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Brooklyn Arts Council: Value Made Visible Through Grants


Last month, Brooklyn Arts Council Grants Manager Ayoka Wiles-Abel came across an interview with Frances Hesselbein, former Executive Director of the Girl Scouts and a one-hundred-year-old leader who is still enthusiastic about her job. In the article, Hesselbein repeats the following phrase: “Work is love made visible” (Kahlil Gibran).


Performance artist Aisha Cousins received a BAC grant to support a new conceptual art project, “Briar Roses.”

This idea felt significant to Wiles-Abel, who shared the quote widely. “We are constantly bombarded with messages and images,” she observed in a recent phone interview. “CNN, Instagram, someone sharing a post like ‘I just had a great coffee’ or something. And in the midst of it, I came across this inspiring statement about doing work you’re passionate about.”

Wiles-Abel brings a wealth of arts programming and nonprofit leadership experience to her role at BAC. She recounted this moment when asked how she sees the grants world evolving. “To me, this love, this work, is about connecting with others to make meaning.” Wiles-Abel believes this is where she and the Brooklyn Arts Council are headed – towards an increasing recognition of the value of creative connection.


Suku Dance Lab received a 2017 Brooklyn Arts Fund grant for “Me Hago Falta,” an interdisciplinary dance piece exploring Afro-Latina culture.

Now in its 51st year, the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) is an organization that comprehensively supports artistic expression and experience in the borough. Among their many offerings, BAC gives grants that fund over 150 programs a year and distribute more than $420,000 annually to individual artists, collectives, and nonprofits.
For the last 37 years, they have financially supported dance, film, folk arts, literary arts, theatre, music, visual arts, performing arts, and nearly every inter- and multi-disciplinary iteration between. Their three primary grant programs are the Brooklyn Arts Fund, Destination>Brooklyn, and Local Arts Support; artists can apply for all three using Submittable.
In recent years, BAC has made a commitment to funding fewer projects at higher amounts. In 2016, their average grant size was $3,500. They received 395 applications and gave out 119 awards. BAC also offers applicant resources, including application draft reviews and community information sessions on their grants that, in 2016, 679 people attended.


A packed Community Arts Grants info session at FiveMyles in August of 2016.

For successful applicants like JP Howard, it’s this kind of comprehensive commitment to the process that sets BAC apart. Howard has received grant funding from BAC since 2014 for her organization Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS).  “The Brooklyn Arts Council is really supportive of grantees, and the workshops they offer are invaluable. Their team is supportive throughout the process – they’ve even come out to a few of my salons because they want to see and support what’s happening in the community, and that’s great.”
Howard has been the four-time recipient of grants for WWBPS from the Brooklyn Arts Fund, which the BAC awards on behalf of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The Salon provides NY-area women writers a monthly opportunity to share, collaborate, and support each other’s creative work. Grant awards have supported honoraria, allowing Howard to pay visiting writers each and every month for their participation in WWBPS’s Brooklyn-based gatherings. They have also funded special anniversary events, a traveling salon library, promotion, photography, and video documentation of the salon. According to Howard, at least 70% of her budget for WWBPS comes from BAC.

The work of Yasmin Mistry, Director of the Foster Care Film & Community Engagement Project, is also supported by BAC. Mistry recently received a Local Arts Support grant, funding that comes from the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Program. She has also received several Brooklyn Arts Fund grants over the course of her project. In Mistry’s experience as a volunteer and Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster youth, she felt an imperative to share the young people’s stories. “I asked myself, how do I have more say in these youth’s lives than they do? I wanted to empower them.”
Mistry’s background as an animator and filmmaker inspired her to begin collecting interviews for what she originally envisioned as a single documentary. The overwhelming response and wealth of important material she collected led her to change the project scope, expanding it into a larger collection of 6-8 short films, and eventually, a feature that follows one family for an extended period (they’ve documented four years so far). Since 2014, she has received close to $15,000 through BAC, allowing her to create 3 films (hybrid live-action and animation), Feeling Wanted, My Identity, and Family Rewritten (with one more in production), as well as 18 video “snapshots.”

According to Wiles-Abel, successful grant proposals like Howard’s and Mistry’s exhibit artistic merit, clarity, and feasibility within the proposal, uniqueness, and community benefit. A good proposal “clearly answers those key questions we learned in 3rd grade – who, what, where, how, and why.” Still, the importance of brevity and clarity doesn’t imply that deep, meaningful impact isn’t always the endgame.
From my vantage point, even though culturally we’re relying increasingly on technology, the emphasis on less is more, Snapchat, etc., we are also continually realizing the need for greater connection, for work that leads to community engagement, impactful outcomes. We want to know from applicants what the funding will actually signify not just in terms of dollars and cents but in terms of creating and connecting.”


Polybe + Seats received a Brooklyn Arts Fund grant and a Local Arts Support grant for their upcoming project “The Art of Hijab, Kohl Black, and the Right Way to Pray.”

Although the 2017 grant cycle has closed, BAC is currently seeking teaching artists and performance ensembles to participate in their education program. They are also accepting applications for the East Brooklyn Capacity Building Award from nonprofit arts organizations — this opportunity is made possible by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation and administered by BAC.
Note: The potential disappearance of the NEA could greatly affect BAC, since they receive direct funding and are also sponsored by the NYSCA and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, both of which have historically received NEA support. You can support the good work of the Brooklyn Arts Council here.
*If you’d like to explore Submittable grants-management options for your organization, we’re here to help
**All images courtesy of the Brooklyn Arts Council. 

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is Senior Editor for Submittable's Marketing Team. She also writes and teaches poetry. You can find Rachel's creative work here: rachelmindell.com