Women-led Community Artists Leadership Initiative brings arts funding to the 99 percent

When Desdamona, Julia Nekessa Opoti, May Lee-Yang and Saymoukda Vongsay, co-founders of the Twin Cities-based Community Artists Leadership Initiative (CALI), are sitting at the same table, ideas fly like shrapnel.

Their name, Vongsay thinks, could use a little workshopping.

“CALI is so used – and so long. I want something snappy,” she said.

The co-founders of CALI created the group because they have something in common. They’re all artists, and at some point in their careers, they bumped up against a paradox in the Minnesotan artistic community. Resources for artists were bountiful, but that bounty wasn’t going to certain artists – artists of color, LGBT artists, female artists, even certain disciplines, like folk art or hip hop. In a state like Minnesota, widely regarded for its support of the arts, these artists weren’t getting funded.

The reason why this is: obstacles in the funding process.

“It’s like there this sort of hoarding of information that gets shared only with certain people,” Desdamona said.

CALI connects local artists from these communities to the funding they need to produce great work. They hold salons and clinics and workshops for grant writing, even have one-on-one sessions to answer questions.

It’s a passion largely born from experience.

“I grew up poor; so, I decided I wasn’t going to be a starving artist,” Lee-Yang said. “And I didn’t want a regular office job – it would kill me.”

She wanted to make a living on her skills. Luckily, she grew up surrounded by supportive artists. They advised her and connected her to resources, and she gradually learned the methods she needed to fund her projects and support herself.

“I was inadvertently mentored,” she said. “Even now, I’m still growing.”

Read the full story at Twin Cities Daily Planet!

Above: Local artists and writers May Lee-Yang (left) and Saymoukda Vongsay (right) founded Community Artists Leadership Initiative along with artists and writers Desdamona and Julia Nekessa Opoti. Photo by Alexa Aretz.