For four years, 4Culture and King County have administered a partnership to provide Cultural Facilities grants to remedy systematic racial inequity, and the current model for this program is called Building for Equity. The program provides funding, technical support, and strategic partnerships between specially-paired organizations such as Seattle Opera and Tasveer, and between the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and the Korean American Historical Society.
Tasveer pursues social change by presenting South Asian film, art, and stories. Dennis Robinson, Jr., Seattle Opera’s Director of Programs and Partnerships, points out that this mission centered on storytelling is one both Tasveer and the Opera share. “Seattle Opera tells stories through music, while Tasveer tells stories through film, experiences, and conversations with their community,” Robinson said. “So as we looked for organizations to partner with, we found that Seattle Opera and Tasveer had a lot to learn from each other in terms of creating art and connecting with communities.”
The organizations expect to share both space and ideas. “It’s easy to get stuck in your own creative box when you’re in the thick of things, so having Tasveer working and making art in the building has helped us continue to think creatively,” Robinson said.
And Seattle Opera was able to provide Tasveer marketing, development and production resources, as well as physical space while the organization raised money for its own eventual building – all of these key needs of Tasveer identified by Meher, Tasveer’s Co-Founder and Executive Director.
This partnership fits neatly with Seattle Opera’s 2020-23 Racial Equity and Social Impact (RESI) plan. “We’ve increased the company’s racial diversity across all stakeholder groups, bringing it increasingly in line with the diversity of the Puget Sound region,” Robinson said. “Our staff diversity has increased by 31% since 2019, bringing the BIPOC representation on our staff up to 46%. Likewise, our board has increased its racial diversity by 12% since 2019.”
With 2023 more than halfway complete, Seattle Opera’s Equity Team is working on the next RESI plan. “We still have work to do in this regard with our board and our creative teams and crews backstage,” Robinson said. “We’re continuing to work with pipeline programs to train BIPOC artists and crews and to give them opportunities in what have historically been majority-white spaces. Programs like the Seattle Arts Fellowship and Creation Lab were started to do just that, and we are committed to continuing to find avenues to diversify the pipeline of opera creators.”
Meanwhile, the Wing Luke Museum’s Building for Equity partnership with the Korean American Historical Society (KAHS) builds on a multi-decade relationship. In the late 90s, the Wing Luke Museum co-created an exhibition with the Society, Golden Roots: Korean Americans in Washington State, profiling the Korean American community in Washington state from early history to contemporary organizations, said Cassie Chinn, Wing Luke’s Deputy Executive Director. “I have many powerful memories of meeting with them to plan the exhibition in the conference room at the business of one of their organizational leaders, where they also stored their archives.”
But when KAHS leadership changed, KAHS was in need of a permanent place to safeguard its archives, and the Wing was the ideal place. “We have built a strong relationship of mutual trust and support,” Chinn said. “Our values, which are deeply aligned, acknowledge that people give us meaning and purpose, long-term relations are vital, and we desire community empowerment and ownership.”
While Tasveer leadership was unavailable for comment at press time. Mel Kang of KAHS said the Society shared a common goal with the Wing Luke Museum of collecting, preserving, and making available the history of Korean immigration to America. “Over the past 25 years, that mutual interest has manifested itself in exhibits at the Museum, a community outreach project to collect and digitize records and everyday objects from the Korean community and ongoing technical advice,” Kang said. “The most outstanding part of this relationship is the fact that since 2009, KAHS has stored its collection at The Wing’s climate-controlled facility.”
This has been extremely valuable to KAHS, which is a small volunteer driven organization. “One of our primary duties is to protect the material we collect or that people donate,” Kang said. “Having a safe place to keep our collection means can fulfill that promise and put our efforts into making the collection better. Thus, our discussion about the 4Culture grant to purchase the historic residence in the International District was not a new initiative, but rather, a reaffirmation of our long-standing cooperation.”
4Culture also confirmed that both the Opera-Tasveer and Wing Luke-KAHS partnerships stem from a solid commitment from local government. According to Maya Santos, 4Culture’s Program Manager for the Building for Equity program, both Seattle Opera and The Wing were recipients of a Building for Equity Cultural Facilities grant in 2018.
With each Cultural Facilities grant comes a Public Benefit requirement. “With the intention of addressing historic racial inequity in cultural facilities funding, organizations receiving a significant amount of funds are required to offer free facility space and/or technical support for a duration of three years to a smaller BIPOC-led organization as a community partner,” Santos explained. “Through this partnership, the grantee is expected to support ways to increase the economic viability of that community partner.”
As Program Manager, Santos connected Seattle Opera with Tasveer. “While Seattle Opera was in need of a community partner to fulfill their public benefit requirement, Tasveer, a Building for Equity Capacity Building grant recipient was searching for a venue for their film festival,” she said. “Seattle Opera at the time had just finalized their mission, vision, and values statement including equity and diversity so they were excited to welcome Tasveer into their home and network of support.”
Santos joined 4Culture last April and feels honored to be part of Building for Equity’s continued evolution. “Transforming it from an initiative with King County to an established equity-centered grant program was a huge accomplishment,” she said, noting that numerous staff and community organizations were involved in the program’s growth.
But just as important as physical space is the social and mental space to promote equity. “Building for Equity’s greatest accomplishment is how it continues to shift and deepen understandings of equity in and around cultural facilities projects,” Santos said. “As a program, it helps organizations reveal where equity and racial equity can be implemented in the development and construction of their projects or in their organization itself.”
Next year, 4Culture expects to host an event where Building for Equity participants can share what they’ve learned and achieved, and where 4Culture itself can reveal new aspects of the program to improve its support of our communities. “I’m really looking forward to creating more avenues for organizations to learn from one another with this in mind,” Santos shared. She encourages those wanting information about these future events to sign up for 4Culture’s newsletter.