Charlotte’s Black Creatives Pivot During Pandemic
On a warm spring night, Ohavia Phillips found herself on her bedroom floor, weeping.
She was worried about the future of her live YouTube show, “The Oh Show,” where she highlighted people making a positive impact in the community.
Phillips quit her job at a local news station in 2018 to work on her show full time, and she thought 2020 would be the year it took off.
Before COVID-19, she had a lineup of guests booked. Phillips was planning to interview nonprofit organizers, church leaders and small business owners. Then the emails flooded in. One by one, everyone was backing out.
“I was getting so many emails like, ‘Ohavia, I’m so sorry but we don’t know what’s going on with this pandemic,’” Phillips said. “And I'm not talking one or two. I'm talking like this was bread and butter, like I quit my job to really make it happen.”
Not knowing what to do, she got a job at a bakery and began searching the city for funding to help creatives. She landed a $250 grant from Charlotte is Creative, an agency that finds financial support for creatives and artists in the city.
The agency started the grant program prior to the pandemic but co-founder, Matt Olin said they’ve seen a surge in demand for microgrants since the pandemic started. The grant program was started to fund creative projects, he said, and support artists and creative entities around Charlotte.
“The pandemic has hit under-resourced communities very hard, certainly,” Olin said. “That said, it hasn't created as many problems for creatives of color as it has exacerbated existing problems.”
Olin says this includes problems like fair compensation, affordable workspace and creating a demand specifically for Black artists and creatives. A $3 million fund was created to help at least 100 artists and nonprofit arts organizations across Charlotte. The goal is to help those who were left out of other funding opportunities — like independent artists, gig and contract workers.
The fund was established by the Foundation for the Carolinas, Arts and Science Council, Charlotte is Creative and Hue House. Awards for individuals range from $2,500 to $7,500 while nonprofit organization awards range from $5,000 to $25,000.
Charlotte’s Hue House Brings Black Voices Into The Conversation
Hue House co-founder Dave Butler and his team were advocates for artists of color to get grants. Hue House is an agency that’s creating a community for artists of color and connecting them to job opportunities in Charlotte. Butler was hearing conversations in the arts community that were not addressing the financial needs of Black artists. He wanted to make sure they were also being taken care of. Butler says speaking directly to these artists ensures they’re included in future funding.
“A lot of times the people who are distributing these funds don't have access to these communities and communities don't have access to the people who are distributing the funds,” Butler said. “So, it's really just a matter of proximity and getting the word out and using our channels and being able to publish things through our community.”
Hue House uses its digital footprint, The Block, along with in-person-turned-virtual monthly events to connect with artists. The creative agency also uses these monthly events to form a safe space for artists and creative entrepreneurs of color to gather and share tips and ideas for being successful. Having this community also creates a pool of artists to pull from for job opportunities. But Butler says the agency also makes sure each hiring company is prepared to foster relationships with artists of color and meet their needs as well.
“We've been making sure that our clients are prepared for those types of conversations before we even teach them to market and sell to our community,” Butler said.
YouTube Host Sees A Bright Future Ahead
YouTube show host Phillips has come a long way since that day in the spring when she was crying on her bedroom floor. She’s seen her audience grow during the pandemic and says focusing on her show has led to bigger opportunities, like working on the City of Charlotte’s educational COVID-19 campaign and connecting with people she wouldn’t have been able to book on her show before the pandemic. She said the pandemic threw her off a little but allowed her time to rest and regroup. Now, she’s hopeful and excited about the future.
“It speaks a lot to what's built in us. As Black and brown people, one thing about us is we're going to pivot,” Phillips said. “One thing is we always made ways out of no ways. So, I think that as a people, what this time really showed us was it was in us all along. All we had to do was tap within.”
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