Maryland State Arts Council Adopts New Funding Formula for Grants for Organizations Program

BALTIMORE, MD (September 21, 2021) - The Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC), an agency of the Maryland Department of Commerce, has voted to adopt a new funding formula for its largest program, Grants for Organizations (GFO), in an effort to more equitably distribute state appropriated funds to arts organizations across the state. The change will be implemented over a five-year phase-in period beginning in FY2024 and puts MSAC at the forefront of a national trend of state arts agencies adopting policies that promote more equitable distribution of grant funds. 

“The process conducted by MSAC staff was thorough and thoughtful,” said Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz. “I want to thank the constituents who reviewed the funding formula changes for considering the impact on Maryland’s arts sector from many viewpoints and recommending solutions that will lead MSAC to a more equitable distribution of state funds over time.” 

MSAC’s current funding formula bases a maximum grant amount as a percentage of an organization’s allowable income, regardless of other resources available to an individual organization. The new formula groups organizations into five budget tiers, providing a larger percentage of allowable expenses as a maximum grant award to smaller budget organizations, and a smaller percentage to larger organizations that have greater access and connections to non-governmental funding sources, professional fundraising staff, and other resources. 

The change adopted by the Council and approved by Secretary Schulz follows extensive research by MSAC staff of best practices for equitable arts funding for nonprofits, including consultation with agencies operating with effective models. MSAC also conducted a four-month effort to solicit public input about the changes, including a series of five listening sessions that gathered feedback from the Maryland arts sector. 

Following these sessions, MSAC held a public application process for “editors” who MSAC convened in early summer 2021 to make recommendations to the Council based on review of research and data that MSAC staff had collected. The group included representatives from Maryland arts organizations of various budget levels, and the group met with Dr. Brea Heidelberg, an arts equity consultant prior to their discussion of recommendations.

In FY22, MSAC’s GFO program will distribute $16 million in general operating funds to 260 organizations in the state. The funding helps to support arts organizations’ operations, instead of specific programs or projects. General operating support is funding that is hard to obtain, especially for small and mid-sized arts organizations whose access to large individual donors and ability to retain fundraising staff is often limited. 

Using the current model, in FY22 ten organizations with the largest budgets are receiving 46% of GFO funding, almost $7.4 million, while the remaining 250 organizations are sharing 54% or $8.6 million. Under the new model, MSAC projects that the 250 organizations would receive 73% of funding, giving small and mid-sized organizations more resources to support increased programming, operations, and fundraising. 

“Supporting small and mid-sized organizations at a larger percentage of their operating budgets will open space for community voices to be uplifted in a new way,” said Jaqueline Copeland, MSAC Chair.  “This group of organizations includes those that are led by and are serving historically underserved and marginalized communities. This change will have an enormous impact on how they are able to serve the people of Maryland.” 

Many state arts agencies across the nation - including the neighboring Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the District of Columbia’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities - have initiated changes to their general operating support programs to help funding reach smaller organizations and underserved communities. MSAC joins this trend, delivering on its vision of ensuring that every person in Maryland has access to the transformative power of the arts. 

Pam Breaux, president and CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, notes that funding equity is a priority for state arts agencies. "Because of our public service missions, state arts agencies bear a special responsibility to ensure that all communities can access the economic, civic and educational benefits of the arts," she said. "By dismantling barriers to funding, MSAC and other state arts agencies are making steady progress toward a future in which the arts help every community in America to thrive."