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August 21, 2020 | General, Race and Equity,

The Myth Around Philanthropy in Communities of Color

Earlier this week, The Chronicle of Philanthropy—a DC based magazine covering the nonprofit world of benefaction—published an extensive interview with ArtsEmerson Executive Director David C. Howse and Shannon Worthington, our Senior Development Officer. This candid, bold conversation speaks to why ArtsEmerson paused fundraising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, how uncomfortable conversations make organizations stronger, and the myth of philanthropy in communities of color.

David C. Howse and Shanning Worthington
“ArtsEmerson executive director David Howse and senior development officer Shannon Worthington have had some difficult conversations.”

On creating the Gaining Ground Fund: “I got pushback from a lot of the traditional donors, from institutional donors. With the Gaining Ground Fund, I was very clear that I wanted it to be seeded by Black dollars. And a lot of folks were saying that that money doesn’t exist. Black people don’t give to theater. They certainly don’t give that way in Boston. It won’t be sustainable. You won’t be able to grow it. It’s illegal. All kinds of pushback.” – David Howse

Shannon Worthington on first encountering that pushback: “One of the answers I remember getting was ‘That’s just the way Boston is.’ And that answer was not acceptable to me.”

The Paramount Marquee with bright lights that has the names "George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery" listed prominently and Black Lives Matters protesters marching in the street.

On his reaction to the murder of George Floyd: “It was a very emotional time for the country and certainly emotional for me as a Black man in trying to lead an organization…There was a lot of energy and effort towards this act of releasing or absolving. For me, the act of giving money at this moment felt too easy.” – David Howse

On working through discomfort to break down barriers: “In past jobs, if things were brought up that felt uncomfortable, they were quickly dismissed. If you really, truly want change to happen, you can’t just keep doing the same thing…I appreciate the fact that — even though it’s really difficult sometimes— David welcomes friction. I think that’s how we learned how to work together better. Even if we don’t agree with each other, we get to a place of understanding and find a way to make a plan and move forward alongside each other.” – Shannon Worthington

On trusting your colleagues: “Knowing that Shannon has my back and her knowing that I have her back allows us to navigate even the murkiest of waters when it comes to fundraising and strategies and organizational development and infrastructure. Knowing that I can trust someone allows me to open up and share vulnerabilities, allows me to push and give constructive feedback for her development.” – David Howse

Read the full interview at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Further reading:

Organizations Have Stated Their Commitments. Now What? – David Howse

Don’t Take Our Word For It – David Dower

How You Can Help:
A contribution today will help support our online programming and sustain us for the future when we can commune in our theatres once again. 

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