Community grant review uplifts artists in RACC decision-making process

Our grantmaking continues to change as we strive to align our values of access and equity in our services and investments. Feedback from an online survey in summer 2020, and a series of focus groups with Black, brown, and Indigenous artists who shared their perspectives and needs with us last fall, fueled the creation of our 2021 Make|Learn|Build grants.

By offering more flexible awards, we are supporting a greater number of artists and arts-based businesses, responding to what we heard the arts community in greater Portland needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Artists, creatives, organizations, and businesses were awarded either $1,500 or $3,000 to make work, gain skills, or build up their art business and creative practice during a time of rapid change and creative innovation.

Filmmaker Melina Kiyomi Coumas photographed with green leaves in the background.

Community reviewer and filmmaker Melina Kiyomi Coumas

We also adapted how the community participated in our decision-making processes. Through our survey and focus groups, we heard that artists and arts administrators wanted to know more about what happens behind the scenes in our grantmaking processes and needed more opportunities to get to know each other and their community. We embraced the call for more transparency and for engaging people more deeply in our processes.

As a pilot program alongside the Make|Learn|Build grants, RACC hired a cohort of contract grant reviewers called community reviewers to read and make recommendations about which grant applications to fund. The opportunity to review grants was shared through our networks with past grant recipients, arts and cultural organizations, organizations that have arts programming, and practicing individual artists. Between March and June 2021, we paid the community reviewers for two rounds of review of Make|Learn|Build grants.

Filmmaker and community reviewer Melina Kiyomi Coumas shared what she felt made some applications stronger than others. “The ones that stood out to me, that got the most positive response, had the most community impact to them. In these times it’s nice to see applicants think about the community – how they can inspire, and make change, and help people out right now.”

All of the community review cohort are practicing artists, with experience managing or designing arts programming or running an arts-based business. We prioritized artists without regular employment, or whose work was disrupted by COVID-19, and who were living in Multnomah, Washington, or Clackamas counties. Additionally, we looked for diversity on our panels, including consideration of artistic genre, age, race, gender, ability, and geography. The contractors read, scored, and discussed the Make|Learn|Build grant applications from artists, arts organizations, and arts-based businesses and recommended a slate of awards to the RACC board and grant program team members.

Bathed in rose-colored light, actor Claire Rigsby tousles her long, dark curly hair.

Community reviewer and actor Claire Rigsby. Photo credit Phil Johnson

Claire Rigsby, an actor who served as one of the 14 community reviewers, described what the experience meant to her. “I have only so many resources to share. To be given the chance to support artists by giving funds felt good. Uplifting artists in a way that I can’t in my day-to-day life.” She added, “this really opened my eyes to what a massive community there is in Portland. To see the larger community gives me hope for Portland generally and in the future of art in Portland.”

See who was awarded the first rounds of Make|Learn|Build grants. Rounds 3 & 4 open Monday, August 9, 2021.

2021 Make Learn Build Community Reviewers

  • Yathzi Turcot Azpeitia
  • Melina Kiyomi Coumas
  • Brendan Deiz
  • Monet Ezra
  • Sarah Farahat
  • Brisa Gonzalez
  • John Akira Harrold
  • Vaughn Kimmons
  • Machado Mijia
  • Kelly Moe
  • Claire Rigsby
  • Devin Tau
  • Erin Yanke
  • Xavier “Decimus” Yarbrough