Since spring, my board and I have been sitting with the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has limited our primary method of fundraising, and it has become increasingly clear that we cannot wait for things to return to normal. The way we have been working is no longer sustainable, and must change.
A Blade of Grass has, since it was conceived in 2013, been financing the Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art by drawing funds from its own operating reserve, and then fundraising to offset this investment. This approach has made us a difficult fit for many traditional funding partners. But we have been successful at getting people together to directly experience the visionary work artists are doing in communities to enact social change, and inspiring them to give toward the program. In our last fiscal year, 70% of the Fellowship was supported by individual donors.
Because Covid stopped this high-touch community building in its tracks, we find ourselves at the end of this fiscal year with less than a year of operating expenses left in reserve and too few viable paths to the funding we need. At the same time, of course, socially engaged artists are more relevant than ever. We are therefore forced to radically change how we do our work, so that we can sustain it into the future.
To this end, I am deeply saddened to announce that we are cutting our budget from $1M to $450K, sunsetting the Fellowship, and laying off our staff. My pay will also be cut. These decisions were not arrived at lightly. In particular, it pains me to subject staff members who are close to my heart to the stress and precarity of losing employment. And it hurts the organization to lose staff members who do such great work.
These cuts are being made out of necessity. We have a responsibility to continue to serve our mission to support and amplify the work of socially engaged artists. Because we are taking these steps now, A Blade of Grass will be able to survive this moment, and rebuild in a way that is more financially sustainable. I am sad, and also galvanized.
Over the coming year, I will be focused on two tasks. First, I will be taking time to listen to former Fellows, other artists who are enacting social change, and other members of our community about what they need from us, and art institutions more generally, right now. I will also be piloting a new way to do our work that focuses on one project at a time, and in which A Blade of Grass acts more as a commissioner of socially engaged projects, programs, and artist-led research and content. This approach aligns more directly with existing funding opportunities. It is my intention to rely on what I’m learning about the needs of the moment, as well as what we’ve learned over seven years of the Fellowship about artists working in communities to enact social change, to make this approach responsive and relevant.
You are receiving this because you’re a valued member of our community, and I want to hear from you. I sincerely hope that you will reach out to me with your questions, thoughts, and ideas.
I look forward to being in touch with you and to continuing the conversation.
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