Arts and culture groups in Pittsburgh hold all sorts of fundraisers, from traditional galas to more informal affairs. But one thing’s consistent: The fundraisers always benefit a single group -- the one hosting the party.
That’s about to change with Hotline Ring, which organizers bill as Pittsburgh’s first collective virtual fundraiser. The Thursday, July 16, event is partly an adaptation to the coronavirus pandemic, and partly a way to address local inequities in arts funding and society at large.
Hotline Ring was born of a cancelation: The pandemic forced Kelly-Strayhorn Theater to pull the plug on Full Bloom, its own big annual fundraising party, along with the rest of its spring season.
Joseph Hall had started his job as the theater’s executive director in early March, just before the pandemic shutdown hit. He and leaders from six other local arts groups began meeting, virtually, every Friday, to discuss shared challenges, including moving to online programming, and the complete loss of earned income.
The meetings themselves built morale, said Bekezela Mguni, educational program director for Dreams of Hope, which provides art programming for LGBTQ youth.
“It feels really good to think about not just one organization but many, and realize that if we think about each other and collaborate, that benefits us all,” she said.
The collective also includes: 1Hood Media; the Braddock Carnegie Library; Garfield-based creative hub BOOM Concepts; African-culture group The Legacy Arts Project; and PearlArts Studios, known for its dance and music projects. All seven groups are led by or serve queer, Black, or people of color.
With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and international protests against racism and police brutality, this collective fundraiser was another way to help make change, Hall said.
He cited the 2019 report by the city’s Gender Equity Commission pegging Pittsburgh as the worst city in the U.S. for black women , and a 2020 Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council report detailing racial inequities in arts funding and leadership here.
Mguni said Hotline Ring asks, “How can we all expand ourselves and grow together, so that no one needs to be left behind, no one needs to remain unconsidered?”
The fundraiser, which runs an ambitious seven hours, will include both new and archived dance, music, and spoken-word performances, as well as other arts-related video.
It features a half-hour of programming from each of the groups. Kelly-Strayhorn’s offerings, for example, will include an archived spoken-word performance by Vanessa German, and an archived dance piece by acclaimed choreographer Sidra Bell. There's also puppet karaoke from BOOM, a work-in-progress from PearlArts, and a drag performance from Dreams of Hope.
The performances are sandwiched between an opening happy hour, and a closing, hour-long dance party, both on Zoom. There will also be Zoom-enabled opportunities for audiences to join artists and arts leaders at the virtual event.
Donors have three ways to give. They can send funds directly to a single arts group, to any combination of groups, or to a pool to be split among all seven organizations. Ten percent of funds donated to named groups will also be added to the pool, said Hall. And in order to alleviate systemic inequities, groups led by black femmes will receive “a greater portion of our shared fundraising,” according to a statement.
“Instead of only considering the bottom line of each individual organization, this fundraising effort will create shared resources that will benefit the interdependence of all of us,” said Hall.
The groups have set an ambitious fundraising goal of $100,000 for the event.