Grants for good

The M.V. Cultural Council distributes grants to organizations and individuals that benefit the arts, humanities, and interpretive sciences.

Author, poet, and activist Rose Stryron chatting with film director James Lapine. The two collaborated in Lapine's documentary “In the Company of Rose.” —Anthony Esposito

What do the Sankofa African American Literature and Culture Festival, Pride Festival in Oak Bluffs, the Aquinnah Artisans Festival, Women in Film Festival, Built on Stilts, Cinema Circus, M.V. Chamber Music Society, Ungrateful Taking, Islanders Write, and the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse have in common? These, along with individual artist programs, are just a small handful of the recipients who have received reimbursement grants from the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council.

Each fall, some 50 or so organizations and individuals apply to the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council (MVCC), which last year alone distributed $63,283 in grants to 30 proposals. Requests run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Eighteen Vineyard representatives, three from each town, work assiduously behind the scenes in a rigorous process to determine which projects will receive funding, and for how much. The pot of money comes from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which allocates funds to local councils annually based on a formula of population and equalized property values, along with those from the individual Island towns.

The cycle begins in September, when the applications are posted on the Mass Cultural Council website, which lays out the criteria on which each project will be rated. Applicants are asked to demonstrate how the project promotes excellence, access, education, and diversity in the arts, humanities, and interpretive sciences to improve the quality of life for the entire Martha’s Vineyard community to the widest extent possible. It is essential that the project be relevant to the Island community, and have clearly stated, realistic, and attainable goals and outcomes. It’s critical to demonstrate that the individuals involved are qualified, and that there is a clear marketing plan, budget, and backup plan if the project receives less than the requested funding.

The council holds info sessions at public locations so applicants can ask questions and receive guidance before the October deadline. Outgoing chairman Rizwan Malik explains the intense process for the 18 council members: “We spend three months reviewing the applications. In each of the past two years, we’ve received almost 50 applications, all of which we all have to evaluate and make decisions on before the program closes in January. So we meet several times from October through December.”

Before those meetings, though, individual members carefully review each application, using the aforementioned criteria. “We have a rubric we use to grade each application, and that rubric is constantly being re-evaluated to ensure we’re doing our utmost to bring worthwhile and impactful cultural programs to the Island,” Malik says.

In the first group meeting, the council members carefully discuss every application, one at a time. Members then go back and individually input their scores for all the criteria for each application, and then everyone’s scores are averaged out. The group reconvenes to look at and discuss the pros and cons of a few different funding models to distribute that year’s funds, and then votes.

“This is a group that does amazing work,” Malik says. “You have every town represented in discussions of how to allocate federal, state, and Island money to the artists, humanists, musicians, and makers of all kinds who live here. The council always has respectful and productive conversations in the pursuit of fulfilling our mission, and that work is made good because of the people on the council.”

Applicants who are not approved are notified in December, and have two weeks to appeal the decision, should they wish. The final decisions are then submitted to the Mass Cultural Council by mid-January, which is also when approved applicants are notified. Recipients submit invoices for reimbursement by the council, once their projects are completed, to receive their funding.

Council members, who must be appointed by their town select board, can serve for two three-year terms. Malik encourages those interested in being on the council to reach out: “We currently have several vacancies, so if you’re interested in a three-year term and live in Aquinnah, Chilmark, Tisbury, or Edgartown, please send a letter of interest to”

Visit the Mass Cultural Council website or email with any questions, and check their Facebook page for updates.