Black Arts MKE Selected for the Black Seed National Strategic Initiative to Support Equity for Black Theater Institutions

Black Arts MKE | February 1, 2021

 Black Arts MKE has been awarded a generous grant from The Black Seed, a national strategic initiative focused on creating impact and “thrivability” for Black theater institutions. Awarding close to 100 one- or two-year grants up to $150,000, this is the first iteration in a long-term strategy for The Black Seed.

“Black Arts MKE has served as Milwaukee’s premiere arts and culture organization dedicated to increasing the availability and quality of African American arts for our community.  As our community addresses the converging pandemics of COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustices, this prestigious award enables us to build upon our multidisciplinary arts platforms to inspire pride, empower, and provide opportunities for local professional and emerging artists of color,“ says Black Arts MKE Board Chair Cory Nettles. “We are proud to partner with The Black Seed to share more of our stories on a national level and put a spotlight on many of our local Black theater organizations including in-residence group Bronzeville Arts EnsembleMPower Theater and Lights! Camera! Soul!

Black Arts MKE will participate in a national Think Tank of up to 50 non-profit Black Theater institutional leaders from across the country in addition to receiving financial support.  The Black Seed will develop a national marketing campaign to tell the story of Black Theater in America. This optimistic enterprise developed by everyday leaders who serve on the front lines of leading Black institutions for Black artists and Black communities is impact oriented.


“Artists are both at the forefront of change and critical to the preservation of culture.  Often their work involves envisioning new ways of being in the world. Black Arts MKE works with over 100 performing artists each year and like many other black-led arts organizations across the country, we’re critically underfunded,” says Executive Director Barbara Wanzo. “The Black Seed national initiative will play a significant role in giving Black Arts MKE the financial sustainability and national recognition to support our vision to be a catalyst for advancing racial equity and inclusion in Milwaukee.”

According to The Black Seed research, Black Theater institutions shape our national narrative and public discourse. Yet, inequities persist. Of the $4 billion in philanthropic support from foundations to arts organizations, 58% of that goes to the largest 2% of organizations; all white-led. The other 98% of organizations split the last 42% and arts organizations serving communities of color shared only 4% of that pie. The median budget size of the 20 largest arts organization of color surveyed by the DeVos Institute is 90% smaller than their mainstream counterparts, and more than half of these organizations were operating in 2013 with budget deficits. Black theater is at a critical moment. Over 600 Black theater institutions existed from 1961-1982. Many are described as having a “meteoric existence” with few surviving a decade and even fewer celebrating 15-year anniversaries. Until The Black Seed, there has been no national, coordinated response to support Black theater institutions whose stories are so vital to a complete American narrative.

About Black Arts MKE 

Black Arts MKE’s mission is to increase the availability and quality of African American arts and culture.  Each year, we collaborate with over 100 local artists and arts organizations to bring to our community renowned and original performance arts works by African American authors, playwrights, poets, musicians, and composers.  Our arts education and community outreach programs serve over 15,000 at-risk youth and their families including our new Youth Performing Arts Summer Camp.  Black Arts MKE’s annual signature performance – Black Nativity by Langston Hughes is a holiday musical favorite featuring an all-black, all local cast.  Black Arts MKE is a recipient of NEA Challenge America and The Black Seed national awards. We are a proud Member Group of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) and Resident Group at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. Black Arts MKE is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation.

About The Black Seed  

The Black Seed is a first-ever national strategic plan to create impact and thrivability for Black theater institutions, unprecedentedly led by a Black-led theater institution in collaboration with other Black leadership for communities of Black artists and Black audiences. Black theater institutions have been and will continue to be the guardians of the true American story, beginning with those institutions from the 60s and 70s and continuing to this era of racial injustice and unprecedented awareness.  The Black Seed will be a force for systemic change in the arts and culture world: a 21st century ecosystem for institutional thrivability, collectively tackling racial injustices and inequalities, and creating profound, world-class relevant art and replicable institutional and national partnership models.  Launched in October 2020, The Black Seed is helmed by the Billie Holiday Theater in collaboration with the CRAFT Institute, Plowshares Theatre Company and WACO Theater Center.  The Black Seed Fund has been made possible by a philanthropic cohort, with a lead gift of $5 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, and the New York Community Trust. The Black Seed’s three-year initiative has a fundraising goal of $10 million, comprised of private and public funders, as well as individual donors.