting communities of color and other historically marginalized communities, including, in June 2020, the Anti-Racist Club art project and rally in Civic Center Park.

2018

  • Created DEI Committee of the Board.
  • Created an Equity Values Statement.
  • Funded the creation of a new arts management internship program for college students of color, Diversity in The Arts, designed to build diversity among arts organization staff.

2019

  • Held listening sessions with small arts & culture organizations led by and serving BIPOC and other historically marginalized communities that led to the creation of a new DEI Opportunity Grant Program (see below).
  • Established a $60,000 ceiling in general operating grants to, over time, reduce support to the largest Eurocentric arts groups and redirect those funds to groups serving BIPOC and other historically marginalized people.
  • Made a grant of $50,000 towards the Community ACTS Fund, a program created to specifically support BIPOC arts organizations and groups dedicated to serving BIPOC and other historically marginalized communities. The grant was to support capacity building, but in 2020, in light of the impact of COVID-19, the grant was repurposed towards general support.
  • Committed to no longer provide large multi-year capital grants to large Eurocentric organizations and to prioritize capital support for smaller groups serving BIPOC and other historically marginalized populations. Awarded a $500,000 capital commitment to the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance company, and in 2017, made a $1 million commitment towards the new studio for KUVO, Colorado’s leading radio station serving the art of jazz with significant BIPOC listenership and staff.
  • To encourage grantees to participate in DEI training, and to develop and adopt DEI practices, grantees are asked to report on progress as part of the grant application process. This has become an aspect of our evaluation in grant decisions.
  • Shared the story of our equity journey in an interview with Grantmakers in the Arts CEO Eddie Torres which was then published in the GIA Reader.

2020

  • Launched DEI Opportunity Grant Program, awarding $5,000 each to 19 small organizations that had not been previously supported by the Foundation.
  • Worked with the funding partners of Arts in Society to shift the 2021 funding program to the summer of 2020, making over $500,000 in funding available for programs that engage the arts in addressing critical civic issues, including social justice.
  • In response to the COVID-19 crisis, BSF committed to double our grantmaking beyond the 5% minimum payout in fiscal year 2021, prioritizing financial support for small to mid-sized arts & culture organizations, which disproportionally benefits BIPOC groups that are especially impacted.
  • Board approved a series of Racial Justice grants including:
    • A $150,000 initiative investing in our BIPOC Fellows by providing five $10,000 general operating grants over three years to the organizations they lead.
    • Creative Community Investments that will fund two BIPOC neighborhoods. This $180,000 ($90,000/community over three years) commitment is to support efforts to integrate the arts into holistic community development.
    • Imaging a Just Denver will be a competitive program awarding five artists $25,000 each to create a public artistic expression of what a “Just Denver” could look like.

These changes in our arts grantmaking that prioritizes equitable support of organizations led by and serving people of color and other historically marginalized communities has resulted in the share of our grantmaking to such groups increasing from 2.4% in 2013 to over 8.3% in 2018. Since 2018 this investment has continued to expand – growing from $75,000 in 2013 to $578,000 in 2020, a nearly 670% increase representing 20% of our grant dollars. For comparison, according to the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equality only about 8-9% of philanthropy nationally goes into communities of color, and the 2017 Helicon Collaborative study Not Just Money: Equity Issues in Cultural Philanthropy found that only 4% of foundation arts funding went to communities of color.

  • As one example, we gave the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance a three-year 400% increase in their annual GOS funding to support institutional stability and change. At the conclusion of this dramatic temporary increase, their general operating support was set at $50,000 compared to $20,000 before increase, representing an increase of 150%.

Many of these more recent actions are part of a five-year $2.5 million multi-part strategy approved by the Board to center more equitable support of BIPOC groups and those serving other historically marginalized people.

Livingston Fellowship:

Over the past five years, we have made changes to the Livingston Fellowship Program selection process to increase equity.

2015

  • Addressed structural racism at Livingston Fellow retreat, facilitated by an outside consultant and trainers.

2016

  • Added many more BIPOC individuals to the list of nominators, including city council-people, heads of culturally-specific chambers of commerce, etc.
  • Rotated the selection panel to add both more diversity and different perspectives.
  • Changed the process barring panelists from also being nominators.

2017

  • Began allowing eligibility for leaders of small organizations, who are disproportionally BIPOC. Historically we would not consider leaders of small (1-3 paid staff) organizations, based on the assumption that their participation in the program would be burdensome to the organization, or that the Fellow would be unable to execute their fellowship activities. It was decided this restriction was paternalistic and prevented us from considering some outstanding leaders of color.

2018

  • Added questions around how Fellows embrace equity to the application form and to the interview process.
  • Added a senior Livingston Fellow who is BIPOC to the interview and final selection process.
  • Brought in Rev. Starsky Wilson, President of the Deaconess Foundation, to talk to the Fellows and other community leaders about equity issues. Wilson co-chaired the Ferguson Commission.

2019

  • Eliminated nominators as “gatekeepers” and allowed self-nomination or nomination of anybody by anybody.
  • Brought in Grant Oliphant, President of the Heinz Endowments, to talk to the Fellows and other community leaders about equity issues. Oliphant has led significant racial equity work at Heinz and been an outspoken speaker and writer on the subject in the philanthropic sector.

2020

  • Eliminated the in-person review of Fellowship plans by the entire BSF staff from the process, in recognition that this perpetuated a feeling of White supremacy.
  • Increased Fellowship award from $25,000 to $35,000, in response to the fact that Fellows who were BIPOC had less access to other professional development resources.
  • Added a sliding scale organizational grant of up to $10,000 to support organizational costs for fellows leading small orgs (disproportionally BIPOC). This was done to recognize that when a leader of a small organization participates in the Fellowship for professional development activities, their absence from the office can add real costs to the organization. Note: In July 2020, the Board eliminated the sliding scale and going forward approved $10,000 organizational support grants to each new Fellow.
  • Added an allowance for Fellows to use some fellowship funds to cover child-care costs when needing to participate in Fellowship activities.
  • It has been brought to our attention that some our Fellows of color feel that the Fellowship program is not fully welcoming for people of color and reflects White supremacy culture. We pledge to gather input from all Fellows to learn how we can be better and will make further modifications, as necessary.

As a result of these changes in the nomination and selection process: From 2005-2013 20% of Fellows on average were BIPOC, including three years with none. From 2014 to 2020, 50% of the Fellows have been BIPOC, with each class having diverse representation.

Organizational Efforts:

2018

  • We began prioritizing BIPOC-owned businesses in our vendor relationships, such as catering and photographers. (For both the 2018 Americans for the Arts conference and 2019 Grantmakers in the Arts conference we successfully advocated for Comal – a food incubator that serves immigrant women chefs preparing the food of their cultures – being retained for catering services.)

2020

  • Adopted a Mission Aligned Investment Policy to allow for up to 8% of our corpus be directed at investments aligned with advancing our programmatic mission, including our equity values, and established an Impact Investing Working Group of the Board to continue the work of aligning the remainder of the Foundation’s investment portfolio to be consistent with our values.
  • Recognized that our offices projected an image of traditional White privileged culture; had limited space for community convenings; virtually no art by local artists and was also relatively impractical as a working space. We initiated a move to a new location in the Santa Fe/Lincoln Park neighborhood that is both historically Latinx and an arts district. The new offices are much more accessible and welcoming; offers community convening space and features art by local artists, including Ramon Bonilla, Carlos Frésquez and Thomas “Detour” Evans.
  • Created RFP for comprehensive staff and board training as well as a review of institutional systems through a racial equity lens. This work will begin late Summer 2020.
  • With the departure of a staff-person and our culture of Whiteness, we are reorganizing responsibilities and will create a senior position to manage the Fellowship Program, as well as advance the work of arts & culture in Denver through the lens of social justice.