The Community Foundation’s outreach through Art Ventures
By Reagan Bass
There have always been talented artists of color in Jacksonville. But their ability to access opportunity and recognition has often been challenging. Few things are more affirming than access to support, so a barometer of the ascension of local BIPOC artists over the years could be one of the city’s oldest continuous arts philanthropies: Art Ventures, an initiative of The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. While this year’s initiative saw the largest and most diverse pool of applicants in Art Ventures history, The Community Foundation decided to review Arts Ventures grantmaking over time to see just how BIPOC artists had fared since the program began in 1990.
Art Ventures has been making annual grants to individual artists through a competitive application process for more than 30 years. An important part of The Community Foundation’s Art Ventures journey has been creating space for artists of all backgrounds to be recognized for their excellence and incredible contributions to the community.
“During the early years, outreach was focused on getting anyone at all to apply, as the initiative was new and unlike anything else,” says Courtenay Wilson, one of the founders of Art Ventures and long-time arts advocate. The early selection panels included well-known artists and art champions, and outreach was mostly to those who ran in those circles.
“Diversity was not something we were consciously focused on,” says Wilson. “We didn’t know how to reach [people].”
In the first decade of the initiative, artists of color made up 13 percent of those awarded. Grantees included BIPOC artists from the beginning, even though efforts to improve equity were not yet part of the process.
Longineu Parsons II was one of the first Black artists to be recognized, receiving an award in the inaugural year (1990) and again in 1993.
“At the time, I was a struggling artist,” says Parsons, now a celebrated jazz trumpeter. “The grant helped me survive as an artist.”
Parsons also served on the selection panel in the early years. He recalls that “Jacksonville was so divided at the time; it was hard to get people to come over the river.” He remembers there being “little to no applicants of color,” but notes this was not purposeful and a result of outreach not being strong to those outside of the mainstream arts community.
By 2000, Art Ventures was well established, and outreach continued to improve, with 47 grants being awarded up to this point. Over the next 10 years, another 57 grants were awarded. The percentage of grants awarded to BIPOC artists increased by six percent.
Among those who were awarded was Marsha Hatcher, a visual artist who has worked in Jacksonville for more than 30 years. Hatcher’s first application for an Art Ventures grant was not successful, but she applied again and succeeded in 2004.
“[The grant] was just the seed I needed to finally jump-start my career as a serious artist,” Hatcher recalls. This was not without challenge, though.
“Being a Black artist creating art with my culture as a reference has in the past been challenging,” she notes. “Most galleries in this city at the time [were] not willing to give artists like me the opportunity to exhibit in their space.”
Ample space had not been created for artists like herself at the time, including within Art Ventures. During this time, although Art Ventures grants to BIPOC artists increased, outreach to artists of color was still lacking. In some years, as late as 2007, there were no Art Ventures grants to BIPOC artists, despite the existence of the Independent Life Minority Arts Award Fund, which was established in 1992 to support an artist of color each year.