As the holidays approach, we are closing in on the end of a very difficult year. Few Americans have been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic or the emergence of a social justice movement calling for an overdue reckoning with the nation’s troubled racial past. Some too have been hit by devasting wildfires and hurricanes. As 2020 draws to its conclusion, I want to give a brief update on how The Wallace Foundation has responded to these developments and how we intend to face 2021.
The pandemic has had far-reaching, inequitable and sometimes dire effects on many sectors of our society. The areas in which Wallace works—the arts, education leadership, and learning and enrichment—are no exception. We have responded in two ways, with both cash and information.
On the financial side, Wallace has made unrestricted emergency assistance grants totaling $8 million to about 70 of our grantee partners under a special fund our board established last April. While the overall need vastly outstrips our resources, these emergency grants were intended to help our grantees who had the most severe budget shortfalls due to the pandemic. The organizations serve education, the out-of-school time and summer learning fields and the arts. Proportionately larger grants were made to organizations that directly serve children, are led by a person of color and/or work with more than one of our focus areas. In addition, we made a number of targeted grants to organizations that support racial justice and to various disaster relief funds.
As for useful information, Wallace has drawn on its knowledge base and marshalled our communications channels to try to share timely ideas with the fields we serve for how to face the pandemic’s challenges. We’ve offered free webinars on nonprofit financial management in a crisis, and on the federal CARES Act. Our blog has covered these topics and others, such as how principals are managing the switch to online learning and how digital technologies can be used to keep young people engaged in creative pursuits. A series of virtual conversations we’ve organized, Reimagining the Future of the Arts, has brought together thinkers and arts innovators to share insights into how arts organizations might prepare for a post-pandemic world. Finally, we have funded a number of tools that we hope can aid organizations as they weather the storm, including Navigating Uncertain Times, a scenario planning toolkit for arts organizations, and guidance to principals about planning for reopening schools by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Longer term, Wallace remains committed to our approach of developing large-scale, multiyear initiatives that help us make progress on important unanswered questions in the fields we serve. We will continue to aim for dual goals. First, to help our grantees create value for those they serve by supporting and strengthening their work at the local level. Second, to add value by capturing what is learned by our grantees as they innovate, and then sharing these lessons and evidence with practitioners, policymakers and influencers in order to catalyze improvements more broadly.
These are dark times, but the recent news about the effectiveness of vaccines has brought a ray of light to at least one aspect of the darkness. Like everyone, we are hoping that at this time next year we will be able to talk about the pandemic mainly in the past tense, even as we deal with what are likely to be its longer-term effects. We hope that the push to address the systemic oppression of marginalized communities in our nation, however, stays very much at the forefront. As I wrote back in June, we are intensifying our efforts to infuse “diversity, equity, access and inclusion into the work we do internally and externally in the arts, K-12 leadership, summer learning, social and emotional learning, and afterschool.” That applies to both our current efforts and to the design of new initiatives, at least one of which we hope to launch in 2021.
Whatever the new year brings, we remain committed to strengthening the capacity of our grantees to serve their communities while developing credible ideas and information to advance policy and practice nationwide. All in the service of our mission to foster equity and improvements in learning and enrichment for young people, and in the arts for everyone.
I wish you and everyone a happy, peaceful holiday season—and a brighter new year.