What is America’s Cultural Treasures?

America’s Cultural Treasures is a two-pronged national and regional initiative to acknowledge and honor the diversity of artistic expression and excellence in America and provide critical funding to organizations that have made a significant impact on America’s cultural landscape, despite historically limited resources.

As of September 23, 2020, the initiative has raised more than $156 million from 16 foundations and major donors. The national component consists of $81 million in funding from the Ford Foundation and five other donors: Abrams Foundation, Alice L. Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Tom and Lisa Blumenthal, and Barbara and Amos Hostetter.

As the second component of America’s Cultural Treasures, numerous foundations will drive fundraising and design for individually-tailored regional grantmaking initiatives, which will be seeded by an initial $35 million in support from the Ford Foundation. The regional foundation partners are The Barr Foundation (Massachusetts), Getty Foundation (Los Angeles), Heinz Endowments (Pittsburgh), Houston Endowment (Houston), John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Chicago), Joyce Foundation (Chicago), McKnight Foundation (Minnesota), The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation (Los Angeles), Terra Foundation for American Art (Chicago), and William Penn Foundation (Philadelphia).

Why launch this effort now?

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an existential threat to nonprofit organizations and arts institutions across the country. Economists and fundraising experts predict that the drop in charitable giving will likely be more significant than that of the Great Recession in 2008, and recovery will likely take longer. Arts and cultural organizations play an essential role in our communities, and without intensified support many organizations will be forced to close for good. This is especially true for arts organizations led by and serving communities of color that have historically been underfunded. As the DeVos Institute reported in its 2015 study of Diversity in the Arts, “the 20 largest mainstream organizations have a median budget of $61 million; the 20 largest organizations of color have a median budget size of $3.8 million.” A difference of 16 times in median budget size is a glaring illustration of disparity.

Which organizations will receive support from this initiative?

Nationally, 20 organizations have been selected to receive grants: Alaska Native Heritage Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Apollo Theater, Arab American National Museum, Ballet Hispanico, Charles H. Wright Museum, Dance Theater of Harlem, East West Players, El Museo del Barrio, Japanese American National Museum, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Museum of Chinese in the Americas, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, National Museum of Mexican Art, Penumbra Theatre, Project Row Houses, Studio Museum in Harlem, Urban Bush Women, and Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.

Regional grantees have not been selected yet. The scope and recipients of local programs will be announced in early 2021 and more cities and regions will be added as funders join this effort.

How much funding will the national grantees receive?

National grants will range in size from $1 to 6 million, representing a significant portion of each institution's operating budget. In addition to the grant funds each grantee will receive up to $100,000 for organizational capacity building — particularly in key areas including digital strategies and other needs.

Why were the 20 organizations selected as national grantees?

The 20 national grant recipients represent the cultural heritage and creativity of communities that have been historically marginalized, underfunded and excluded from participation in mainstream arts institutions. They were selected based on one or more of the following criteria:

  • A nationally or internationally recognized quality in artistic and cultural production and reach;
  • A recognized legacy for stewarding and sustaining a cultural tradition rooted in a community of color;
  • A significant legacy of impact over more than two decades;
  • Leadership as a training ground or school for several generations of artists and arts leaders; and
  • Recognition as an indispensable hub for a larger network of allied organizations.

Do you plan to identify more national grantees in the future? Will this be an ongoing program?

America’s Cultural Treasures is a one-time initiative intended to catalyze a national conversation and increase giving to Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous arts organizations by other donors and foundations. It was made possible by an initial investment of $85 million from the proceeds of the Ford Foundation’s historic social bond offering announced earlier this year. While this initiative is time-limited, the Ford Foundation will continue to fund diverse arts and cultural organizations through its ongoing Creativity and Free Expression program.

Why is this initiative only in seven cities and regions of the country?

The regions are selected by the local funding partners that have committed to raising funds for America’s Cultural Treasures. Each of these funders have made previous significant investments in the arts, and have a strong commitment to social justice and racial equity. We hope to add regions as more donors join this effort.

Can organizations apply for regional funding?

Regional grants will be determined by the local foundations in the seven cities and regions. Each of these programs will be individually tailored, and funding partners will have more to announce in the coming months.