By Vanessa Camarena-Arredondo
The South African Freedom Movement. The Black Liberation Movement. The Chicano Art Movement of the 1960s. The AIDS Memorial Quilt. The Black Arts Repertory Theatre. The skillful oration of Malcolm X and Akonadi’s President Lateefah Simon. The works of Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ai Weiwei, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Kendrick Lamar, Sherman Alexie, Juan Felipe Herrera, and countless others.
Time and again, we are reminded of the extraordinary power of art and culture to shine a fresh light on injustice, build solidarity, and help us imagine—and work toward—a better future for whole communities. Right here and right now in Oakland, hundreds of organizations, youth, and artists are using arts and culture to build voice, power, and self-determination in communities of color. Furthermore, what we love about the character of Oakland is that it has been molded by the culture, creativity, and resourcefulness of Black people, immigrant communities, and a culture of resistance, as evidenced by the Black Panther Movement and local youth organizing efforts such as BAY-Peace and East Side Arts Alliance.
But there’s a problem. Increased economic pressures and displacement threaten the survival and vitality of many of Oakland’s community-based arts and culture organizations. Add the challenges facing small nonprofits everywhere—from staffing and fundraising pressures to shrinking government investment—and it’s clear that these groups need more and deeper support.
This is why Akonadi Foundation launched BOOST: the Beloved Community Fund’s Organizational Strengthening Pilot, which will support under-resourced arts and cultural organizations serving Oakland’s low-income communities of color. A wide variety of cultural producers in Oakland host yearly festivals, run theater and dance performances, and use culture as a way to build voice among young people of color. In this pilot, funded in collaboration with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we assessed our Beloved Community Fund grant partners to understand which organizations have the infrastructure to participate in this program that is intended to bolster their capacity. We surveyed groups who offer year-round programming to determine whether they had dedicated staffing and board support to participate in BOOST and a track record of having raised funds to sustain their work over time. We considered the size of each organization’s budget. Ultimately, we invited organizations with organizational budgets of between $100,000 – $250,000 who were led by and serving people of color in Oakland, and who had the staff and board capacity to participate in the pilot program. Five Oakland-based organizations received a total of $100,000 and will receive training and other support to help them sustain and grow their impact.
We are excited about the remarkable diversity of the groups that are part of this pilot initiative: Music is eXtraordinary/Oakland Public Conservatory offers conservatory-level music instruction that seeks, through music education, to build bridges across cultures; Intertribal Friendship House provides a space for Native people in Oakland to stay connected to their culture and traditions; Somos Familia supports Latinx LGBTQ youth and their families through cultural events and other activities; Studio Grand is a multi-use space for arts and educational events centered on leadership and people of color; and BAY-Peace nurtures creative resistance for youth through theater, poetry, dance, music, and organizing.
Small, community-based organizations like these regularly struggle to find support from foundations, businesses, and governmental institutions. As a result, they tend to run bare-bones operations and often lack sufficient staff, technology, or systems to expand their dreams for community transformation via the arts. We need these organizations and their deep commitment to the arts—and to our Oakland community—now more than ever, and we must work together to give arts and cultural organizations the support and engagement they need to strengthen their impact, leadership, and staying power.
Visit akonadi.org to learn more about these vital organizations and how you can get more involved in the Oakland arts community.
Vanessa Camarena-Arredondo is Program Officer for the Beloved Community Fund with Akonadi Foundation in Oakland. Since 2013, through the Beloved Community Fund, Akonadi has awarded $1.8 million to over 260 Oakland organizations, prioritizing community arts and cultural groups that have limited access to institutional funding.