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Penumbra Theatre, The Ballad of Emmett Till (2014), Photo by Allan Weeks
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McKnight Foundation and Ford Foundation Together Commit At Least $10 Million to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Arts Organizations in Minnesota

“America’s Cultural Treasures” initiative will provide multi-year grants in response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Minneapolis, MN (September 24, 2020)—Today, the McKnight Foundation announced that it is joining the Ford Foundation in an unprecedented $156 million initiative to recognize “America’s Cultural Treasures,” including at least $10 million in new funding, over the next five years, to support Minnesota arts organizations led by and for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

McKnight will identify grant recipients as “America’s Cultural Treasures” to acknowledge and honor the diversity of expression and excellence in Minnesota that historically goes under-recognized and under-resourced. The funding will provide general operating support to enable exemplary regionally significant BIPOC artist groups and cultural organizations to weather the pandemic and emerge stronger at its conclusion. McKnight’s Arts program team hopes this historic investment will catalyze a national conversation and increased giving to BIPOC arts organizations, who are the heartbeat of our region’s cultural sector.

The regional campaign was seeded by an initial $35 million in support from the Ford Foundation. Confirmed regional funding partners include: The Barr Foundation (Massachusetts), Getty Foundation (Los Angeles), Heinz Endowment (Pittsburgh), Houston Endowment (Houston), John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Chicago), Joyce Foundation (Chicago), McKnight Foundation (Minnesota), The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation (Los Angeles), the Terra Foundation for American Art (Chicago), and William Penn Foundation (Philadelphia). Regional funders will announce the scope and requirements for their local grantmaking processes in early 2021, and more cities and regions will be added as more funders join this effort.

“Minnesota is home to incredible arts institutions led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color. These organizations enhance the well-being of our state and serve as vital cultural, social, and economic anchors for our communities.”—DEBBY LANDESMAN, McKNIGHT BOARD CHAIR

For Minnesota’s arts sector, the impact of this initiative will last beyond times of crisis. These investments will support creative and regenerative recovery from Covid-19 for BIPOC arts organizations and artist networks. This effort is a leadership opportunity for Minnesota to continue leaning into our commitment to racial equity while contributing to a national effort that builds on the important work that artists and cultural leaders in our region have sustained for many years.

“As a long time funder in the arts, it is an honor for the McKnight Foundation to serve as the regional lead in Minnesota, working in partnership with the Ford Foundation to multiply the impact of this initiative. Minnesota is home to incredible arts institutions led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color. These organizations enhance the well-being of our state and serve as vital cultural, social, and economic anchors for our communities. This initiative will be an exciting appreciation of their work,” said Debby Landesman, McKnight board chair.

In addition to the regional efforts, the Ford Foundation—with additional support from the Abrams Foundation, Alice L. Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Boston Foundation, and Barbara and Amos Hostetter—committed another $71 million in support to a cohort of 20 national organizations that are significant anchors for cultural diversity. The cohort includes Minnesota’s own Penumbra Theater. A full list can be found here.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said, “These organizations represent the very highest ideals of artistic excellence and are truly America’s cultural treasures. We hope that other arts philanthropists and corporations will join in increasing support to the many cultural organizations that reflect our nation’s rich and diverse history.”



McKnight Foundation: Phoebe Larson,

Ford Foundation:


The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research.


The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Topic: Arts & Culture, Diversity Equity & Inclusion

September 2020