The Diverse City Fund

For this last post, I’d like to introduce you all to the Diverse City Fund. We are a volunteer-run funding body that makes small grants to grassroots, social justice organizations/groups/projects that are run by and serve people of color in the District. A project of the Community Foundation for the National Capitol Area, we don’t have any official tax status with the IRS (we’re not even incorporated, I don’t think), and that’s just how we like it! So far, in close to three years and over 2.5 grant cycles, we have raised and re-invested $235,000 to groups working to make DC a more just and vibrant place to live for all its residents. Our Board of Instigators (of which I am member) meets monthly to administer the fund – coordinate fundraising activities, plan events, and manage grant rounds. The Grantmaking Team, who actually review the grant applications and make determinations about funding allocations, are comprised of folks who are deeply embedded in the city’s social justice movements. They are also all people of color.


The grantees from our Spring/Summer 2013 cycle at the Grantee Celebration

Most recently, we have been facing capacity issues with our all-volunteer board. This spring, we decided to postpone our grant round to the summer – and that will only be open to past recipients of funding. We are also holding a dialogue with this group of past grantees in advance of the application period, where we’ll really look at the work that’s going on and how we can best support it as a funding body. Transitions are sticky, but we really emphasize a lot of open discussion. Nothing moves quickly, but when it does, it means we’ve really built a consensus around our choices. I’ll make sure to let y’all know the next time we have a grantee celebration. And of course, if you WANT to donate to us now, you just have to click here!

Venturous Theater Fund

NEA doesn’t fund individual works? No problem. There’s Venturuous Theater Fund, supports innovative approaches to theatrical production by encouraging theater-makers to take risks in the creation of new work for the stage. How about that? A funder that ENCOURAGES risk-taking. They want to GIVE ARTISTS MONEY DIRECTLY.

At least that’s what they say at first. Then there’s a little one liner that says they can’t actually give money directly to individual artists. Also they don’t accept unsolicited work. And your organization has to be tax-exempt or fiscally sponsored by a tax-exempt organization to qualify. They’re run through/facilitated by the Tides Foundation, which actively promotes change toward a healthy society, one which is founded on principles of social justice, broadly shared economic opportunity, a robust democratic process, and sustainable environmental practices. Basically, they offer a range of services, including grant facilitation for foundations doing the kind of work they want to promote.

So, this answers a question I’ve had for a while, which is how do organizations like Woolly Mammoth support new play development beyond grants from the National New Play Network. That’s good. They’re guidelines seem restrictive, but not unusually so. But now I have additional questions, like where does the money come for this? Who’s the backer?

Art market merchandise throwdown

I’ve been doing a lot of research on websites that sell arty stuff to people (duh). There are quite a number of new – within the last two years – websites that are really honing in on this “artist” and “maker” audience. The gap in online services to these groups was clearly identified and now the internet is doing what it does best – create access for more people to produce/consume more things. Common threads? Lots of editorial – content is key. Everything is very image heavy, easy to share. The prices are accessible and there is a (fairly) unified aesthetic. Also, the websites all followed a similar pattern with different augmentations: Shop, Meet the artists, Blog. In fact, I was so struck by this that the images preceding each description below are of the header content on each site. It’s almost formulaic!

Now, I said they were all the same, but this one is a little different. That's because Goodsmith's content is almost entirely maker-generated.


“The Marketplace for Makers” is very similar to Etsy – makers set up their own shops on the site through which they sell their crafts. They have the edge on accessibility for the vendors, with free-to-very-cheap membership.  The quality of the craft is higher, though already there are mass-producers slipping in. They also emphasize a network between makers, which is something I talk about a lot with TEN. They even have a group sale promotion, whereby the artist agrees to bring down the price per item if a target quantity are sold. The model here is about scaling up. There’s a huge content generation aspect, with a member-generated blog, features, newsletters, and images everywhere. Very Tweet-able, very Pin-able.

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Of a Kind

“Know and Own” is also a marketplace that connects designers (mostly fashion, but also home goods) with buyers. They sell limited runs direct from designers in editions of 30-85. Most of the products are made in the US, but it’s not clear who exactly is making them. The price is variable, with most goods falling between $50 and $200. Again, editorial is key – lots of it.

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Art Markit

Art Markit is very new (launched Jan 2014) and a little bit different from anything I’ve seen. Started by a very well-known curator in New York, they sell merchandise that is linked to emerging- to well-known artists. It’s confusing, but they work with both artists who are actually producing the work sold, as well as artists like Ai Weiwei, who consent (I assume) to have some iconic image of their work printed on a snowboard or sunglasses (and we’re talking mostly clothes, small home goods, and gifts, here). They produce a lot of curated content – interviews, blog posts, lists – with major artists and designers. There are a lot of little features throughout – artists can propose projects and if the curatorial team likes it, they’ll link them with vendors (I think) to produce and sell it. They also partner with arts non-profits who receive a percentage of the proceeds. There’s a lot going on and what looks to be very little revenue-generating activity so far.

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Baye posted about this one a while ago, so I won’t go too deep on the description. The aesthetic is art world-y because it’s curator-driven and the founder is connected in the scene. They only deal in prints.


Washington Improv Theater – more than just sketch comedy

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with two of the guys behind Washington Improv Theater to discuss how we can work with them for the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the Arts Management program. Turns out, WIT does more than just perform hilarious, off-the-cuff political satire in DC. They also facilitate trainings, retreats, and other team-building meetings, bringing their improv techniques into a corporate setting. Not only does this generate a good deal of revenue for them (their other major funders include DCCAH and the Cafritz Foundation – they are also Cultural DC residents at Source), it also serves as an excellent example of arts programming that cuts across traditional industry boundaries.

I think their history is also a great example of a lean start-up in the performing arts sector. They started as an ad-hoc performance troupe in the eighties that evolves into a “consensus-based collective” throughout the following decade. In the late nineties, they hire an artistic director and formalize their structure, holding residencies with various theater companies, finally landing at Source Theater and securing major funding streams from DCCAH and Cafritz. Throughout all these transitions, they continued to produce work, teach classes, experiment with new formats and styles, and seek audience input into their product. Today, they are an established non-profit, with staff and a board of directors, but they continue to adapt, seeking new revenue streams and responding to both the needs/interests of their current community and new audiences.

And let’s face it, I’m a sucker for radical political jargon, so they had me at their tagline: “The revolution will be improvised.”

League of Creative Interventionists

There’s this magazine called GOOD – it’s a quarterly publication that also exists online. It’s a space for people “to share creative solutions for living well and doing good.” It’s worth checking out. But this post is about The League of Creative Interventionists, which appears to be an off-shoot of the website, started by San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks, who is affiliated, if not employed by GOOD. They champion creative placemaking and tactical urbanism, with a mission to “build community through creativity.” A global network in its most nascent stages, they propose a theme each month around which people organize creative projects in their communities. It looks like he has received funding from at least one grant, and possibly GOOD. From everything I can tell (and it just started in February), it’s probably a temporary project, or one that could turn into a non-profit at some point.

Kartemquin Films

Kartemquin Films is among the larger, established nonprofits on this site, but I wanted to feature it because I think they represent an organization that has stayed relevant, true to mission, and responsive throughout its 40+ year history. Kartemquin works with filmmakers to produce documentaries on often radical social issues. They support the production and manage distribution in partnership with the directors. They offer educational, social and professional networking opportunities for the documentary filmmaker community in Chicago. They also advocate on certain policy issues. One of my favorite things they do is prioritize working with filmmakers of color, as they recognize that so many of social change docs are stories about people of color by white males. Where could they improve? The staff is largely white and except for a few notable exceptions, most of the films they produce are directed by white males. They are a 501(c)(3), supported largely by individual donations and grants.


Oh yeah – and they made Hoop Dreams, which, you know, was kind of a big deal growing up.

One thing I noted when perusing their site is a section on Fiscal Sponsorships – it is not in their standard practice to act as an FS for an independent filmmaker, but they do help make connections and will step up if the situation is considered to be mutually beneficial.

Last little mention: there will be a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali at the DC JCC on the 16th St NW. Sunday, April 13th, 3:00pm. Anyone want to join me?

A Two-fer of Revolutionary Theater: Cry You One and Mondo Bizarro

Cry You One is a grant-funded project that shares stories of people affected by the various environmental issues around the Gulf Coast (BP oil spill, shrinking coastline, climate change, e.g.). It exists as both a physical, site-specific performance as well as an online platform. The project is a partnership between two New Orleans-based theater groups: Mondo Bizarro (see below) and Art Spot Productions. The website is elegant and easy to navigate. They are motivated by making great art, but also building a movement. It’s a really nice intersection of art and social change (my fav!). Here’s a quote about process from an article on the blog for Antigravity Magazine: “To collect these stories, ensemble members have engaged in a process of deep listening around the state, casting a wide net for subjects ranging from scientists and environmentalists to fishermen, tomato farmers, community organizers and even the former chief of the United Houma Nation.”


Mondo Bizarro is a theater collective doing fabulous work in New Orleans. Their website does not give any information about sponsors (they don’t have a donation option either) and to the best of my knowledge, they are not a 501(c)3. I believe they generate most of their income from grants for specific projects, while also offering educational and documentation services to a broad range of clients. I first got to know them through a class I took with Junebug Productions at Tulane about community-based art. Each member of the ensemble is an independent artist with their own body of work/research, but they seem to work together in a really transparent, collaborative way that results in thoughtful, high-quality performance.

5 Second Films


It’s hard to imagine a world before Vine and Instagram video, but five years ago, those innovations had not yet reached Silicon Valley. Fortunately, some kids I went to high school with started 5 Second Films, which is exactly as it sounds. It started out as a fun project between a few guys and now they have a website with ad space and everything. The films are irreverent, to say the least, but for five solid years, they put out one film every weekday. They are not a 501(c)(3), though they’re not really interested in turning a profit either. All the guys (and girl) have other jobs – they do it because they like making funny videos. It’s the kind of thing that would happen whether anyone donated or not. Well, actually, it’s not happening anymore – they wrapped after five years.

Artist Organized Art

A non-profit, this platform sells announcement space to their lists, along with soliciting individual and institutional support, in order to “Support Artist Organized Media, Events & Cultural Education By Strategic, Collaborative & Financial Means.” They also publish New Observations magazine, which otherwise would have gone out of print. According to their strategic plan, they made it through the recession in large part due to individual donations, as public and institutional support essentially disappeared.

Rainbow Theatre Project


The Rainbow Theatre Project made their first appearance last year at Source, though neither of its founders are new to the DC theater scene. They present pieces about/by/for the LGBT community. An article on DC Theatre Scene emphasizes the 2 year planning process (infrastructure! business structure!) that preceded their premier.  Fractured Atlas  is their fiscal sponsor for now, but they hope to end up with a 501(c)(3) status. Interesting to read about how they are fitting themselves into the local theater scene: developing partnerships, attracting more diverse customer segments, and understanding their place in the longer history of “LGBT theater” in DC.