{jcomments on}The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments have joined forces to provide $650,000 in grant funding for Black Artists and Black Art Organizations.

The Advancing Black Art in Pittsburgh initiative was formally announced during a Nov. 10 press conference at the Homewood Library.

“Black artists have been and continue to be enormously important contributors to Pittsburgh’s cultural vitality,” said Endowments President Robert Vagt.  “Our two foundations are pleased to continue a long-term commitment with the goal of ensuring that these artists thrive in Pittsburgh and contribute to build our region’s reputation as a place that celebrates diversity.”

Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Grant Oliphant agreed. “Black arts organizations are vital contributors to Pittsburgh’s vibrant cultural diversity,” he said. “Our new fund, providing direct grant support, is designed to help them to continue to grow and flourish.”

The funding will be available to arts organizations as well as individual artists said Germaine Williams, program officer with The Pittsburgh Foundation and co-chair of the fund’s review panel.

“We’re planning on four different funding streams; operating support for arts organizations, funding for individual artists, special project funding for art and educational organizations and research into advancing the field and strengthening organizations,” said Williams.

It is possible that a group receiving operational funding could later be approved for a special project grant, but Williams said most would receive funding just once a year.

Grant applications will be reviewed by a panel comprising artists, curators, community representatives and staff from both foundations. Grants will be awarded twice annually, beginning in the spring 2011.

Earlier this year the Endowments and the Pittsburgh Foundation chose to stop funding the Multi-Cultural Arts Initiative as an intermediary, instead opting to directly support arts organizations.

Williams said both organizations are hopeful other foundations will join the effort in coming years, but regardless, they will continue the initiative.

“This is not an endowment fund,” he said. “We plan on allocating $650,000 next year and then reloading.”

Williams said smaller Black art organizations, even though they may do great work, are limited by their number of donors and audience size. They are typically unable to receive Regional Asset District funding because they do not draw from other communities.

“Confronting racial disparities is absolutely necessary if our region is to serve as a welcoming, tolerant, livable place for everyone,” he said. “The arts sector is a barometer for the region’s diversity. Artists and arts organizations working in African-based art forms have fewer funding pools to draw from for their work, and our new venture seeks to address this disparity for the benefit of the sector as a whole.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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