September 7, 2021




By Leslie Fields-Cruz

Leveling the Still Tilted Playing Field

A couple of weeks ago, I and several dozen other New York City nonprofit arts leaders worked with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York Arts Foundation to select the final group of grantees to the NYC Artist Corps program. Throughout the summer, thousands of professional artists based in the city applied for a chance to receive one of these $5,000 grants. BPM was honored to help lead this process. Our mission was to ensure that BIPOC, low-income, and artists from other disadvantaged communities were equitably represented among those receiving grants. 

I’m pleased to report that of the 3,003 grants awarded, 589 went to projects by Black artists (19.6%). Of the 292 grantees who work in film/video/digital media, 69 (23.6%) are Black. This in a city where roughly one in every four residents is Black (24.3%).

I’m thrilled that our efforts resulted in significant Black representation among the grantees. Still, it is disappointing that such Herculean efforts were needed to tilt the scales toward anything that even resembles equity. Especially in New York City, where BIPOC artists have been a significant part of the city’s arts and culture scene for more than a century.


The arts contribute more than $100 billion to New York State’s GDP annually, representing 7.8% of total GDP in 2015. Before the pandemic, nearly a quarter of those earning their living in New York City’s arts sector were either independent artists, writers or performers (23.9% in 2017). Statistics reflecting the full depth of the pandemic’s 2020 devastation are still emerging, but the City Artists Corps was created because city officials know the damage cut deep, especially among BIPOC creatives and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. 

City officials also recognize that the methods it has traditionally relied on to award grants might not be enough to yield a diverse grantee pool. Which is why they enlisted the help of organizations like Black Public Media, Firelight Media, Bronx Council on the Arts, Asian American Arts Alliance, and dozens of other organizations. We all invested a lot of hours, creativity and perseverance to come up with a process that, while not perfect, yielded more equitable outcomes. 

I am told this won’t be a one off. City officials and other observers appear to recognize that the types of adjustments we made to achieve this diverse pool of grantees are needed in every program if we are ever to achieve the type of equity the city’s population expects and deserves.

Rebuilding systems that have generated centuries of inequitable outcomes is the only solution to our nation’s persistent economic and opportunity inequities. And, as the City Artist Corps experience demonstrates, BIPOC-led organizations must play a leading role in that process. 

If you, or someone you know, is among those fortunate enough to have received a City Artist Corps grant, Congratulations!!! BPM is committed to promoting the public engagement programs these artists will present across the city in the coming months. Please let us know if you’re one of them. You can send your information to us at: engagement@blackpublicmedia.org.


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