Strategies to Achieve Equitable Investment by Local Arts Agencies and Nexus Organizations

According to the Americans for the Arts Local Arts Agency Profile, each year the United States’ 4,500 local arts agencies (LAAs) and nexus organizations collectively invest an estimated $2.8 billion in their local ecosystems. This includes an estimated $600 million in direct investment in artists and arts and culture organizations through grants, contracts, and loans. This investment has grown steadily since the founding of the local arts movement 60 years ago. For comparison, according to Helicon Collaborative’s Not Just Money, all of private philanthropy invests approximately $4 billion annually to the arts, and according to Giving USA’s 2017 report, corporations give about $950 million annually to the arts.

This makes LAAs, collectively, the largest distributor of publicly-derived funds to arts and culture and
one of the largest and steadiest underwriters of artists and creative workers in the United States. LAAs
must employ a strong lens of equity in their investments through grantmaking and beyond.

Existing systems of power grant privilege and access unequally. At this moment and in this sociopolitical
climate these inequities are more visible even as they are more untenable.

Service and funding organizations, such as Americans for the Arts, that support LAAs and nexus organizations must encourage a thoughtful, quick, and decisive transition of inequitable investment policies and practices toward equity. In the short-term, this means propelling shifts now in the nature and structure of LAA investment programs, policies, and practices. In the longer-term, this means supporting and driving root transformation in the systems and structures that undergird LAA investments in the community and cultural ecosystem, transforming the minds and hearts of those who currently controll and
impact such investment strategies; and training and establishing a more diverse and representative set of
leaders among those who make decisions and set policies.

In partnership with a field-based advisory group, Americans for the Arts proposes four goals that, if
achieved, would support meaningful, measurable progress toward the fair and equitable distribution of all
types of LAA investments, as well as specific strategies to achieve those goals. Together these goals address the need to change the conditions and culture in the agencies stewarding cultural investment resources, while also providing immediate and proximate support for people leading the change. The goals and associated strategies listed here and detailed below are interrelated and synergistic. Multiple prongs of effort need to be implemented concurrently and strategically staged.

While this document guides rather than dictating specific next steps, Americans for the Arts and our
various partners are actively moving on the recommendations in this document and developing new
bodies of work around national communities of practice, leadership pipeline, and the education and
transformation of existing leadership in the field.

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