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Shifting Power Dynamics in Philanthropy

For any non-profit, funding is a perpetual worry. But what if philanthropy shifted power and encouraged organizations and communities to dream big? Explore trust-based funding models with two thought leaders, DeAnna Cummings and Tish Jones.

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Photo Credit: Mayumi Park

About The Guests

  • A side shot of a person of dark skin tone and short black curly hair, wearing a grey pea coat, is leaning their head against a brick wall and looking into the distance

    Tish Jones

    Founder & Executive Director, TruArtSpeaks

    Founder & Executive Director of TruArtSpeaks, an arts & culture nonprofit based in Saint Paul, MN, Tish Jones is a poet, educator, cultural strategist from Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has performed poetry in venues throughout the United States. Her work can be found in A Moment of Silence(Tru Ruts and The Playwrights Center, 2020), the Minnesota Humanities Center’s anthology entitled, Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015), and more.

    Currently a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council Next Step Fund and Waterers Future Building recipient, she has been awarded fellowships from the Arts Matters Foundation, Springboard for the Arts, the Intercultural Leadership Institute, and more. Former Director of the Brave New Voices international youth poetry slam festival, her work explores the ways in which art can function as a tool for social transformation, liberation, and education. Jones has always had a passion for bridging arts & culture, civic engagement, and youth development. For more on her personal praxis, see Jones’ TEDxMinneapolis Talk on Spoken Word as a Radical Practice of Freedom.


  • A smiling person of medium dark skin tone and short curly black hair, wearing red rimmed glasses and red lipstick, stud earrings and layered necklaces over a black top

    DeAnna Cummings

    Arts Program Director, McKnight Foundation

    DeAnna Cummings joined the McKnight Foundation in June 2020 as Arts program director. Cummings is also a co-founder and former CEO of Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), a social enterprise business in north Minneapolis that trains and employs historically underestimated youth as a springboard to higher education and careers in art and design. Established in 1995 as an after-school program in the North Side’s Sumner-Glenwood neighborhood, JXTA has become one of the most important cultural institutions in the Twin Cities.

    Prior to co-founding JXTA, Cummings served as a program officer for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and as a senior administrator for the Council on Black Minnesotans, since renamed the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage.

    Cummings has served on the Bush Foundation’s board of trustees since 2013. She is a 2016 Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal Women in Business awardee and a Minnesota Public Radio 2013 Arts Hero. From 2016 to 2018, she was a DeVos Institute Fellow in the selective fellowship program in arts management at the University of Maryland, College Park. She holds a master’s in public administration from Harvard University and studied sociology and psychology at the University of Minnesota.


Marianne Combs: Welcome to Filling the Well, a podcast created to nourish, provoke and inspire artists and arts leaders. I’m Marianne Combs.

For arts and culture organizations, funding is a perpetual worry. Many live from grant to grant and are forced to dedicate long hours to filling out applications when they’d rather be making art. And nonprofits run by and for communities of color, know that fundraising is just one more way in which they are vulnerable to long-standing racial inequities.

The fragility of this existence was laid bare in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. Suddenly, performances were cancelled, cultural spaces were forced to close their doors not knowing when they’d be able to open them again, and then just a couple of months into the pandemic, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. In the turmoil that ensued, it became clear that the organizations best suited to doing essential community work were the same organizations that had been historically underfunded.

In this episode of Filling the Well, we’re going to look at how some foundations are working to change their funding strategies. We’ll imagine what real equity and funding might look like and explore how it can help communities connect with one another and deepen their impact.

My guests for this conversation are DeAnna Cummings, Arts and Culture Program Director of the McKnight Foundation based in Minneapolis. Previously, DeAnna was the co-founder and long-time CEO of Juxtaposition Arts. DeAnna, welcome, thanks so much for being here.

DeAnna Cummings: Thank you, Marianne. It’s great to be here.

Marianne Combs: And, we’re joined by Tish Jones, Founder and Executive Director of TruArtSpeaks based in St. Paul. Tish, thanks so much for being here.

Tish Jones: Peace, peace. Glad to be present. Thank you for having me.

Marianne Combs: DeAnna Cummings, you joined the McKnight Foundation in June of 2020, right in the midst of all of this. What was that like? What conversations were you having about how best to respond what you were seeing?

DeAnna Cummings: On my very first day, hours before, I had been up looking at my cell phone with helicopters overhead, watching the city burn, and then I opened my laptop and I was the director of the Arts and Culture Program at McKnight. The crises, the multiple crises that I sort of inherited and found myself wrestling with were so big, so that’s on the one hand. Something like 90% of arts organizations were closed. More than 50% of people who work in arts and entertainment were unemployed on the day I started at McKnight.

Marianne Combs: Foundations are often portrayed as not being nimble, that they move slowly when it comes to their end of the process, or they might demand immediate response from the artists who are receiving funding. But when it comes to them actually changing their ways and responding to something, it often takes a long time. So how did you adapt or address that?

DeAnna Cummings: Sure, and I am not claiming that foundations are not slow, and I am not proclaiming that McKnight Foundation isn’t often slow. But, the enormity of the crises that we were dealing with required everybody to act much swifter than we ever thought we could, and to do some things much differently than we ever conceived that we could.

So in the case of McKnight, in the arts program, we extended all of our grantees, current grants by a year, just automatic extensions at the same level that had been their funding level before. They didn’t have to submit any paperwork, they didn’t even have to submit a report for their previous grant, we just extended it.

Our immediate goal was, “How can McKnight be a source of stability right now?” And in particular in the art sector for arts organizations and artists, who were some of the most vulnerable during the pandemics. How can we be a source of stability when everything is unknown and unsure and unstable? What can we do to stabilize?

So we extended everyone’s operating support grants by a year automatically. We also made some one-time $100,000 COVID relief grants to BIPOC organizations, arts and cultural organizations, who were anchor institutions, anchor organizations in their communities or in their sectors, or in their fields. Again, unapplied for, just awarded. And then thirdly, within two months of my starting at McKnight, the weekend before Labor Day, we got a call from Darren Walker from the Ford Foundation. So this was two months after, three months after George Floyd was murdered.

Ford Foundation offered $5 million to Minnesota to support BIPOC arts and culture organizations via McKnight, and McKnight matched that contribution with $5 million. And the reason that is important is that we’ve shifted from “how do we divide the pie differently,” McKnight pie differently, $9.8 million grants budget for the arts, to “we’ve made the pie bigger.” And the additional portions of the pie are entirely going to BIPOC, Black, Indigenous and People of Color led arts organizations and artists. And I think that that is more and more the way we’re thinking about accomplishing equity in funding.

Marianne Combs: Tish Jones, your work at TruArtSpeaks is grounded in spoken word and Hip Hop, and helping youth and adults find their voices. And you’ve been doing this work for 15 years now. As a nonprofit leader, what have been some of the most common struggles for you over the years when it comes to funding?

Tish Jones: I think because we spend a lot of time working with individuals, one of the common threads has been the process of applying for grants. And individual artists, specifically feeling the need to perform their trauma or perform their experience with oppression as a means to access funding.

And I think organizationally, it’s somewhat similar, this sort of performative aspect of why your work is valuable, how your work is valuable, to your earlier point when you were introducing this podcast, it’s like, our work is valuable, we work boots on the ground. And yeah, I think that that’s been the common narrative from an organizational perspective and from an individual artist’s perspective.

How do these systems work against us in terms of the ways in which we have to apply for this funding? The ways in which we have to seek the support, the hoops that we have to jump through, what story we think we’re supposed to tell versus the story to tell, who’s sitting on the panel, what makes what we do, valid and not valid? Who defines art? And is this cultural practice art?

Is this specifically thinking about Hip Hop, which is still not, as much as it is a global culture, a global phenomenon, and it’s embarking on his 50th year, it’s still a controversial cultural practice in a local manner, in a state-web manner, in a global manner. It’s still a culture of controversy.

So are we valid? Is our practice, is our approach valid as an organization? It depends on who’s reviewing the panel at that time, right?

Marianne Combs: So, first off, justifying the fact that you’re a valid art form, and you mentioned the hoops you have to jump through, and I think this is something that has come up a lot, is the notion of trust in time. So much of artists time is spent seeking funding that might last for a year, and then as soon as you get that funding, you have to start preparing the application for the next round of funding. As DeAnna alluded to with the Ford Foundation, one year after the death of George Floyd in partnership with the Ford Foundation, the McKnight announced 10 unrestricted grants of half a million dollars or more to what DeAnna, you called Cultural Treasures in Minnesota. BIPOC-led organizations that have traditionally been underfunded. First off to you DeAnna, what do you hope these grants accomplish?

DeAnna Cummings: In terms of what do we hope this funding can do? Three major things, one is to shine a spotlight on organizations who are real jewels. Jewels that should be valued as such, treasured as such, and known as such to this region, without a TruArtSpeaks, without an Ananya Dance Theater. Without an Indigenous Roots, Minnesota is less healthy, less vibrant, less just. It’s a less awesome place to be, so that’s one thing.

On the second hand, we hope that organizations get some breathing room, that they come out of the pandemic better financially, economically, artistically, in terms of their HR structure, so structurally, than they were when we went into the pandemic.

And then I would say the third thing we hope to accomplish is that we influence philanthropy, that’s corporate foundation, government and individual donors to value and support arts and culture that is rooted in communities of color, and again, is in part what makes this place a great place to live and raise children and so on for many people in Minnesota. So those are the three things that we hope to accomplish.

One piece, I’d just love to riff on is Tish’s point and your point Marianne, about the perpetual cycle of applying for funding, reporting on funding, applying again sort of year after year, and just highlight that that practice is really rooted in a lack of trust by philanthropy. Our belief that we have to keep a short leash on grantees, we have to check in on grantees on a very regular basis, less our money, our money, which of course is not our money, be misused or misappropriated, or the goals that were set out to be accomplished can’t be measured and proven as to having been accomplished.

And part of what we’re talking about, what we’ve been talking about over this past year as we’re looking at these issues of equity, is what if we practice trust-based philanthropy? What if we didn’t make folks have to prove to us that they’re doing the right thing every three to six months to a year?

Marianne Combs: I would love to explore that more in a bit, but first I wanna hear from Tish. What does a grant like this grant, the Cultural Treasures Grant do for an organization like TruArtSpeaks? How… Has it changed the way you work?

Tish Jones: I think, to DeAnna’s point, the breathing room is what feels really good. And just in conversation with some of the other grantees, this… What this grant does is allow us, not just in relationship to the pandemic, but for many of the organizations that were listed, we were going to do the work anyway. We have always done the work anyway, we have always found the resources or been the resource ourselves.

So this grant, it’s a morale booster for some of us for sure, to be seen as these regional cultural treasures and to have the work that we have done and the labor that we have put and acknowledged, and then to have that work supported into the future.

And a grant of this size is substantial to DeAnna’s point because it gives us the opportunity to increase our capacity in whatever area that’s appropriate for any particular organization. So if there is some structural or institutional development that needs to happen, we have the space to do that, we have the resources to do that, and grow to be the organization of our choosing, that is still rooted in our cultural practice.

And I think that’s the benefit, not just of the size of the grant, but the type of funding that it is. Gives us a lot of opportunity to be rooted in what we do well and how we do that thing well, versus having to meet X, Y, and Z criteria from the funder, based on a grant of the size. Which is more normative. When you get a grant of this size, there are certain markers that you are made to reach, and with this grant, we have the freedom to continue to be great, rooted in the practice that got us to this point, and that made us that the treasure that we have been awarded to be or acknowledged to be in this community. I think that is really important and not a normative practice in philanthropy.

I also think it’s honoring, the word honoring feels really important. We’ve been reflecting it through our speaks that our team is also full of practitioners, everyone is an artist. And one of the things for the last six or seven years in terms of independent research and projects that I’ve been a part of, and just in this community and in this experience, in Minnesota, many of our artists are not honored and are not taken care of.

When our young artists transition into elders, they often transition from this plain of existence, without healthcare, without support, without life insurance, needing a lot. And our community, because we’re such a rich arts community, specifically the Black, Indigenous and people of culture community. We hold our own, we hold our people up and together, but also what does it mean to honor the folks who are doing this work? And when we think about historic injustices, the history of oppression, and the history of white supremacy and institutionalized and structuralized racism, it’s often Black, Indigenous and people of culture who do not have access to insurances and access to benefits and different things like that.

So really also thinking about this opportunity allows a really large number of Black, Indigenous and people of culture to honor themselves in this work, to take care of themselves in this work, potentially depending on how different people are using these funds, and that’s just again, not something that we always have access to in this field or others.

DeAnna Cummings: Tish, so to build on your point, this is something that’s become more visible to me from my seat in philanthropy, that it was visible to me from my seat as a practitioner and arts administrator. And that is that people of color, artists of color, and cultural workers of color, tend to be funded to do the art, to make the art that is entertaining often and able to be commodified and sold.

What philanthropy has a harder time funding when it comes to funding people of color is us, our health and well-being. The funding we need to make sure our building doesn’t fall over and kill some people, our PTO benefits, our retirement funds, our health insurance, we didn’t get health insurance at Juxta until we had been in the work for 15 or so years. We had to go to the pay-as-you can, or the free clinic, that’s where my kids grew up, we did not have health insurance. While, it was perceived that Juxta was getting all the funding because we were identified as the one that philanthropy was crazy about, so we got funding to do the artwork and to do the thing that people could see and could make them feel good. So that’s one thing.

Marianne Combs: To that topic, Martin Luther King Junior, once said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic justice, which makes philanthropy necessary.” The whole notion of the structure of who is in control of money, why that exists that way, and where the money goes to. And it really feels like DeAnna, to the work that the McKnight has done this past year, it feels like an amazing amount of change and a huge shift from what we have seen previously in grant making. Which is really lovely.

Historically, funders have been very prescriptive about their funds could and should be used as we’ve discussed. They’ll say, “Oh, this is for a grant in which you’re gonna work with an artist from a different culture and partner on something.” And suddenly everybody has to do partnerships with artists from other cultures in order to qualify for the same grant. So when you talk about trust and philanthropy that’s built on trust, and also I’m hearing a lot these days about sharing power with the organizations that they fund.

What does that look like? Sharing power, having the philanthropist or the foundation share power with the organizations that it funds?

DeAnna Cummings: So I’ll just give you a couple of examples that come to my mind, one of which is a McKnight Foundation example, and it’s a small thing, but it was what I was thinking about when I was thinking about systemic change, it’s with regard to the regional cultural treasures, the 10 organizations that are regional cultural treasures, what would typically happen is that those organizations would get their grant amount, their grant award, and then the McKnight Foundation would say, We’re gonna pay this grant out evenly over five years, ‘cause it’s a five-year grant program.

What we decided to do instead was say, grantee, how would you like to have your payment structured? Some grantees ask for all of the money upfront, in part because they said, We’re going to use it over five years, but we want to have that money sitting in our coffers, in our investment portfolio, so we can be gaining the interest on that half a million dollars versus the foundation holding it and giving it to us $100,000 at a time over the five years.

Some organizations said, I wanna wait, I don’t wanna get the money yet. There’s a couple of things we need to put in place. We need to get prepared for our audit because this is gonna trigger an audit, some organizations said, We currently work with a fiscal agent, we’re gonna switch from working with this fiscal agent, so we want you to just hold the money for a moment, hold it for a year, and then starting next year, we’d like it evenly spaced over the next four years.

So every organization devised a different proposal for how the funding would best benefit the work that they wanted to do, and McKnight is open to it. We ask some questions to say, Have you considered this? But we said, you know best how the funding needs to come to you, so that’s one example.

The other example I would give is the Bush Foundation, who is currently in the midst of selecting two community stewards of $100 million, which the Bush Foundation borrowed because interest rates are great right now, and we have great credit, and we have the ability to borrow that much money, and because the need in community is so great right now, Bush said, We’re gonna borrow this money and we’re gonna put it in service of closing the wealth gap between Black and Indigenous people and white people in Minnesota.

And those two funds, $50 million each will be granted to community steward organizations who will be entirely responsible for working with community members to decide how those funds are distributed, and it’ll be one fund for the Black community, one fund for the Indigenous community, and in everything that the Bush Foundation is doing right now, the foundation is leaning away from it being the funnel through which all decisions are made toward turning over resources to community and trusting and investing in community to make the decisions about what is best for its people, for its community members.

Marianne Combs: Tish, what would you like to see from funders to help you do your work and to take your organization to the next level in terms of sustainability and being able to thrive and not just survive?

Tish Jones: The truth is that I’m really interested in seeing philanthropy, this continued to follow trends, but to set them. What we know and what we see, and I think it’s been present for a long time, is the whole person, if we’re just focusing on the arts sector, the whole person needs to be taken care of, so I think it’s really outdated for us to follow the changing trending buzzwords, we went from diversity to equity thing, we’re doing the semantics game every year to have a new priority that outcome or product-related, ask is also outdated.

It’s strenuous, is laborious. It’s somewhat disrespectful of the artist as a whole person who has to put their body on the line, you can’t make the product and generate the product if you’re unwell, you can’t generate the product if you don’t have a place to create, a place to live and exist. I’m interested in us just recognizing that and being honest,

I’m saying us because I think that we’re all interconnected, and I’m hoping that artists, community members, everyone can hold philanthropy to that standard, like this feature in setters and not trend followers and do what we know we need to do.

Marianne Combs: DeAnna, I read a recent article that you posted to the McKnight Foundation website, in which you talked about the fact that 1300-plus arts organizations in Minnesota, of those only three that have budgets over $1 million are led by people of color, and of those three only one owns its building, and you said, Why does this matter? Because it indicates that communities of color in Minnesota, of every generation have had to recreate their cultural organizations from the ground up, the Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latinx organizations we have supported at any given time, don’t last beyond one generation of leaders. We want to change that.
How can philanthropy change that?

DeAnna Cummings: So I think the same way that we’ve made generational investments in predominantly white arts organizations in this state, we should be thinking about how we’re making generational investments in Black, Indigenous, Asian American, Latinx and other underrepresented artists and art forms.

I pause a bit on what I just said, because I said in the same way that we’ve done it before, and I guess I wanna correct myself, we should not do it in the same way, but we should understand that investment in physical campus matters, investment in long-lived leaders of cultural organizations who have been at the helm for decades matters, investment in organizations engaging in planning for secession of a long-live leader matters. Investment in audience development in the same way that 10 or 15 years ago, there was so much money available for audience development for theaters, for predominantly white theaters, because the audiences were aging and are still aging, and folks were saying, What are we gonna do to get younger people to buy tickets to theater? Philanthropy put money behind audience development, so what are the particular challenges that people of color face in building institutions that are durable that can last into future generations, what are those particular things that are needed?

In our case, it’s generally not audience development, we know how to get people to come to what we produce, right? But it may be about, what do we do to attract individual donors? And we can’t use the same model that was built by predominantly white institutions with regard to individual donors, our individual donor fundraising has to be closer to the ground, but whatever those things are, philanthropy needs to invest in those organizations from a perspective of thinking of BIPOC cultural organizations as generational assets for our state, and understanding that if every generation has to re-create the institutions from the ground up, that is a loss for our state because we aren’t able to capture the efficiency that you pull forward when you have something that is existing for multiple generations, everybody’s starting again from the ground up. So those are a couple of things I would say.

Marianne Combs: When we talk about these kinds of issues and about sharing power with arts organizations and the idea of funding with trust, are you seeing an appetite for this within the philanthropy sector across the board or is still viewed as sort of a, oh, it’s this kind of cutting edge, I don’t know how I feel about it, or do you feel that there is a real movement behind this that other foundations are following and are ready to get on board?

DeAnna Cummings: Yeah, I would say that there is a movement, a bubbling movement. However, I would say that it is a small group of funders that are doing more than talking about it, that are actually taking the action and are taking big action, and the Bush Foundation being one of the funders in the country that is out ahead in terms of taking a big action, lots of funders are in a conversation stage and are making small shifts, small to medium shifts.

I would categorize the shifts that are happening at McKnight right now to be small to medium shifts in terms of our processes, so I think that with every movement, there are gonna be people who are out on the front edge of the movement, the real progressive radical front edge of the movement, and then there are people who are inclined in that direction, but who are more sort of moderate. And then there’s people that are gonna be more conservative, that have a long way to go. I’m okay with the people that are the moderates that are being pulled by the radicals and progressive toward a more progressive way of working than they would be if those radicals and real liberals didn’t exist.

So I would say that the people that are out on that far edge are a small group of people, but there’s a lot of people in the middle who are interested in talking and learning and making some shifts as they can, but still have a ways to go. Still have a ways to go.

Marianne Combs: DeAnna, you touched on earlier, and I just wanna address it straight on this notion that foundations and funders often have of return on investment, is that an expectation that needs to change or shift in terms of how results are quantified, viewed, judged in terms of when they give out money? There’s just a sense that funders wanna be able to say, Look at what we did when they’re in a report, see, we funded this and this happened, we funded this and this happened. Is that the right way to go about it?

DeAnna Cummings: So I guess I have two sides of thinking about the question Marianne, So on the one hand, I wouldn’t prescribe a right way, number one that I think we get into trouble because we are often looking for the answer or the right way, and in fact, I believe there’s always many right ways. That being said, I think at the root of that desire for return on our investment is capitalism, so it’s a big question in terms of, is this idea of always needing to prove return holding us back?

I think the answer is yes, yes, yes. And on the other hand, I don’t think we would expect that an organization like a foundation whose work is about investing money in work that’s helping to bring about a better, more just, more equitable world, wouldn’t want to know that the investment that we’re making is making a difference, it is helping the world become this better place that we want it to be. So the idea that there would be no requirement or no desire on behalf of the foundation to see that the investment that’s being made, or the resources that are being put out into community are making some difference, I think is not realistic either, I guess the gist of it is that it’s baked into our DNA in terms of the reason for our existence.

Marianne Combs: It’s also normal to want to see an impact, you wanna know that what you didn’t help somebody in some way, so that kind of return on investment is also understandable.

DeAnna Cummings: Understandable. And I think that in philanthropy, what we are increasingly recognizing is that there are many ways to show impact, and then this idea of a quantifiable measurable, data-driven return on investment does not encompass the fullness of what impact looks like, and in fact, again, boxes us into a particular kind of outcome that is perpetuating racism and white supremacy in all the ways that it manifests in our world.

Marianne Combs: We’ve done some visioning in this conversation, but I really wanna hear from you as to when you dream big about funding and the arts, where do you go in your head, what does it look like? What do you want to see change, Tish?

Tish Jones: I mean, again, DeAnna call that earlier, that trust is really important, and I also think in awareness, I think an awareness of varying cultural practices and intelligence is also important.

So in terms of how we go about funding, some folks are just not going to be successful at the two-page narrative, it just is not going to happen. Some of those folks are then under-resourced to the point where they cannot hire someone to write the grant for them, they have to be the grant writer, or someone within their cultural institution is the grant writer and this just might not be the strength.

So I’m hopeful because I know that there are some really radical models being presented right now, the models that are centered on trust, models that are about how long have you been doing the thing? And who has benefited from that thing or who passed on this cultural practice on to you, that you then practice, teach, keep within community and are in community with the next generation so that you’re moving it forward? I’m interested in that, I’m interested in more radical models that are not centered on Eurocentric ways of expressing intelligence for Eurocentric ways of record keeping, so especially as a poet, right? The real one by writing them down.

That’s not where it comes from. So I have to be in that practice in this work, in this Eurocentric model and framework, but the real is, is that I put my story in my body, that’s what feels the most real to me, is that it exists in my body, and I’m an oral storyteller, and how do we honor other ways of being of knowing and other types of intelligences? Yeah, I’m interested in that, I’m interested in that. And so much more trust and radical approaches to being inclusive.

And to the earlier statement, I’m excited for philanthropy to encourage people to move away from telling the story of their trauma, so the individual artists and arts organizations feel like they have permission to dream big ‘cause I think a lot of it is that we are stuck in like, this is what our community needs, in our community has been and so on, I don’t even think that the questions or the processes are framed in such a way that inspires us to dream when we’re applying for these things, it inspires us to be like, Oh, this is this group of oppressed folks that we’re working with, and this is this group of historically oppressed folks that we’re working with, and here’s the story of this oppression and we need your money to help us move through this oppression.

We’re not asked to dream big, that there’s no invitation to do that in the process, there’s no inclination that philanthropy is willing to fund our wildest dreams. So we forget to do that. The most radical of us are still dreaming.

Marianne Combs: Beautiful. DeAnna, How about you?

DeAnna Cummings: I envision and dream of artists and culture barriers being heralded, recognized and amplified for the critical role they play in solving some of the biggest problems, the biggest challenges we face in this world, including climate change, including anti-Black systemic racism and injustice in this country, in this world, and recognizing that artists are not only problem-solvers, they are meaning makers, they are magic makers, they are illuminators, but all of those roles that artists play, play a critical role in healing and making us better and whole.

So recognizing artists as critical. At the table, having the conversations about stopping climate change, having artists at the table in critical conversations with the police about police brutality and anti-black racism that manifests as a murder of black men here in Minnesota, Critical, not an extra, not to call the artist to come paint the mural at the thing, though, please call them to do that too, but also invite the artist to be in the conversation thinking about what might be possible, because artists help us dream, artists open up the opportunity for us to dream not only about who we are and how we got to be where we are today, how we got here.

So our history, our present, here’s where we are today, but dreaming about what the future can be. And without artist, we get stuck in what has been, and if we haven’t seen anything other than the trauma, the brutality, the separation along all of the lines and ways in which we’re separated, it’s nearly impossible for us to dream about what else could be. An artist are absolutely critical to that. So in the world that I envision, that gets me excited, it’s the world that understands that, and then a funding community along with government, business, individual donors, individual people of means. Because philanthropy doesn’t have enough money to fix it all, not even close, understands the role of artists as critical and then supports and holds up artists in the same way, or in a better way, let’s say in a better way than we do other kinds of essential workers.

Marianne Combs: Well, here’s just a more wild dreaming. DeAnna, Tish, thank you so much for this conversation. It’s been a real pleasure.

Tish Jones: Likewise, thank you for having us.


DeAnna Cummings: It was a pleasure. Thank you, Marianne, I appreciate the time.

Marianne Combs: You’ve been listening to Filling the Well. Our guests for this episode were DeAnna Cummings, Arts and Culture Program Director at the McKnight Foundation, and Tish Jones, Founder and Executive Director of TruArtSpeaks. I’m your host, Marianne Combs.

Want to dig deeper into the ideas behind this episode? Visit the Arts Midwest, The Ideas Hub, a collection of free curated articles and tools to help creative leaders foster growth within their organizations and communities. Go to artsmidwest.org/ideas for more.

On the next episode of Filling the Well, we talk about how arts organizations can work to be more authentically welcoming to increasingly diverse communities.

Ananya Chatterjea: I know that nobody likes to be included because they are politically expedient, that I know how itchy that feels. I think being available to be amazed by others is actually what creates rich collaboration.

Marcus Young: We have to keep creating new forms, the old forms will not serve us, how can we continue transforming what part can be, so that we get away from these notions of what is proper audience behavior and proper artistic behavior, how can we open up the relationship to art?

Marianne Combs: That’s next on Filling the Well. I hope you’ll join us. This podcast was produced and edited by Emily Goldberg and mixed by Eric Romani with original music by Dameun Strange.

The Filling the Well series is made possible with financial support from the Barr Foundation based in Boston. The Barr Foundation’s mission is to invest in human, natural and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts.

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Marianne Combs – Host

Emily Goldberg – Producer

Dameun Strange – Original Music

Eric Romani – Master Mixer