February 28, 2022

The National Black Arts Festival: Uplifting Emerging Black Artists

Author David Alexander Bullock  

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. This new series, Grants In Action, highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grant recommendations from their donor-advised fund accounts.

Originally a week-long event in 1987 created by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners in Atlanta, the National Black Arts Festival has since grown into a national organization supporting Black artists across the country. While the festival is still—as the organization’s Executive Director Stephanie Owens explains— a celebration of “the beauty of Black art,” it has since shifted its work to produce year-round programming like an arts education program, as well as artistic development opportunities for emerging artists.

“We have deep roots in our community,” says Owens. The vision of the National Black Arts Festival is to create a world where Black voices and artists are celebrated, highlighted and uplifted. With a small, but mighty, team of four full-time employees and four consultants, the organization works hard to carry out that mission.

Throughout the pandemic, we could not have survived without the glimmers of hope provided by the arts.

However, like so many organizations over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the National Black Arts Festival. “We had to pivot like everyone else,” Owens explains, “we took our public programs virtual. For instance, we conducted virtual tours of artist studios and featured online arts installation trainings.”

Owens and the National Black Arts Festival not only survived these difficult times, they thrived and innovated. The organization created their own COVID-19 relief fund. “We used this fund to support artists financially,” Owens says, “but we also helped them bring their projects to life.”

In addition to their COVID-19 relief, one of their signature programs is their artist project fund which gives much-needed financial and community support to young and emerging Black artists. In fact, the wildly popular project has already seen nearly 150 applicants in 2022 alone.

Thanks to efforts like these, particularly when funding equity in the philanthropic sector feels more urgent than ever, organizations like the National Black Arts Festival represent an impactful giving opportunity. As Owens puts it, “Our work is important as ever today.”

While there is still work to be done, Owens says, “We are excited about more equity in the donor gifts and the role that donor-advised funds (DAFs) can play in leveling the funding playing field.”

“People think of the arts as extra, but it is a must,” Owens adds. “The arts document our struggle and our resilience. It gives us an outlet and a voice that is often unheard and silenced. The arts are crucial to our existence. Throughout the pandemic we could not have survived without the glimmers of hope provided by the arts. The arts are a vehicle for change I think there is nothing that arts can’t change and touch.”

David Alexander Bullock is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He has an MA in Philosophy and an MSW from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. He is a storyteller, researcher, and organic intellectual. He recently completed the Oral Histories project celebrating the Centennial Celebration of the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Currently, he is a consultant for the National Philanthropic Trust’s Grant Stories project.

NPT is not affiliated with any of the organizations described herein, and the inclusion of any organization in this material should not be considered an endorsement by NPT of such organization, or its services or products. 

NPT does not provide legal or tax advice. This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be, and shall not be relied upon as, legal or tax advice. The applicability of information contained here may vary depending on individual circumstances.