For many Hartford arts organizations, grants and contributions come with a caveat: the money must be used towards an event or specific program. This fiscal model allows nonprofits to produce topic-based programming and donors to see exactly where their dollars are being used. It does come with a downfall, however: organizations’ fundamental expenses largely go overlooked. This is where the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s Charter Grant program can be vital.
The Charter Grant program provides unrestricted operating support to arts-based organizations in Greater Hartford, which allows the nonprofits to focus on their programming and events without worrying about operating expenses like rent and utilities. According to the directors of these organizations, charter grants are some of the most important donations that they receive. Executive Director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center Rabbi Donna Berman emphasized this. “Our history with the Arts Council goes back over 20 years, and it is one of the only sources for operating money,” she said. “It’s the bloodstream of our organization. We wouldn’t be able to turn our lights on everyday.”
Grants and Communications Manager at Judy Dworin Performance Project, Jennifer Eifrig, agreed. “Unrestricted Charter Grant funding allows a degree of flexibility in choosing ‘challenging’ topics such as immigration and incarceration and exploring their impact through performance and residency programs, knowing that our operational expenses are covered at least in part,” she said.
With the support of the Charter Grant program, both organizations have been able to provide arts programming and events for Greater Hartford residents for decades. The Arts Council has worked with Charter Oak for more than 20 years and with JDPP for 30 years, dating back to its founding.
In recent years, each organization has provided important services and programming to the Greater Hartford community. At Charter Oak, the largest graduating class of Beat of the Street Center for Creative Learning, a school for those experiencing homelessness, received their diplomas this spring. Graduates of the school are eligible for a full scholarship to Goodwin Community College, and all nine members of the graduating class will be attending in the fall. In addition, over 1,000 students are currently enrolled in the Youth Arts Institute, a program that offers visual and performing arts classes to kids for free.
At JDPP, everyone is busy with projects that mark and celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary, including a number of ventures aimed to assist community members who have incarcerated friends and family. One such program was Bridging Boundaries™, a series of in-school programs for children with incarcerated parents that culminated in the spring. In addition, the final touches are being added to a resource guide entitled “Helping Hands” for families with loved ones in prison. The guide includes art offerings as well as other services.
An important goal of each of the two organizations is to emphasize social justice through art, according to the staff members. “We believe that the arts are not a luxury but a human right,” said Dr. Berman. “Our biggest impact is letting people witness and experience the arts.” This mantra is reiterated throughout the organization, and drives their practices. “Even in our performances we never turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay,” she said.
Ms. Eifrig said that JDPP holds similar beliefs as central to the organization. “Quite simply, the arts are what make us human,” she said. “In all their forms – dancing, drawing, painting, making music – the arts are about communicating who we are, what our needs and hopes and fears are, and what we aspire to be. One of [our] goals is to raise visibility for the organization as a model for advocating for social justice through the arts.”
“If we are ever going to come together as one human family…it’s going to be through art.”
Through the Charter Grant program, the organizations are able to invest in the programs that further these goals, and that have proven most impactful to the community.
Charter Oak and JDPP each have exciting programming coming up to celebrate summer and to mark the beginning of the school year, and each is hoping for another landmark year. Most of all, though, they want to ensure that the Greater Hartford community has continued and constant exposure to the arts for years to come. “If we are ever going to come together as one human family,” said Ms. Eifrig, “it’s going to be through art.”