Since programming began in 2015, we at MMI have listened to, learned from, and grown with the community we serve—both through our direct programming in and out of schools, and as an intermediary funder committed to supporting and strengthening Memphis’ Black arts ecosystem.
MMI’s Grantmaking and Capacity Building program invests in local arts and music nonprofit organizations through project, program, and operational grant funding, technical assistance, and leadership training. Our grantee partners do incredible work, and we aim to provide effective and responsive capacity building support—to enhance their ability to implement high-quality arts programs so that Memphis’ young people always have access to the arts.
As we’ve honed our grantmaking practices, we have identified areas in our own work that require deeper internal investment and capacity building. We are, first, adding internal capacity by expanding an existing role and adding a new position in our Grantmaking and Capacity Building program. We are committing to expanding our advocacy and coalition-building work. And we are continuing to invest in our community—specifically, through some exciting new “Big Bet” initiatives supporting Black and brown nonprofit leaders.
At the start of 2022, Dr. Rychetta Watkins, formerly the Director of Grantmaking and Capacity Building at MMI, moved into a new role as the Director of Grantmaking and Partnerships. In her new role, Watkins is focused on building strong partnerships in our community—not only with our grantee partners, but with the larger Black arts ecosystem and across other sectors (education, social services, and others) that are interested in making Memphis better for young people. As an organization, MMI is placing a renewed and explicit focus on advocacy work to effect real and meaningful change for Black and brown Memphians. The arts are a portal to that work, but, as Watkins says, “none of our work happens in a vacuum.”
“In some ways, there's a limit on the work we’re able to do in schools, the work that we're doing with young people through MMI Works, and the support that we're providing for partners, due to the policy, institutional, and political environments in which we work,” Watkins says. “We knew that if we really wanted to have the systems level impact that we envision, we’d need a more comprehensive, proactive partnership strategy.”
That means showing up, being in the meetings at the county and city level where policy is being decided, and working to position MMI as the nexus for a network of changemakers. Watkins says that in her new role, she hopes to build a coalition of effective collaborators, to create healthier relationships between arts organizations and local government, and to facilitate more access for smaller and community-based arts organizations. “We are stronger and better when we are working together toward shared goals,” she says. “Educating ourselves about what's going on in the city, the county, the state gives us a better understanding of the environment we're working in.”
As our grantmaking programs have expanded, so has the need for more hands-on engagement with grantee and partner organizations. In March, MMI welcomed Brianna Harrington as the new INE Program Manager. Harrington brings to MMI a wealth of knowledge and experience from her background in education-focused nonprofits and human resources, along with a strong passion for music and the arts.
“As a transplant to Memphis, (I am a native of Little Rock, Arkansas) the arts and culture of this city captivated me from the first day I arrived,” she says. “It is now my pleasure to focus my work and skillset in partnership with the talents and passion of [our partner] organizations.”
All of these investments are key pieces of MMI’s larger strategy to bring about major, systems-level impact in the arts nonprofit sector. On March 22, we launched Call & Response: The Sound of Black Arts Revolution. The campaign is just that—a call to funders in the creative youth development nonprofit space to do better by the Black and brown leaders who give so much of themselves to their communities and the young people they serve. This initiative includes three core areas of focus through which we are seeding power and institution building, creative liberation, and organizing and mobilizing through advocacy. Through our Black Pay Matters effort, we are investing more than $400,000 to pay 13 Black and brown youth arts leaders a salary equal to the median Memphis metro area income. With Black Legacy Matters, we are making large investments in capital campaigns and infrastructure building for Black- and brown-led arts organizations. And because Black Rest Matters, we are organizing a retreat for leaders to heal from the trauma of a funding system that doesn’t always recognize or value their contributions.
“Everything that we're doing now to elevate the voices and experiences of our partners with the Call & Response campaign is based on what we have learned from our partners over the last seven years,” says Watkins. “As we build out our own capacity with these new roles, we’re better able to serve as a megaphone for their work, our work, and the story of our partnership.”
Visit the Community Youth Music Programs page to learn more about our partner organizations.