Supporting Connection and Justice through Storytelling + Digital Equity

This August, organizations and media artists in the Philly region are receiving $4 million to create and connect.

source: Amistad Law Project’s Practical Abolition: Resources for Communities Not Cops

It’s August 2021. We’re slowly trying to reconnect while still in a pandemic. Some of us, however, remain even more disconnected than others due to systemic inequality. Meanwhile, many of us are dreaming of a new future and advocating for justice, including digital justice which involves the right to connect and communicate via technology.

A lot of my work at Independence Public Media Foundation is about fostering connection and justice through support of community media making. This summer, we deepened these efforts by supporting more community storytelling and digital equity efforts through an open call process.

The two open calls for proposals focus on community storytelling (Community Voices Fund) and digital equity projects (Digital Equity Fund) as part of our priority to expand funding for media in the region. We were excited to partner with both the HealthSpark Foundation, based in Montgomery County, and the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund on our Community Voices Fund open call. Both foundations contributed an additional $290,000 to the Fund.

IPMF also approved grants to nine organizations through an invitation process. Most of these are renewed grants of projects we’ve funded in previous cycles, such as Youth Set the Stage, a collaborative project among local youth media organizations. One organization that is new to us is Comadre Luna, a feminist collective of latinx immigrants, workers, mothers, and organizers fighting gentrification through media and organizing.

About the Open Call

The open call received a total of 142 applications (42 via Digital Equity and 100 via Community Voices). With two weeks to review and discuss applications, we were grateful to work with two review teams made up of three funder partners and five community members with expertise in community media, journalism and digital equity. Discussions brought up questions around who and what we should be prioritizing and why:

  • Was the project timely and compelling?
  • Did it center underrepresented communities and leadership?
  • Is the organization’s budget under one million?
  • What is its connection to the Philly region?
  • Does this project seem to have lasting impact?
  • Does this project address systemic inequity?

The Community Voices Fund received a range of journalism, community media, movement media, film, archive and radio related applications. This year the Community Voices Fund welcomed submissions of film projects from individuals who have a fiscal sponsor. Eleven film projects (ranging from documentary to narrative and experimental) were ultimately funded.

This year’s open call received a greater diversity of applications than last year, which was a result of targeted outreach to underrepresented communities and Indigenous, Arab, Asian and LGBTQ — led organizations. I am particularly excited about Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture who will be creating a multimedia room for community members to produce arts and culture reportage focused on Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) communities in the Philadelphia area. As a media maker myself, I understand the value in offering this space at an existing organization that has been so central to the cultural expression and preservation of this community.

The bulk of digital equity proposals focused around digital literacy, which was expected after learning so much about the digital equity landscape and the urgency to help people access basic needs like education, employment, unemployment benefits, healthcare, etc. Our review team sought to find some balance in supporting some digital literacy focused projects as well projects that seek to create systemic change and invest in infrastructure.

For example, one of our grantees, Generations Online, seeks to provide free digital literacy programming for marginalized seniors, including those experiencing homelessness, poverty, or living with a disability. Research has shown that elders in Philadelphia are more likely to be without devices and internet connection, so this work is critical. Another organization, Philly Community Wireless Project (PCWP), is receiving a two-year grant to build community-owned and -operated internet infrastructures that will democratize access, promote digital literacy, and fight digital inequity with free, net-neutral broadband service in North Philadelphia. We have been following the efforts of cities like Detroit, New York and Baltimore who have built impressive mesh networks that are owned and operated by the community. PCWP has been in communication with leaders of these grassroots efforts across the country, they are building local partnerships, and they are about to put Philly on the map! We are here for it.

While the bulk of open call applications came from Philadelphia, we did receive proposals from the surrounding counties, New Jersey, and Delaware. A handful of those organizations are receiving grants, including the Coatesville Youth Media Project in Chester County and The Welcome Project PA, based in Montgomery County, which seeks to support media-making for the Best Medical Practices for Transgender, Non-Binary, and Intersex Patients program, highlighting their stories and experiences, and honing in on what medical professionals should know and how they can more adequately and appropriately offer medical care. We are happy that the geography and communities of our grantees is expanding, as we aim to support the diverse Philadelphia region.

As we continue to support community centered efforts that seek connection and justice, I hope we will remain open, responsive and accessible to what evolves during this historic time we are in. Open calls and review panels involve a lot of logistics, but being accessible and transparent is necessary, particularly in the philanthropy sector which has historically excluded BIPOC and marginalized communities from leadership and decision making.

In the meantime, I look forward to learning alongside the media artists and movement leaders in our community who recognize the power of storytelling and technology for and by the people. It’s an honor to support your work.

For more information about our summer grant cycle, see IPMF’s press release.