"Cultural equity is critical to the long-term viability of the arts." This statement from Americans for the Arts found a receptive audience when it was issued in 2016. However, as it is in most fields, the road to more equitable practices in the arts isn't always straight or easy. From hiring goals to board structures, from which artists are collected by museums to the actors, dancers or musicians on stage, the mismatch between intention and results can make progress seem slow. That’s why ArtsWave has called upon 49 arts partners to create Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access plans with measurable goals, and why building capacity and increasing resources for arts organizations of color is one of our own priorities.

"Infrastructure is resilience," says Cincinnati Black Theatre Company (CBTC) executive director and president Don Sherman. CBTC, along with other seven other Black-led and Black-centered organizations in the region, was recently awarded an ArtsWave Circle Grant intended to build resiliency through solid infrastructure. The grants are awarded strategically to amplify the voices of institutions with a proven track record of community benefit, making them important for building the sector as a whole. Sherman continues, "CBTC is a catalyst for advancing the spirit of Black Theatre in Cincinnati, and these investments allow us to strengthen the organization for the future."

Another grantee, Learning Through Art, Inc. (LTA), plans to use the investment to expand its free "Books Alive!®" app, a key part of what they offer to local school districts. With more content, LTA can further cement their place as a go-to resource for districts to bring up their reading scores. "75% of 4th graders on reading improvement and monitoring plans were on track after participating in our program, and 85% of caregivers reported feeling empowered to engage children in reading at home. More support means better and broader outcomes for more kids," says the organization's CEO and co-founder, Kathy Wade.

The Circle Grants, with $700,000 in investments over four years, are an important part of ArtsWave's support for BIPOC voices, but they're not the only piece of the puzzle. ArtsWave's Black and Brown Artist Program supports individual artists through yearly exhibitions around the city and Flow, An African American Arts Experience offers performances by local and nationally renowned Black artists, building an adventurous, culturally curious audience in the region.

Taken together, these efforts amplify the voices of proven changemakers. While the road toward undoing structural inequity is long, strong community support provides a path beyond incremental change.

To learn about all eight recipients of ArtsWave's 2023 Circle Grants, visit artswave.org/circle23.