As creatives try to break into a barrier-laden entertainment industry, NYC Women’s Fund seeks to expand its reach

Since its launch in 2018, the NYC Women’s Fund has awarded $5.5 million in grants to 246 film, theater and music projects, and the hope for organizers is increased expansion in the coming years.
Photo courtesy NYC Office of Media and Entertainment

When New York City launched its NYC Women’s Fund For The Arts initiative in 2018 — now enterings its fourth round of grant funding for women-led media and entertainment projects — it aimed to address systemic barriers of entry into a male-dominated media landscape.

A 2017 report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film showed that women comprised only 11% of directors, 11% of writers and 19% of executive producers in the 250 top-grossing films of the year.

In 2019, when the NYC Women’s Fund added music categories to its criteria for grant recipients, it was in response to data from a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which found that from 2013-2019, just 10% of Grammy nominees were women, and from 2012-2018 only 22% of artists, 12% of songwriters and 2% of producers of 700 popular songs from the Hot 100 year-end Billboard Charts were female.

This year, $50,000 in finishing grants from this year’s $2 million fund are available to those who apply, with applications open through Nov. 1.

As New York City continues the economic bounceback of its entertainment sector following the marathon pandemic — NYC’s arts, entertainment and recreation employment declined by 66% during the pandemic according to 2021 state comptroller’s report — opportunity abounds for a re-imagined, and more inclusive media landscape.

Film, theatre and web-based projects are eligible if they feature a woman’s perspective prominently, include a female director, or include a meaningful female producer credit and/or prominently include a female’s perspective or writing credit, or include a female protagonist.

The NYC Women’s Fund has already been a key boost to NYC creatives such as Bronx native Kamala Sankaram, who received funding for her techno-noir thriller “Looking At You.” Photo courtesy Kamala Sankaram

“Our goal was to address this systemic inequality in traditionally male-dominated industries. Now, as the city takes steps to rebuild our creative economies, we continue to focus on addressing the existing gender and racial inequities that have been exacerbated over the past two years,” said Mayor’s Office consultant Johanna McCabe. “We hope to continue to identify opportunities in the entertainment industry to advance equality and address underrepresentation, as we did with film and theater from the beginning, and with music when we added that category in 2019.”

The fund has already been a key boost to New York creatives such as Bronx native Kamala Sankaram, who received funding for her techno-noir thriller “Looking At You”, which explores the issues of privacy and surveillance capitalism in 2018.

“We like to think that these industries are merit based, and that’s how projects and artists get funded and who gets to make work, but it really isn’t,” Sankaram said. “There’s a lot of barriers that really persist, and there is a challenge for many to get their name out there, get their stories out there.”

Without proper funding, many of the best ideas from the nation’s creatives are deferred, dry up like a raisin in the sun, and fester like a sore. Sankaram said without proper financial sponsorship and support, evening out a playing field that has shut out diverse and underrepresented voices, historically, becomes much harder.

“The funding environment in the United States is such that there are very few grants that individuals can apply to without a fiscal sponsor, and this fund is really important for leveling that playing field. ” said Sankaram, who is in the process of developing a stage play about the Tibbets Brook Daylighting and impacts of climate change. “This industry can be baked in inequalities, it can be rife with nepotism or reliant on networking. The fact that is geared toward underrepresented women as a pathway into this industry, helps eliminate those barriers.”

Prior to 2018, the median size of arts grants nationally decreased from $28,600 to $27,500 despite the fact that a few large grants of $500,000 or more accounted for 63% of arts grants dollars in 2017. According to 2021 numbers from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1,073 approved projects totaling nearly $25 million, received an average grant amount of $23,190.

Since its launch in 2018, the NYC Women’s Fund has awarded $5.5 million in grants to 246 film, theater and music projects, and the hope for organizers is increased expansion in the coming years. Film projects from previous grant recipients have been collectively seen by more than 339,000 viewers, while film, theater and music releases have been featured at 99 premieres.

“The entertainment industry spans many sectors; publishing, digital, dance, so we will look into the possibility of expanding to more categories,” said McCabe. “Also, in our second year, we were able to increase the amount of awardees by 50%, and as of today, have awarded 246 media, theater and music projects. The additional $2 (million) in funding will help us increase that number.”

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

More from Around NYC