Mapping Project: Benchmark Report on Grassroots Arts and Culture Organizations in Oakland

Studio Grand “Under Oakland Skies” JAX Dancers Photo credit: Jean Melesaine


Study by Akonadi Foundation and Kenneth Rainin Foundation fills critical gap in research on small organizations serving people of color


Oakland, CA – A new report released today by Akonadi Foundation and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation finds that small arts and culture organizations leverage cultural practices to lift up urgent community issues in Oakland, but are facing challenges that hamper their growth, stability and sustainability. The foundations commissioned this first-of-its-kind benchmark report to build understanding and spur investments by funders and policymakers in a complex sector that builds social bonds, addresses community needs, and contributes to a strong sense of place in Oakland.

“Arts organizations that serve communities of color are essential to a strong and vibrant Oakland, yet they are struggling to survive in our rapidly changing city,” said Gina Acebo, Vice President of Programs at Akonadi Foundation. “Arts and culture strengthen solidarity in communities of color and inspire people to imagine the political and social transformation of our world. It is time for public and private funders and the broader community to step up our support for these vital community assets.”

“Mapping Small Arts and Culture Organizations of Color in Oakland” was compiled by Creative Equity Research Partners and features 138 organizations that have budgets of $250,000 or less and serve people of color, outlining the characteristics, strengths and needs of these grassroots organizations. The report finds that these arts and culture organizations have deep ties within communities of color, and their responsive programming addresses community concerns and cuts across different sectors. For example, in addition to arts and culture, these organizations focus on displacement, oppressive policing, gun violence, food deserts and human trafficking, all issues that harm communities of color disproportionately.

“The value of Oakland’s grassroots organizations and the contributions they make to the health and well-being of the city cannot be overstated,” said Shelley Trott, Director of Arts Strategy and Ventures at the Rainin Foundation. “We commissioned this research to better understand how this segment of the ecosystem operates to ensure these groups can thrive and continue their important work.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Nearly 50% of these organizations serve a diverse constituency of people of color.
  • Over one third of the organizations serve Black populations, mirroring the overall percentage of Black people in Oakland.
  • About 12% of the organizations have a social enterprise model. This means that they use a for-profit model or component that allows them to provide programs or space to the community at low or no cost.
  • Lack of fiscal sponsorship capacity and limited general operating funds are central challenges.
  • Organizations are also facing rising operating costs and high risk of displacement, due to gentrification, from the communities they serve.

According to Not Just Money a 2017 study released by the Helicon Collaborative, inequity in arts and culture funding has increased nationally: 60% of arts funding goes to the 2% of cultural institutions that are largest in the field and present white and Western European art forms while only 4% of arts funding goes to organizations that serve communities of color. Small arts and culture groups often are overlooked by philanthropy because of current funding practices. For example, foundations typically support organizations that are fiscally sponsored and often have a minimum requirement for organizational budget size. These practices leave out small community arts projects and events, as well as groups with smaller budgets and creative funding mechanisms.

The report calls for private and public funders to earmark funding for small arts organizations serving communities of color; collaborate with these groups and policymakers to identify and test solutions that will strengthen Oakland’s diverse arts ecosystem, such as joint efforts to address policy changes, intentional funding strategies and collaborative grants, and resource sharing; and invest to create and preserve historic cultural zones, including public art installations, programs, spaces and neighborhoods.

The report is available here: Organizations that are not included in the report are invited to add their information by December 1, 2018. The map will be updated once to capture groups not documented in the original study.

About the Akonadi Foundation
Akonadi Foundation’s mission is to support the development of powerful social change movements to eliminate structural racism and create a racially just society. Through an ecosystem grant making lens, Akonadi supports and nurtures racial justice movement building in Oakland by supporting grassroots organizing, culture shift, and policy change. Since its founding in 2000, the Foundation has given over 1,600 grants totaling $35 million to nonprofit organizations, primarily in the Bay Area as well as across the country. For more information: On social media @akonadi_oakland

About the Kenneth Rainin Foundation
Kenneth Rainin Foundation is a family foundation that collaborates with creative thinkers in the Arts, Education and Health. We believe in taking smart risks to achieve breakthroughs. The Foundation supports visionary artists in the Bay Area, creates opportunities for Oakland’s youngest learners, and funds researchers on the forefront of scientific discoveries. Since 2009, the Foundation has awarded over $20 million in funding to support small to mid-size arts organizations in the Bay Area that are pushing the boundaries of creative expression. More at: