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Photo credit: Rich Ryan, courtesy of Theater Mu

Our Approach

The strategy of McKnight’s Arts & Culture program is to fund organizations, programs, and projects that provide support structures for working artists and culture bearers to develop and share their work, and to lead in movements and communities. This includes artists and culture bearers working in a broad continuum of activities and approaches across disciplines and fields. Our strategy uses the support structure model as a tool for guiding our grantmaking, seeking to fund organizations that provide a variety of support for artists and culture bearers.

We recognize that artists and culture bearers increasingly practice in multidisciplinary and intersectional ways and that not all artists and culture bearers have equitably benefited from existing resources. As we adapt and evolve our approach, we will continue to invest in the supports required for all artists and culture bearers to thrive and lead, sparking our collective imagination and enriching our quality of life.

The Arts & Culture program will continue to invest in organizations that provide the critical support structures that working artists and culture bearers identify as essential to their thriving. We also prioritize support to organizations whose work addresses one or more of these funding areas:

  • Cultivate strategic partnerships that provide direct support for individual artists and culture bearers.
  • Develop and sustain the presence and visibility of underrepresented artists and cultural institutions including those in rural areas, Tribal Nations, and across Greater Minnesota, and those in Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, and other underrepresented groups.
  • Support working artists and culture bearers advancing justice.
Photo Credit: Bruce Bruce Silcox, courtesy of Pillsbury House Theatre

Cultivate partnerships to support individual artists and culture bearers  

We work with nonprofit partners who regrant McKnight dollars to individual artists and culture bearers. We also fund artist service organizations that offer support structures to individual artists. We fund artist support organizations that have deep relationships with artists and culture bearers and provide them with accessible resources. By doing so, we enable artists to access the support structures that they have identified as most important to working artists today.

We proactively identify our regranting partners, which include our fellowship program partners and the Regional Arts Councils, and work with them to offer grants to individual artists and culture bearers.

Photo Credit: Ivy Vainio, courtesy of American Indian Community Housing Organization

Develop and sustain underrepresented artists and cultural institutions across geographies 

We aim to develop and sustain the presence and visibility of racially and culturally diverse artists and culture bearers, including those in rural areas, Tribal Nations, and across Greater Minnesota. Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latinx artists and culture bearers across different geographies contribute to our state in vital ways, despite historically limited resources and funding streams. With meaningful supports in place, these artists and cultural institutions, which have long faced challenges to their existence and survival, can thrive and fully exercise their cultural power. Similarly, rural artists and arts organizations can attract more sources of financial support, spark opportunities within their geography and local demographics, and fully exercise their cultural power. McKnight supports an arts ecosystem in which all artists and cultural institutions have the tools to thrive and lead—an ecosystem that benefits all Minnesotans and enables the arts community to meet this moment with hope and courage.

Photo Credit: Bruce Bruce Silcox, courtesy of Pangea World Theater

Support working artists and culture bearers advancing justice   

Artists and culture bearers are catalysts for change and essential leaders in movements to advance social, racial, economic, and environmental justice in Minnesota. Artists and culture bearers help us reflect, critique, and evolve our understanding of current events, and challenge and change systems at their most fundamental levels.

One framework we use to understand artists’ role in advancing justice is offered by Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, who wrote that artists help us reframe complex issues and open up to new possibilities. They help us retool and build again. And they help us regain our shared humanity, and heal and repair past and ongoing harms.

McKnight’s Arts & Culture grantees do the following:

  • Support and advance the distinctive practices of Minnesota’s working artists and culture bearers
  • Enable unique developmental and leadership opportunities for artists and culture bearers
  • Facilitate meaningful relationships between artists, culture bearers, and their communities
  • Demonstrate a deep understanding of their field
  • Work to eliminate deep and persistent social, economic, and racial barriers

Our grantmaking is guided by our program principles, research on artist support structures, and achieving the Foundation’s mission, which prioritizes advancing equitable and sustainable outcomes for people and planet.

Artist Support Structures

Data undergirding our work in the arts comes from a landmark report called Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists (Urban Institute, 2006).

The report revealed that society undervalues the contribution of artists to communities. Although 96% of the people surveyed said they were “greatly inspired and moved by various kinds of art,” only 27% said that “artists contribute a lot to the good of society.”

We use the support structure model as a tool for guiding our grantmaking, seeking to fund organizations that provide many or all of these types of support for artists and culture bearers:

  • Training and professional development: Conventional and lifelong learning opportunities
  • Validation and advocacy: Ascribing value to what artists and culture bearers do and educating the public about their contributions
  • Demand and markets: The markets that translate society’s appetite for art into financial compensation
  • Material supports: Access to the financial and physical resources that artists and culture bearers need for their work—such as employment, insurance and similar benefits, awards, space, equipment, and materials
  • Networks and community: Connections to other artists and culture bearers in the cultural sector and outward connections to the broader community
  • Information: Data sources for and about artists and culture bearers

Program Principles

Consistent with McKnight’s Strategic Framework, mission, and commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, we anchor our Arts & Culture program in the following principles:

  • Proximity: We know that the people most impacted are best positioned to identify just priorities and solutions for their communities. Artists and culture bearers from specific cultural and geographic communities are best positioned to help imagine the future, tell the stories, and heal the wounds of their communities.
  • Systems Change: We take a systems-change approach that includes both transforming existing systems and creating alternatives when necessary. 
  • Racial & Cultural Equity: We explicitly, though not exclusively, invest in Black, Indigenous, and other people of color artists, culture bearers, and institutions as part of a diverse portfolio that includes white artists and institutions.  
  • Statewide: We engage with partners across Minnesota’s diverse cities and towns. While we cannot fund in every part of the state, we aim to deepen our presence in Greater Minnesota and our commitment to rural artists.   
  • Collaborative & Cross-disciplinary: We recognize the importance of working with other powerful actors throughout the system to grow and catalyze our impact on and support of Minnesota’s artists and culture bearers.
  • Integrated: We seek creative and innovative connections across McKnight functions, including other programs and impact investing, to advance our goals.

Achieving Equitable Outcomes for All

Racial equity creates a Minnesota that is more vital and vibrant in its civic, cultural, and economic opportunities. Minnesota thrives when its artists and culture bearers thrive. We know that all Minnesotans benefit when we pursue and advance racial justice. We intentionally affirm, value, and lead with a racial justice lens. The Foundation is committed to equity and sustainability in everything we do, and we recognize the significance of intersectionality and other bases of inequity—such as income, gender, geography.

How to Apply

Learn more about eligibility requirements, selection criteria, and deadlines on our how to apply page.

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