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New philanthropic initiative will give BIPOC cultural groups funding — and trust — deemed long overdue

3rd Eye Youth Empowerment
3rd Eye Youth Empowerment has been selected to participate in the Powering Cultural Futures project.

In philanthropy, the people who hold the purse strings are mostly white. And historically, organizations led by people of color haven’t received the support they deserve from foundations or donors, advocates say.

Now, a philanthropic initiative is working to strengthen arts and culture groups led by people of color.

Two local organizations, one in Aquinnah and one in New Bedford, have been selected to participate, along with 13 others around the state.

“We want to acknowledge that these communities and these organizations really have kind of suffered in the white supremacist system, and this is one step to try to make a change,” said Giles Li of the Barr Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Boston and one of the funders of the project, called Powering Cultural Futures.

One of the local participants is the Aquinnah Cultural Center on Martha’s Vineyard, a nonprofit organization that board member Durwood Vanderhoop said is dedicated to two main efforts: educating and developing Aquinnah Wampanoag artists and historians, including educating tribal members about cultural practices; and educating the public, from a Wampanoag perspective, about their culture, history, and arts.

“We've generally survived on a fairly shoestring budget,” he said.

The cultural center operates the Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian Museum on Martha's Vineyard, and it has other programming throughout the year, both virtual and in-person, he said.

The grants last three years, with anticipated renewal for another three. And they’re big, for small organizations — possibly double the Aquinnah Cultural Center’s annual budget, Vanderhoop said.

Plus, organizations don’t have to launch new programs to justify getting the money.

Honestly, I hope that they will not do anything new with this money ... at this point,” said Li, of the Barr Foundation. “They've been operating, you know, just on the blood, sweat and tears of their most dedicated volunteers for a long time. And I just want them to kind of give themselves a little bit of respite, you know?”

The Powering Cultural Futures project is funded with $5 million each from the Barr Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

In addition to the money, groups can get technical assistance and learn from their peers.

Another local organization chosen for the project is3rd EyE Youth Empowerment in New Bedford. Its focus is hip-hop culture with positive messages, said Peter Lonelle Walker, the group’s program and music director.

“When 3rd EyE started, in its inception, it was solely focused on the purist side of hip hop ... to try to push more of a positive narrative,” he said. “As you know, the industry of hip hop has completely gone the other direction.”

So the need for a group like 3rd EyE has become more pressing, he said.

“The big deal is incentivizing young people, in their communities, to create positive content about their communities, for their communities,” he said. “If you're on the ground and you're paying attention, they have so much incentive to do negative things, very little incentive to do the positive things.”

The organization hosts a hip-hop festival called the 3rd EyE Open and other events throughout the year with youth DJs, MCs, breakdancing, and visual arts.

In this new initiative to focus on arts and culture work led by people of color, people on both sides of the grant-making equation say trusting local leaders — and learning from one another — will make everyone stronger.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.