Funder FAQ: National Black Programming Consortium

What is the National Black Programming Consortium?
NBPC is a national nonprofit media arts and funding organization dedicated to the promotion, funding, preservation, and distribution of non-stereotypical, culturally diverse, and contemporary issues emanating from African American communities. NBPC is one of five consortia funded primarily by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to increase diversity through programming, bringing new producers from their communities into the system, and generally helping to promote the rich tapestry of American culture to the national public television audience.

When and why did the NBPC come into being?
NBPC was incorporated as an organization in 1979 and began active work in 1980. As the third consortium to come into being after the Native American and the Latino consortia, NBPC’s goal was to find ways to work with African American producers and public television to get more work for producers into the national PBS system, and to work within African American communities to increase support for and visibility of public television and independent work.

The driving philosophy behind the NBPC is…?
To bring to public television, and to the general public, stories by and about African-American communities—in particular, those which reflect the rich spectrum of the diversity within African-American communities.

Who makes up the NBPC?
NBPC is composed of a diverse board of directors which includes two public television representatives, an attorney, a financial person, corporate and entrepreneurial representation, educational and community/social service representation, and an independent producer. The board meets three to four times a year.

There is also a producer advisor board which meets annually, a community advisory board which meets monthly, an outreach staff located in the Pittsburgh office, a partnership relationship with WQED/Pittsburgh. Located in the New York office are the president/CEO (Mable Haddock), office manager (Dorothy Johnson), director of program development and new technology (Terrence Scott), and a grants program manager (Paulette Clark).

What is your relationship to CPB?
CPB is a major funder and supporter, and a partner in many instances. Many of its goals and interests parallel that of consortia—that is, the increase of diversity in programming, training for multicultural producers, increase in employment diversity at all levels, and making sure that the system reflects the nation’s rich diversity.

What percentage of your budget is from CPB?
This year it is about 45%. However, it can be—and has been—as high as 75%.

What are the purposes of the CPB minority consortia?
To assist in bringing diversity to the system particularly with respect to program development and producer services.

How do you define “minority programming”?
Minority programming is, has been, and will continue to be defined in different ways, depending on who is doing the defining. Our sense is that the programming or issues are not ‘minority’ and that label does them a disservice. Especially given the fact that together, if not now, then soon, we will become the majority demographic. But programming that is culturally specific to our communities, in this case African-American, the faces on air are substantially reflected in the development and decision-making behind the screen. And the point of view is specific to the histories, culture and concerns of the community. I am not sure if each consortium shares the exact same definition of minority programming and don’t purport to speak for them all.

Do you have any direct involvement with these consortia?
When and where appropriate, we share resources. For example, co-presentation of programming to the national public television system, developing major series for the national system like Matters of Race (see story pp. 26) and Color TV, working with PBS and CPB to provide producer services (including sponsoring workshops and forums at the national PBS annual meeting), sending producers to conferences, etc. to increase and update on new developments in the field.

How has the funding climate for independent media changed since the NBPC’s inception?
Many changes have occurred. In many cases where funding levels increase, risk-taking, experimentation, and new ideas and forms decrease. There has been a move on the part of public television for the past 10 years to encourage more mini-series for the core schedule, which is anathema to what many independents are producing—shorts and one-offs. New technology continues to threaten to turn media upside down, and bring with it great changes due to cost reduction and higher levels of quality maintenance for productions.

In fact, little change has drifted into the system, except for the models and experiments taking place through the CPB, which, compared to commercial TV, simply does not have adequate resources to meet the many training and research needs out there. In response, the consortium has partnered with CPB to provide training and workshops to minority producers around new technology and its impact on public television and producers.

What percentage of the NBPC’s overall budget goes towards individual film or video projects?
70%.

How many awards are given out per year? What is the total dollar amount awarded annually?
Both the number of awards and the total dollar amount change according to a number of factors, including how much we are able to raise outside CPB. For instance, this year we raised $3 million for the Matters of Race series. Generally, NBPC funds three to seven projects from the open solicitation, and another three to five from its discretionary funding.

What are the average sizes of these grants?
Grant size ranges from as low as $3,000 to as high as $250,000 with the average being about $50,000.

How many applications do you get on average per year?
On average we get about 100 applications from the request for proposals, and about another 25 to 35 which are unsolicited.

What are the restrictions on applicants’ qualifications?
Applicant should be a U.S. citizen or have a co-producer based in the U.S. Films/videos produced for industry are obviously not acceptable; most everything else is fair game.

What types of projects do you seek?
Stories reflecting the issues, concerns, and cultures of the community, involvement of producers from that community, and ownership of project by producer from that community. Projects should also demonstrate that they can be generally completed within a reasonable time period for production or post (no more than two years) using community support and an experienced crew. The project should have a reasonable budget plus outreach and distribution plans. Added funding incentives include built-in training and internship opportunities for emerging producers from more seasoned producers.

Do you fund projects in specific stages? Can an individual who was funded in the development stage come back to you for distribution funds?
Yes, and yes.

Explain your funding cycle and deadlines.
Annually. Generally the proposal deadline is about October 30. Decisions are made within three months after the deadline.

Once the applicant receives funding, are there time-frame restrictions within which the funds must be used? Can the same individual apply for funds two years in a row?
The funds must be used within two years. There is no restriction on the number of years a successful applicant who is making his or her deliverables can apply. A project which has been denied funding can come in three successive years and sit out one.

Do you offer any additional assistance to funded projects? What resources do you offer producers?
We can refer producers to distributors, as well as refer them to other potential sources of funding. We also offer a community festival, some training, and workshop opportunities, information-sharing via our newsletter and web, and outreach services for projects via our outreach division.

There are a couple of films for sale on your we site. How involved do you get with projects you fund?
NBPC distributes some of the films we fund; it also distributes some that do not come through the CPB fund. The majority, however, we do not distribute due to funding and other restrictions.

Name some of the best-known titles and/or artists you have funded. What have been some of the distribution paths of those projects?
Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, for public television airing; Marlon Riggs’ Black Is . . . Black Ain’t; Tongues Untied for public television (California Newsreel handles distribution); Avon Kirkland’s Simple Justice: The Story of Thurgood Marshall and Street Soldiers (NBPC handles distribution for Street Soldiers); Orlando Bagwell’s Malcolm X; Make It Plain for public television, The August Wilson Story for public television (soon to be on American Masters), A Hymn for Alvin Ailey (NBPC has distribution on the Ailey project); Louis Massiah’s W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography in 4 Voices (NBPC has limited distribution); Madison Davis Lacy’s Black Boy (NBPC has limited distribution), also Lacy’s Free to Dance, a three-part series on black dance and choreography, for air on Great Performances next month (NBPC will handle distribution for educational market); Stanley Nelson’s The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords; and Marcus Garvey: See You In The Whirlwind; for public television; Bill Greaves’ Ralph Bunche for public television; Yvonne Smith’s work on George Clinton, now in development (NBPC is negotiating educational rights); Demetria Royals Conjurer Women and now Conjurer Men in production (NBPC will own educational rights on Men); and many more.

Who are the program officers?
Paulette Clark began in April. Prior to that, Mable Haddock acted as program officer.

Who makes the awards decisions? Name a few of your past panelists.
There is a preliminary readers’ cut, and the top entries go onto a panel—usually no more than 20. The recommendations are made to staff who begin the negotiation process with producers. Past panelists have included Jacquie Jones, independent producer; A.J. Fielder, independent; Greg Tate, writer; Paris Qualles, chair of the panel and writer for the past three years; Claire Aquillar, program director, ITVS; Sandie Pedlow, program officer, CPB; Chris Moore, producer, WQED; Cheryl Chisholm and Pearl Bowser, programmers; Jackie Cain, KCET; Nolan Walker, independent producer; Louis Massiah, independent producer; Orlando Bagwell, independent producer; Cindi Readdon, WNET/TV; Manthia Diawara, Clyde Taylor, Ed Guerro, film writers and critics/NYU; Juanita Anderson, independent producer.

Tell us about the review process.
There is a reader process, a panel process, and a set of criteria that includes many of the items mentioned above, such as ability to complete in a timely manner; relevance to community; potential for airing on the national public television system; experience of crew; uniqueness and creativity; support from community; etc.

What advice do you have for media artists in putting forth a strong application?
Write a proposal and treatment that is as much about the elements that make a strong compelling story for television or film as it is about the need for the story. Present a sample that demonstrates your ability to do the story you are asking for support on. Present a budget that is realistic and adds up. If you have little or no public television experience, get those people with such experience on your crew. If it’s a historical documentary, make sure that there are adequate and appropriate scholars involved.

Having other funding on the project helps, particularly on a large budget. Be clear that the project has potential for the national public television schedule but don’t assume public television is only about heavy documentaries and dead heroes—contemporary stories are welcome also. Collaboration and partnerships help to expand the story and effectively utilize resources in many cases. NBPC has limited dollars—$600,000 average for funding productions—so we are not able to fund all worthy projects and we try to give equal consideration to the small independent as well as to the larger budget projects.

What is the most common mistake applicants make?
Not telling the story, but giving too much history and rationale. Younger producers may sometime not do thorough research, thinking the subject matter itself merits support. Also not taking enough time to develop the story and the proposal—sample and budget does not match the proposal.

What would people most be surprised to learn about the NBPC and/or its founders?
We would love to get more stories from younger producers as well. We will consider narratives as well as documentaries. And we have a sense of humor even though we work in public television.

Other foundations or grantmaking organizations you admire and why.
Not sure I know enough about the inner workings of a lot of others to comment, but I think that Creative Capital does a lot of things I like, such as working with the artists through the process, including marketing and promotion and exhibition and building a community of artists, and their artists services.

What distinguishes the NBPC from other funders (besides its funding of African American artists)?
We try to work with the producers in various stages and we provide services other than funding, such as training, information sharing and networking, and distribution of some of the work. For those producers whose work we may not fund, we provide information designed to assist the producers in making another application and improving the work. We also have a festival in September for producer’s work, and we provide promotion and outreach services to producers once the project is completed, as well as technical assistance to help them figure out the CPB/PBS maze.

Famous last words:
Bring me your best work. The work is everything.

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