Building on the Capacity and Community of Culturally Specific Organizations

Providence, Central Falls, Smithfield, RI

Contact Name
Elena Calderon Patino
Project Dates
January 2016 - December 2019
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
Business Planning, Networking
Expansion Arts Program (EAP) supports small organizations whose programs and missions center on the cultural practices and traditions of Rhode Island’s diverse peoples. It provides the skills and tools these organizations need to grow as equal partners in the Rhode Island arts and cultural community. Priority is given to newly-emerging groups and recognizes the broader role they play in strengthening their communities including cultural preservation, education, and youth development. EAP participants from The Eastern Medicine Singers and The Laotian Community Center will share the program process and how it helped build on the existing capacity of their organizations and communities.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Funding from Expansion Arts focuses on developing resilient organizations, Workshop included in the program consists of governance, financial management, fundraising, marketing and audience development, documentation and evaluation, leadership development, strategic collaborations and partnerships. Funding also foster greater connection across the arts and humanities as well as provide leadership and professional development for a broader network of EAP-eligible arts and cultural organizations.

Most Expansion Arts grantees are embedded in communities of color and enhance cultural heritage, are intergenerational, offer arts and cultural education, and are connected to businesses and other parts of the economy in the area.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The importance of relationship building between funders and cohort, as well as with alumni has been an evolving goal. Developing a more robust alumni network with these Intercultural linkages and organic collaborations. Greater communication across mainstream cultural organizations and the Expansion arts alumni and current cohort is also a goal that has gain more importance because many of these culturally specific organizations have been in operation for many years, they have strong community ties and successful well-attended events, audience development strategies that can be shared with mainstream communities. Equity conversation among funders--development through logistics and practicing cultural equity in grantmaking and placemaking is another developing goal.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Funders: Rhode Island Foundation, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and Rhode Island State Council for the Humanities.
Current Grantees: The India Association of RI, the Cape Verdean Sub-Committee, the Laotian community Center, and the Colombian American Association
Alumni: RI Black Storytellers, the Cambodian Society, RI Latino Arts, and the Eastern Medicine Singers
*The Eastern Medicine Singers* is an inter tribal American Indian Drum and Dance Troupe consisting of members from more than 10 distinct Tribes and bands. EMS was established in 2007 as a means of educating, informing and engaging with the local community, particularly youth, as a means of raising awareness about and promoting the traditional Algonquian cultures of New England and beyond. EMS travels throughout the Northeastern United States performing traditional or newly composed songs and sings songs in the traditional Algonquin dialects. EMS has also supported and participated in a number of cross cultural events and initiatives as a means of steadily diversifying our audience. Lastly, EMS supports a bi-monthly Algonquin language class that is overseen by local Pokanoket elder Donald Three Bears Fisher
*The Laotian Community Center* (LCC) of RI has an administrative office residing at the Southside Cultural Center that houses multiple culturally-specific organizations and theater groups. We are the only organization in Rhode Island that teaches traditional dance and music to have our students perform dance sequences to live instrumental music. LCC has an annual summer Traditional Lao Arts & Culture Camp with an international master artist residency program. We collaborate with a national non-profit called Lao Heritage Foundation (LHF) to bring music master instructors from Laos to come the America to teach folklore songs on different traditional musical instruments. We send our youth apprentices to Washington, D.C. to LHF Summer Camp for one week to return to Rhode Island to teach our students in an intensive week-long summer camp. LCC is also starting a new collaboration with a non-profit arts organization called AS220 based in Providence, RI to begin a Statue Project. We had apprentice monks learn the art of masonry statue designing, molding and sculpting from a master monk sculptor. The program is currently being developed with AS220 to incorporate traditional masonry skills, sketches with computer programs, innovation and 3D-model machines to help fuse the art of masonry skills and technology together to create public art.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Many of the current Expansion Arts organizations and the alumni reside at the Southside Cultural Center which is also supported by the City of Providence investments in Southside.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
*Background Information*
In 1971, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) established the Expansion Arts Program to stimulate public and private support for art organizations serving culturally diverse communities. Several Rhode Island arts organizations including the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, and Rites and Reason Theatre, Brown University received NEA Expansion Arts grants.
*Establishment of Expansion Arts at the Rhode Island Foundation*
In 1985, the Rhode Island Foundation established the Rhode Island Arts Fund with a $200,000 NEA grant. NEA support was restricted to minority community-based arts organizations with a special emphasis on those
"deeply rooted and reflective of urban, geographically isolated, ethnically specific or tribal communities underserved by mainstream cultural institutions thus launching the Expansion Arts Program in Rhode Island.
*Expansion Arts during the 1990s*
For much of the 1990s, consultants nurtured relationships with culturally diverse communities not served by mainstream arts organizations. They facilitated workshops on filing for nonprofit status, grant writing, basic book keeping, and
Provided hands-on support. An independent review panel was established and grants were made on a biannual basis. Between 1990 and 2000 Expansion Arts provided $184,910 to 60 mostly artist-led arts groups to present cultural festivals,
Performances, and exhibitions.
*Expansion Arts Restructured*
Expansion Arts was redesigned in 2003 to emphasize technical assistance to strengthen the infrastructure of culturally diverse arts organizations. Reflective of the changing demographics of Rhode Island, Expansion Arts was recast to
Support primarily community-based arts organizations serving, but not limited to, African, African-American, Asian, Cape Verdean, Caribbean, Latin American, and Native American communities, which are under-represented in mainstream arts
Programs. Unlike traditional grants program, organizations applied for the technical assistance program comprised of workshops and one-to-one meetings with a consultant. Organizations selected to participate in the technical assistance program were eligible to receive an Expansion Arts grants up to $5,000 (later $10,000). The funds supported the implementation of projects related to management or operations.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
*2011 and Beyond*
The Expansion Arts Program has been newly re-designed for 2011. Recognizing the increasingly challenging economic climate in which our cultural organizations operate, the Rhode Island Foundation sought to increase the impact and administrative efficiency of this program, while enhancing value to its participants. It was in that context that the RI Foundation initiated a unique funding partnership.
Over the course of the last year, Rhode Island Foundation has worked closely with the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities (RICH), and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) to re-envision the goals, outcomes, and curriculum for Expansion Arts. In addition to redesigning the program to better reflect the stated needs of program participants, this collaboration enabled the Funders to think deeply about the nature of such partnerships and share their reflections in subsequent reports.

The three-year program focuses on building the capacity of participating organizations to acquire the necessary resources
to support programming. It's designed to strengthen knowledge and skill in the following seven areas: governance, financial planning/management, evaluation, documentation, audience engagement, fund development, community impact,
and strategic planning. Each organization will devise a work plan for all seven areas, with each year of the program focusing on two - three of these areas. Groups will be expected to realize outcomes for each area by the conclusion of the program.

In 2016, the Rhode Island Foundation, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities (RICH), and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) selected four organizations to participate in the next three-year EAP
EAP grantees each are receiving:
· $10,000 grant each year for three years;
· Access to professional consultants with expertise in the above areas
Participating organizations are expected to appoint a main contact and designate at least three people to participate in workshops (3-4 per year) and other events. Small organizations whose programs and missions center on the cultural practices and traditions of Rhode Island’s diverse peoples were eligible to apply. How organizations reflect and engage the people and experiences of racially diverse communities in our state was considered when making funding decisions. Organizations that received funding from EAP since 2003 were ineligible to apply.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
1) Over time an emphasis on relationship building among the funders, the grantees and the alumni association is of utmost importance because we believe that is the foundation of sustainability.
2) Documenting the stories of these culturally specific organizations so that main stream organizations can learn from them the successful and sustainable audience development.
3) Cultural equity conversations in the funding organizations
4) Opportunities for alumni to participate in professional development by providing scholarships to local, regional and national conferences that come to the area for example: The Americans for the Arts conference, The Association of American Cultures Conference (TAAC), the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) Arts Regional, The NEFA Idea Swap, The Alliance for Artists communities and the Creative Communities Exchange
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Program Administrators: Capacity building practices have evolved and become more tailored over time, and the role of the program coordinator as facilitator and connector is essential. But a key question remains: How do organizations continue to evolve and become sustainably after the program ends?
Program Participant from Eastern Medicine Singers: The primary obstacle to success was learning how to successfully navigate sharing one’s traditional culture with a contemporary audiences, in a manner that respects one’s traditional cultural practices, traditions and beliefs. EMS had adopted a tribal structure of hierarchy and governance due to the cultural background of our membership and style of performance. We soon came to realize that such a structure did not necessarily constitute the most effective business model for development and long-term sustainability. Many drum members viewed song creation and booking performances as solely the responsibility of the Senior Members from the drum which led to limited opportunities to perform. Simultaneously, Senior Members had feelings of frustration and perceived a lack of interest on the part of subordinate members of the Drum. Ultimately it led to an overall less successful Drum Group.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Through participation in Expansion Arts, EMS was able to identify a proper business structure that clearly articulated proper roles and responsibilities for Drum Members. Additionally, EMS was better able to identify and engage with new audiences and supporters by realizing the importance of providing marketing and promotional products and materials to not only keep audience members engaged after performances, but also a means for continued revenue generation. Overall, through Expansion Arts EMS has learned how to more properly conduct their business without having to sacrifice any commitment to the cultural integrity of our performances.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
From funders’ point of view: shared goal and understanding of priorities, commitment to relationship building between funders and cohort, ongoing connection to alumni and placemaking and community building efforts that arise out of their work
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
As a result of EAP growth and capacity building, alumni organizations have come together in South Providence at the Southside Cultural Center--a former church and community center that is now home to….-- and is the locus of a major creative placemaking efforts supported by the City of Providence Arts Culture Tourism, RI LISC. RISCA Cultural Facilities, ArtPlace, NEA Our Town, RISD and RISD students, and Rhode Island Housing. Capacity building has led to the need for space, and Southside has been the perfect venue for them. With meeting space, theater space, and office spaces for many of the Expansion arts alumni groups, like the RI black story tellers, Cambodia Society, RI Latino Arts and The Laotian Community Center. Other alumni, such as ECAS Theater and OASIS International and Hmong United are located close to the Southside Cultural Center. This has created many opportunities for intercultural collaborations.
Providence Cultural Equity Initiative
Eastern Medicine Singers: Expansion Arts has greatly assisted EMS in its ongoing efforts to raise awareness about traditional New England American Indian culture. Through participation in Expansion Arts EMS has expanded our support base through collaborative performances with other local cultural and artistic groups, allowing us to share our history and our culture with a much more diverse audience. This has resulted in not only a better understanding of the historical and contemporary successes and challenges that local Indian populations have faced, but also a greater capacity to relate these local elements to national and international efforts by indigenous communities to protect their human and cultural rights. Overall, due to participation in the Expansion Arts program, EMS has been much more successful at raising awareness in the Rhode Island community that indeed, Eniskeetompoag! - We still remain!
Laotian Community Center (LCC) of RI: The Rhode Island State Council of the Arts (RISCA) and Expansion Arts were essential towards our capacity building in the Southside Cultural Center. We are part of a collaborative partnership that serves as an incubator for multi-cultural organizations to share space and resources while having their own office rooms. We learned to co-exist in a building filled with diversity and encouraged to promote our culture and have events. We have adopted new practices, built new networks and found better ways to utilize our limited volunteer staff. RISCA and Expansion Arts offers free training, consultants, network and connections to resources to help with capacity building for our organization. The best practices for organizations to continue to evolve and become sustainable after the program ends is have a good director who is skillful in development and fundraising.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
Alumni groups have grown and transformed as a result. For example, ECAS Theater was housed at Southside now has a location of its own near the Southside cultural center. Other Expansion Arts alumni are leading efforts in cultural equity and tourism, artist development and community building, indigenous approaches to collection and archive management.
How did you measure this success or progress?
Groups take capacity building tools into their organizational practice, there is a continued professional development in arts and culture, and the growth of an intercultural ongoing network of intercultural alumni organizations.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The organic intercultural collaborations among the groups, e.g. Funda Fest which is organized by RI Black Storytellers for many years in 2011, several groups joined Funda fest for a collaboration that continues to this day. The collaboration of funders and connection of alumni.
For Eastern Medicine Singers: As a result of the skills and knowledge obtained through participation in Expansion Arts, two senior members of the drum have started culturally based, for profit businesses to continue the cultural development work that has been initiated through EMS. Specifically, Daryl Black Eagle has started Black Eagle Productions to Promote Eastern Algonquin Music & Culture and to produce, organize and manage multicultural, cultural heritage & diversity events throughout the New England area. Additionally, Raymond Two Hawks Watson received a 3 year Innovation Fellowship to start the Providence Cultural Equity Initiative, a cultural development consultancy firm. Prior to participation in Expansion Arts, both members would most likely have been pursuing a non-profit strategy to support their cultural development work. However, post Expansion Arts, the two have felt empowered to treat their culture as a valuable commodity that can be both economically impactful and do much to promote social cohesion within the Rhode Island community. This is especially unexpected as cultural activities are often viewed through the lens of being a non-profit venture. In this manner, both Members are changing the community perspective on the positive potential that cultural economy and cultural sector hold for Rhode Island’s future.
The Laotian Community Center has grown a closer relationship with Expansion Art alumni groups that share the same building. We are in the planning process of creating new projects such as Asian Festival with Cambodian Society and an Oral Storytelling project with the RI Black Storytellers to promote legends of Southeast Asian and African folklore figures.
CCX Workshop Handout

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