Greater Washington Community Foundation Announces $1 Million Gift from MacKenzie Scott to Arts Forward Fund

Ten Local Funders Also Supporting New Funding Round in July

Author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has awarded $1 million to the Greater Washington Community Foundation to support Arts Forward Fund, an equity-focused funder collaborative formed in 2020 by local funders to help arts and culture organizations in the DC region to stabilize, adapt, and thrive through the COVID-19 pandemic. The gift to Arts Forward Fund is one of 289 grants totaling $2.7 billion that Scott announced through a June 15 blog post on Medium.

In her post announcing the gifts, Scott wrote:

“Arts and cultural institutions can strengthen communities by transforming spaces, fostering empathy, reflecting community identity, advancing economic mobility . . . and improving mental health, so we evaluated smaller arts organizations creating these benefits with artists and audiences from culturally rich regions and identity groups that donors often overlook.”

The purpose of Arts Forward Fund is to provide resources to help arts and culture organizations continue their work despite the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and respond to the national movement for racial justice. Created with a lead gift from The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, Arts Forward Fund awarded 43 grants totaling $1,048,500 in October 2020. More than 60 percent of these grants and grant funding went to organizations that are BIPOC-led and predominantly BIPOC-serving, with most grants supporting the shift to online and digital programming. 

Including Scott’s gift, more than 20 foundations and individual donors have contributed just under $3 million to Arts Forward Fund since 2020. Major supporters include the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, Diane & Norman Bernstein Foundation, England Family Foundation, Philip L. Graham Fund, Harman Family Foundation, Linowitz Family Fund, Nancy Peery Marriott Foundation, Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation, and Weissberg Foundation. 

In March 2021, a follow-up survey of 2020 Arts Forward Fund applicants confirmed ongoing uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic and a return to in-person events and programs. Frequently cited challenges included increased costs and limited revenue for online and limited in-person programs, audience reluctance to return to venues, staff capacity to maintain virtual programs while simultaneously restarting in-person programs, and concerns about maintaining individual donor support.

To provide relief and recovery funds to help organizations address these issues, Arts Forward Fund will open the application for another round of funding on July 6. With Scott’s gift and commitments from local funders, Arts Forward Fund anticipates an additional $1.7 million to award in grants. For the 2021 grant round, Arts Forward Fund’s focus will be on providing general operating support funding for community-based organizations with annual revenue of $3 million or less. Arts Forward Fund will continue to prioritize organizations that are BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving. Details will be posted here.

“As a steadfast supporter of the arts community, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation is honored to be part of the collective effort to help our local cultural organizations recover and reopen,” says Calvin Cafritz, President and CEO of the Cafritz Foundation, which made a lead grant of $500,000 to establish Arts Forward Fund. “In its first round of grantmaking, the Fund received 227 applications totaling nearly $8 million, evidence of the enormous disruption the COVID-19 pandemic created in the sector. Arts Forward Fund, including MacKenzie Scott’s generous gift, is only part of the ongoing community commitment that will be needed to support our region’s arts and cultural organizations as they rebuild and thrive.”

“Arts and culture organizations are a critical economic engine for this region, and they contribute immeasurably to our sense of community and our well-being,” says Tonia Wellons, President and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. “We are humbled by this recognition of the Arts Forward Fund’s efforts and proud to bring much needed relief to organizations in the region that enrich our communities and touch our lives.”