Found it! is an occasional blog series by ArtsPond Founder, Jessa Agilo. In this article, Jessa shares perspectives on writing a new core funding proposal for ArtsPond.
The past few weeks, our team has been hard at work rallying up some heartfelt words for a new core funding proposal due later this month. Intake streams for new organisations to apply for annual or multi-year funding support only tend to open up every three years or so. Our first attempt (in 2018) was unsuccessful. We have come a long way since then and have felt eager to try a second time now that core funding envelopes are beginning to open once again.
Much of the “about us”-style language we share on this website is several years old and fails to express what we have become. We have long accepted that we need to do a better job at this, using more accessible and plain language to get at the essentials of who we are and who we are accountable to. When done well, finding the words to express our hidden truths is like floating down a cool, refreshing stream with a warm summer’s breeze on the skin. And yet, it always seems to be two steps forward, one step back as some words continue to resonate while over time others lose their potency.
Below are a few excerpts from our latest core funding proposal. We hope you will agree that this language is more relatable than what we have written in the past. Does it help you understand us better? We would love to hear your thoughts at email@example.com. Thanks to the support of our community advisors who helped push it all across the finish line with more human language.
Mandate and vision
What are your organization’s mandate and vision, and how do you make sure they stay relevant?
ArtsPond/Étang d’Arts is a caregiver and changemaker of a different sort.
Our mandate is to nurture healthy ecosystems of care that bolster multidimensional remedies to complex realities of systemic precarity faced by so many equity-seeking groups in the artistic, creative, and cultural industries across Ontario and Canada-wide.
We do so by fostering cooperative actions fusing the wisdom of social innovation and community-engaged arts, including:
- Via CO-CREATION LABS and other participatory KNOWLEDGE BUILDING activities, we help ready the next generation to lead positive social change in diverse communities
- Via ECOSYSTEM BUILDING, we incubate cooperative and mutual aid networks devoted to strengthening inclusion, diversity, access, equity, and belonging in real and virtual spaces
- Via PLATFORM BUILDING, we seek to develop innovative and accessible business models, tools, and technologies that are created with, by, and for equity-seeking groups, including Indigenous, racialized, rural-remote, disabled, youth, and more.
Traditionally, precarity has been thought of primarily as an economic issue. We walk less travelled paths. We seek to tackle many other contributing factors to precarity through an intersectional approach in diverse communities, including social, spatial, economic, ecological, digital, and accessibility justice.
Concretely, this has led us to incubate collaborative solutions to such complex issues as gentrification and the financialisation of real estate, gaps in digital literacy and the inaccessibility of digital infrastructure, exploitation of labour in the gig economy, lack of critical access for people with disabilities, lack of respect for traditional Indigenous knowledge, pandemic recovery, pledges to advance United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and more.
Collectively, our vision is to embody a world where impacted arts/culture workers from the margins are empowered as “positive deviants” that both challenge and bind our communities together. We remain relevant and adaptable to a rapidly changing world by cultivating a large and diverse team aligned with Laloux’s “Teal” organisational culture (evolutionary purpose, self-management, wholeness, and organisations/initiatives as living systems), plus our own commitments to interdimensionality and more.
How does your organization support equity-seeking groups?
We are committed to advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, access, belonging with, by, and for equity-seeking creators, curators, educators, managers, and producers from across Canada.
These include (alphabetically): 2SLGBTQIA+, Disability (D/deaf, blind, neurodiverse, and other disabled), Elders/Seniors, Francophones, Immigrants/New Canadians, Indigenous, Low Income, Outside the Core (suburban, rural, remote), Racialized (Black, Brown, and other people of colour), Women, and Youth/New Generation.
At all times, impacted people from the margins are placed at the center of our work to keep us accountable to collectively-sourced visions of a thriving future. We foster trust, safety, and respect through caring approaches to participatory co-creation drawn from community-engaged arts, human-centered design, collective impact, appreciative inquiry, open spaces, and ethical design research (or the interdependent roles of equitable knowledge seeking and knowledge stewardship as we prefer to refer to it).
Among others, we are dedicated to critical access for people with disabilities, living wages for low-income gig economy arts workers, and respectful empowerment of non-Western and Indigenous traditions inspired by Mi’kmaw Elder Marshall’s offerings of “Etuaptmumk” (Two-Eyed Seeing).
We support official language minority communities by providing translations of our resources in both official languages. We provide ASL and captioning at public events and are introducing summaries of our upcoming reports in selected Indigenous languages. We lift up the well-being of these groups by providing living wages for all starting at $25/hour minimum. Currently, 97% of our staff are from one or more of these priority groups.
ArtsPond was founded in 2014 and incorporated federally in 2016.
In 2017, we were the first to ask, “What is a DASO (digital arts services organization)?” at the inaugural Digital Arts Services Symposium in Ottawa and Toronto (supported by OAC). We have since launched five landmark digital transformation projects valued at more than $1.65M, including Digital Arts Services Symposium 2019, Hatch Open and Artse United (Phase 1, 2019-2022), DigitalASO (Phase 2, 2020-2022), Access Art (Phase 1, 2021-2022), Together There (Phase 1, 2021-2023).
In 2018, we were the first to launch a collective impact effort on gentrification and spatial precarity in the arts. Supported by dozens of community groups in Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, Groundstory (Phase 1, 2018-2020) was the first arts initiative in Ontario to be funded by Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Collective Impact Fund. We have since published a youth-led knowledge resource (What Space, 2020) and begun a feasibility study for a cultural land trust (Groundtrust, 2022-2023).
In 2020, we were the first to launch national, community-engaged responses to the pandemic with COVID19 Response (national task force) and I Lost My Gig Canada (national mutual aid network and survey). Supported by dozens of local/national arts services, I Lost My Gig Canada provided early evidence and brought national media attention to the impacts of the pandemic on gig workers in the arts across Canada. With nearly 8,000 active members (including 48% from 40+ Ontario cities), I Lost My Gig Canada remains a vital resource for community support and advocacy to this day.
Describe the work that you do, the context you operate in, and the communities you serve.
ArtsPond is a one of the only NASOs (National Arts Service Organization) devoted to all arts and culture disciplines. We also do not relate to “support” or “service” as adequate descriptors for what we do. Their accountabilities don’t feel quite weighty enough. The symbiotic duo of “caregiver” and “changemaker” feels closer.
Our work can be best described as nurturing cooperative ecosystems, knowledge, and platforms of care that advance positive solutions to precarity with, by, and for equity-seeking groups in arts and culture.
Being a leader of systems change is time-consuming, deeply human, utterly life-altering work. It necessitates long-term investments (often 10-15+ years minimum) versus more traditional programmatic strategies (commonly 1-5 years). There isn’t a recipe. It requires complex conversations outside the comfort zones of many communities. It depends on cross-sectoral collaborations that bypass traditional silos. It necessitates placing impacted people at the center and being accountable to shared visions of what a thriving future looks like. It demands new types of commitments and openness to alternative business models to sustain equal opportunities effectively. The common currency is sweat equity (in-kind), not earned revenues.
In our first decade, we have served low income, Indigenous, racialized, outside the core, disability artists, curators, educators, managers, producers, entrepreneurs from gig economy/small- to mid-sized enterprises. We have embraced all disciplines in artistic, creative, cultural industries. We have operated critically in both real and virtual spaces nation-wide. For our second decade, we intend to foster alternative models to help empower life at the margins in real, virtual, and natural spaces.
Governance and organizational structure
Tell us how the experience and expertise of your artistic and/or administrative leader(s) are helping to guide your organization.
Our principal leader is Founder, President + CEO, Jessa Agilo. Jessa has guided our strategic, creative, and administrative evolution since 2014. She is proudly queer, transgender, neurodivergent and immunocompromised. She is a white settler devoted to advancing justice with, by, and for equity-seeking groups of all kinds.
Over her 33-year career, Jessa has been a community-engaged and integrated arts creator, producer, educator, knowledge seeker, ecosystems engineer, and serial social entrepreneur whose own story of survival has led her to a life committed to empowering creative communities at the margins.
Jessa’s contributions to the ecology have been recognized with Humberto Santos Award in Business and Administration (2006), Toronto Arts Council Leaders Lab (2019), and Wolf Willow’s Positive Deviants (2021-22). She has been featured in media stories on economic justice in the gig economy and digital justice in the cultural industries including Canadian Press, CBC, CityTV, Globe&Mail, Toronto Star, and Culture24 (UK).
ArtsPond’s exponential growth would not have been possible without Jessa’s singular drive, creativity, and care. At 52 years of age, we are actively preparing for Jessa’s succession by mentoring youth team members and the wider community on topics related to social innovation and community-engaged arts (such as, aHa!). We are also priming governance structures that can weather the passage of time. For example, our talented and diverse staff and advisory have fostered a strong dedication to cooperative ecosystem-building guided by six governing principles:
- Self management (operating on a large scale with a system based on peer relationships, without hierarchy or consensus)
- Wholeness (nurturing teams to reclaim and bring their whole selves to work, including emotional, intuitive, and spiritual parts)
- Evolutionary purpose (team members and the community collectively determine what purpose the organisation wants to serve)
- Organisations and initiatives as living organisms (like nature, change is welcome from every direction without need to “give orders or pull the levers” – Laloux)
- Interdimensionality (working with cross-cultural and cross-functional teams that bypass traditional silos inside and outside the arts to achieve community goals)
- And more.
We promote safe working conditions including equal protections for staff, contractors, board members, volunteers, participants, and the public regardless of gender, sexuality, age, income, creed, religion, (dis)ability, location, access to resources, and many other factors.
We share and hold ourselves accountable to our commitments through living documents that outline our policies for the prevention or response to unpreventable occasions of social, economic, political, cultural, physical, emotional injustice, inequality, unfair treatment, abuse, and other harms. We also work closely with partners and participants to customize these policies into community agreements that are unique to every project. These policies and agreements are reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
As a digital first (not a digital only) organisation, we believe we have a responsibility to cultivate caring connections that enable trust to form naturally in the human time that is necessary regardless of space (real or virtual) and without the influence of external forces.
At our core, we are accountable to the identities, stories, and wisdom of equity-seeking communities as they seek to self-define what words like access, care, diversity, equity, inclusion, respect, support, and trust actually look like to them. Through such national initiatives as Together There and DigitalASO, we continuously invite impacted communities to share their perspectives through open and paid forums, roundtables, focus groups, symposiums, residencies, and more. This is time-consuming but important work for a white-founded organisation that is strongly committed to care with, by, and for equity-seeking groups of all kinds.
Compared to 30 NASOs registered at Charities Directorate, we are currently the ninth largest NASO by total revenues. On average, the top ten were founded 16 years before us and, unlike us, most have had access to core funding long-term.
We have exceptional financial acumen. We have simultaneously produced multiple large, complex, national, multi-year initiatives without ever reporting a deficit. We anticipate balanced budgets in the current and request year. We have grown an accumulated surplus at 0.9% of revenues as a stopgap against unexpected shortfalls.
Our readiness to lead positive systemic change on a national stage has been recognized by Canada Council’s Digital Strategy Fund. We top the list with the most funding granted to a single recipient Canada-wide (receiving 4% of all funding nationally, 9% of all funding in Ontario, 15% of all funding in Toronto, and 17% of all funding to multi-arts initiatives Canada-wide).