Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Arts & Culture Initiative

In December 2021, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced a gift to support arts and culture in the eight counties of Western New York, plus Monroe County, in recognition of the key role arts and culture organizations play in a thriving economy. Part of that announcement includes $500,000 in annual funding to be awarded primarily to support small to mid-sized arts and cultural 501(c)(3) organizations in the nine counties. The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo is managing and operating the endowment and grants program.

Since the inception of the Arts & Culture Initiative, the Community Foundation has prioritized community feedback in the creation of this annual funding opportunity. The 2022 and 2023 grant processes provided General Operating funding with 2023 highlighting the importance of community-led and community-centered arts organizations.

The result of this work are two funding opportunities for 2024:

  1. Combined Capacity-Building and General Operating Funds for organizations with at least one full-time (or one FTE) staff member to help organizations build the solid foundation necessary to pursue an ambitious mission and vision;
  2. General Operating Micro Grants for organizations with less than one full-time staff member to execute immediate programming.

It is highly recommended that potential applicants for the Capacity-Building and General Operating opportunity participate in one training session prior to completing the grant application. Applicants will have the opportunity to learn more about capacity-building and ask specific questions of the Arts & Culture Initiative Advisory Committee. Please refer to the Grant Training Sessions tab below for training dates, times, and locations.

The Arts & Culture Initiative commits to responding to the evolving needs of the arts sector; therefore, we are not currently in the position to anticipate what this application will look like beyond 2025. We will continue to hone the focus of this grant opportunity based on data, learnings, and community feedback.

For Monroe County arts organizations: To simplify the process and communication, the Rochester Area Community Foundation will distribute funding for Monroe County. Our expectation, where possible, is the funding will continue to align with the parameters set by the fund annually.

How to Apply

2024 Arts and Culture Initiative Advisory Committee

This Advisory Committee comprises the following individuals who intentionally represent a range of lived and professional experiences throughout Western New York:

  • Naila Ansari – Assistant Professor in Theater and Africana Studies, SUNY Buffalo State; Dance Director, Ujima Company; Interfaith America fellow for the Black Interfaith Project
  • Linda Franke – Executive Director, Shake on the Lake; former Grants and Educational Outreach Coordinator, Arts Council for Wyoming County
  • Noah Goodling – Project Director, The Capacity Lab; former Executive Director, Fenton Historical Society
  • Yuki Numata Resnick – Director of Arts and Culture, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo; Co-founder and former Executive Director, Buffalo String Works
  • Lynette Printup – Executive Director, Bundled Arrows

Learnings - And How We're Responding

The Advisory Committee members synthesized data from the two previous grant years and drew heavily on their own experiences working in grassroots arts nonprofits organizations and as reviewers for grant processes beyond the Community Foundation. The Committee also considered learnings from 70 grant feedback calls in response to the 2023 application process, conducted by the Director of Arts and Culture. Finally, the Committee thought carefully about the similar and distinct needs across the nine WNY counties which include urban and rural communities. The results of this work are detailed below.

Learning: Organizations dedicate time and emotional energy to complete grant applications. We received 191 General Operating applications in 2023 and awarded 39 grants. In other words, 80 percent of submitted applications were not funded.

  • Our Response: In order to demonstrate respect for the many resources that organizations dedicate towards grant applications, it became immediately clear that we need to refocus the Arts & Culture Initiative grant opportunity. Examples of this refocusing include: adjusting the eligibility guidelines to serve organizations with budgets of $500,000 or less, taking organizational staff infrastructure into account, and crafting more specific grant opportunities. While we still do not anticipate funding all proposals, we continue to commit to being available to discuss declination reasons with all applicants.

Learning: For some organizations, a grant of $2,500 is impactful and can ensure the organization can continue to deliver crucial programming to the community. At times, a larger grant can demand administration that is beyond the organization’s capacity.

  • Our Response: We are offering a Micro Grant opportunity where organizations with less than one full-time staff member (or FTE) can apply for up to $2,500. We plan to shorten the decision time frame so that organizations can make plans sooner.

Learning: 62 percent of the organizations who were denied last year had budgets of less than $500,000. This data showed that smaller organizations were less likely to be awarded a grant, therefore, the Arts & Culture Initiative was unintentionally contributing to a widening gap between small and midsize organizations.

  • Our Response: We amended the eligibility requirements to lower the budget maximum to $500,000 to provide a more equitable, yet still competitive, grant opportunity. The grant processes also consider the capacity of an organization to access diverse revenue streams by including staffing requirements

Learning: Unrestricted, general operating dollars are less common in in our region. These dollars afford an organization needed flexibility to “keep the lights on.”

  • Our Response: To continue recognizing the importance of general operating dollars the Micro Grant opportunity is 100 percent general operating funding and the Capacity Building + General Operating opportunity preserves unrestricted funds as part of the award.

Learning: The arts funding landscape in Western New York is changing. There are fewer capacity-building grant opportunities available to arts orgs which means that orgs have less opportunity to truly develop sustainability.

  • Our Response: We have created a dedicated Capacity Building + General Operating grant opportunity to address this gap in Western New York’s funding landscape. We also hope that this opportunity may provide an opportunity to identify consultants who are committed to strengthening grassroots, arts organizations.

Learning: The arts community is weathering significant changes including changes in arts funding and changes in the way audiences consume the arts. We are also faced with a consistent under-prioritization of the arts. These factors combined require arts organizations to re-articulate what they do, who they serve, and, most importantly, why are they so needed in the community.

  • Our Response: The Capacity Building + General Operating opportunity provides a dedicated fund for organizations to engage in this internal reflection and to re-develop their messaging, if needed.

Learning: Equitable collaboration takes tremendous energy, vision, and organizational capacity. For the collaborative grant opportunity offered by the Arts and Culture Initiative in 2022 and 2023, we received seven applications in 2022 and six applications in 2023. From this data, we inferred that collaboration is currently more of a wish list item for most organizations and there are more pressing priorities that need to be addressed.

  • Our Response: We will pause the dedicated Collaborative grant opportunity and instead, encourage collaboration through cohort-based learning opportunities for grant recipients.

Grant Opportunity

  1. Combined Capacity-Building and General Operating Funds for organizations with at least one full-time (or one FTE) staff member to help organizations build the solid foundation necessary to pursue an ambitious mission and vision;
  2. General Operating Micro Grants for organizations with less than one full-time staff member to execute immediate programming.

It is highly recommended that potential applicants for the Capacity-Building and General Operating opportunity participate in one training session prior to completing the grant application. Applicants will have the opportunity to learn more about capacity-building and ask specific questions of the Arts & Culture Initiative Advisory Committee. Please refer to the Grant Training Sessions tab below for training dates, times, and locations.

To better understand the differences between these two grant opportunities, please review the comparison chart here.

Eligibility

  • Small to mid-sized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that have arts and culture as core to their mission.Exceptions may be made for the core mission in rural communities with limited independent arts and cultural organizations. Exceptions must be granted by the Community Foundation in writing. Please write to Yuki Numata Resnick, Director of Arts and Culture, at yukinr@cfgb.org to explain the unique circumstances in your rural community by August 26.
  • Applicant organizations must be physically located in and/or operate in one or more of nine counties – Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming.
  • Applicant organizations must have had an operating budget of no more than $500,000 in their most recently completed fiscal year. NOTE: We look at the operating expenses when determining the operating budget size of an organization.
  • While organizations undergoing significant capital projects resulting in significantly reduced programming are eligible to apply, organizations with fully active programming will be prioritized.
  • The 13 organizations named by Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation receiving direct, yearly funding are not eligible.
  • Fiscal sponsorships are acceptable; the fiscal sponsor does not need to meet above criteria but the applicant organization does.

How to Apply

For arts organizations based in the eight counties (excludes Monroe County):

Applications are submitted electronically through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo’s grant portal. No paper, emailed or PDF applications are accepted.

For Monroe County arts organizations:

Applications are submitted electronically through the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s grant portal. No paper, emailed or PDF applications are accepted.

May 8 Info Session

Timeline

  • Portal opens August 1, 2024
  • Portal closes September 16, 2024 at 4 p.m. No exceptions.
  • Micro Grant Funding announcement November 2024. Exact date TBD.
  • Capacity-Building + General Operating Funding announcement December 2024. Exact date TBD.

Detailed Guidelines and Evaluation

Click here for general guidelines.

Click here for more about capacity-building.

PDF versions of the application and evaluation rubric will be linked here by June 17.

Applications will be reviewed by experienced external evaluators who are artists, arts practitioners and arts administrators representing all nine Western NY counties. Each county will be awarded a minimum of two Capacity-Building + General Operating grants and two Micro Grants, assuming eligible applications have been received in each county.

Contact

Organizations with questions are encouraged to attend one of the grant training sessions.

For arts organizations based in the eight counties (excludes Monroe County):

Please direct all questions to Yuki Numata Resnick, Director of Arts and Culture, at yukir@cfgb.org.

For Monroe County arts organizations:

For general questions about the Arts & Culture Initiative, please reach out to Yuki Numata Resnick, Director of Arts and Culture, at yukir@cfgb.org.

For specific inquiries about the application and application logistics, please reach out to Annette Jiménez Gleason at ajimenezgleason@racf.org.

Grant Training Sessions

Please respond here if you plan to join a Grant Training session. It is highly recommended that Capacity-Building + General Operating applicants attend a session prior to submitting an application.

For Micro Grant applicants:

  • Monday, June 17

4:00 p.m. –  5:00 p.m.

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83350841299?pwd=MENYL2MzNlNuTUpvQ1JJZlhUSDhNdz09&from=addon

Meeting ID: 833 5084 1299
Passcode: 446944

For Capacity Building + General Operating applicants:

  • Thursday, July 11

10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Erie County, exact location TBD

  • Friday, July 12

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Chautauqua County, exact location TBD

  • Friday, July 12

2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Cattaraugus/Wyoming County, exact location TBD

  • Tuesday, July 16

12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82980160532?pwd=bi9KTlROK3l1c2MvaTI5Q29GQjJCUT09&from=addon
Meeting ID: 829 8016 0532
Passcode: 124985

Frequently Asked Questions

Please click here to view answers to frequently asked questions.