Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month with Ravon Ruffin!

Ravon Ruffin is the Co-Founder and Community Manager of Brown Art Ink, a nomadic community incubator that supports the arts ecosystem for artists, cultural practitioners, and communities of color.  As Community Manager, Ravon leads BAI's efforts in creating deep relationships with artists and local communities locally (before the COVID-19 pandemic) and online.

NICOLE: What does the word 'philanthropy' mean to you?

RAVON: Philanthropy is an investment in the futures of Black communities, which in turn ensures futures for us all. Philanthropy is a tool to empower communities to sustain themselves and promote the value therein.

Philanthropy is an investment in the futures of Black communities, which in turn ensures futures for us all.

NICOLE: What inspired you to create Brown Art Ink?

RAVON: Myself and my co-founder, Amanda Figueroa, recognized our efforts to support emerging and early career artists of color and art workers, especially women, was filling a void. We began collaborating on a blog, that years later became Brown Art Ink, an incubator to activate those artists and art workers through community conversations, panel discussions, and public programs. We saw an opportunity to give space for artists and cultural producers in relation to communities and in turn put communities in relation to their work.

NICOLE: What have been some of the most memorable/rewarding moments of working at BAI? Are there any stories or instances where you felt like "This is it, this is why I’m doing this, this is why I created this?"

RAVON: Yeah, the opportunity to literally hold space for women artists and cultural producers of color has been the most rewarding part of this work. When we launched in 2018, we hosted a community program with a panel of Black and brown women in librarianship—and holding space for them in all the various forms that work looks like was so exciting. They ranged from trained librarian to urban planner, and to put them in conversation with one another, in ways they had not imagined, and to then remove the barriers of entry for the public to take part in that dialogue, was a major “Ah-ha” moment for me.

NICOLE: What do you want potential donors to know about the work BAI is doing? What do you think is the most important thing that would you hope these potential donors would know about donating to Black-led and founded organizations?

RAVON: Brown Art Ink exists to identify and fill the gaps of professional development and preservation for artists and cultural workers of color. We are committed to our work as an “incubator,” as opposed to another type of entity, to emphasize our efforts to create investment in the arts at the local level to support artists, communities, and local economies against displacement and exploitation.

NICOLE: In the most recent report released by the Ms. Foundation, they found that the total philanthropic giving to women and girls of color is just 0.5% of the total $66.9 billion given by foundations. How does this statistic match your experience and did you know about this disparity when you started your BAI?

RAVON: Sadly, I am not surprised by this statistic. We launch a campaign for Women’s History Month in 2019, to spotlight the disparities in the art world for women, and women of color, in particular, and the amount of financial inequity is despicable. When we started the blog, Brown Girls Museum Blog in 2015, we saw it as a way to center our experiences and our labor. It became clear early on that a space for women of color especially needed to be carved out.

It became clear early on that a space for women of color especially needed to be carved out.

NICOLE: How do you think Black Philanthropy month can help alleviate this disparity?

RAVON: I hope this month creates a pipeline for sustained support for Black organizations and communities. Initiatives like this are necessary to put us on the radars of funders.

NICOLE: What is your advice for Black folks, women, nonbinary and genderqueer individuals, who want to start their own organization?

RAVON: Learn openly and with others. The success of all of our work is in our ability to build coalitions with and across one another. Our work has so much to offer each other.

Learn openly and with others

NICOLE: What do you wish people knew about being [one of the] founders and leaders of your own organization?

RAVON: The work is never done.

This interview has been edited for clarity or length.

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