NEPM “The Fabulous 413”: Margaret Keller on CATA’s $2M Grant from MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving


April 1, 2024

Hosts: Monte Belmonte & Kaliis Smith

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An arts organization in the Berkshires just got awarded a monetary gift from Mackenzie Scott’s foundation, and it’s BIG! The recipient of that $2 million, Community Access to the Arts (CATA), is a local nonprofit dedicated to creating space for those with disabilities to thrive and nurture their creativity. Here to tell us more about what that money can do for CATA is the executive director, Margaret Keller.

MONTE BELMONTE: A philanthropist who is sharing her billions with nonprofits has given $2 million of it to Community Access to the Arts – CATA – which serves people with disabilities through rich, varied art programs and workshops.

KALIIS SMITH: CATA received the competitive award from MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving. MacKenzie Scott, as of January 2024, had a net worth of $14.6 billion owning a 4% stake in Amazon, the company her then husband Jeff Bezos founded. As such, Scott is the third wealthiest woman in the United States and the 47th wealthiest individual in the world.

MB: CATA was one of 250 groups to receive the money out of more than 6,300 that applied. It was one of 18 organizations in Massachusetts to receive an award and we are joined by CATA – Community Access to the Arts Executive Director, Margaret Keller. Thanks so much, and congratulations on the major gift!

MARGARET KELLER: Thank you! Thank you! It’s truly an exciting moment for an organization that began 30 years ago in our founder Sandy Newman’s living room.

MB: That’s a great place to start, I think tell us about the what the work that CATA does and why it was formed.

MK: Yes, well, CATA was founded in 1993 by dance therapist Sandy Newman in order to nurture and celebrate the creativity of people with disabilities across the Berkshires. And since then we have been on a 30-year growth trajectory. And we are now serving and engaging over 1,000 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, autism, brain injuries and dementia across Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and Columbia County, New York,

MB: We won’t talk about them, we’re the Fabulous 413 exclusively! We appreciate your helping those folks too.

KS: Don’t make it sound like pity, taking on the New Yorkers, it’s not their fault that they don’t live here! I didn’t realize that your program incorporates folks with dementia. Was there a conscious decision to have it be multi-generational and sort of cross-spectrum like that?

MK: Yes, that’s really been part of the model since the beginning. We have strong partnerships, as you know, with 55 different organizations, and among those are eldercare, residences and nursing homes serving people across the spectrum of age has been part of Canada’s model since the beginning. And as we’ve expanded, we have dug even more deeply into that and we’re now working with younger and younger artists with disabilities as well.

MB: We’re speaking with CATA Executive Director Margaret Keller, who have just received this major grant from the MacKenzie Scott Yield Giving Foundation and we will talk in a little bit about what that money is going to go towards. But give us a picture of what the day-in and day-out is for CATIA, like what are some of the programs that you’ve got ongoing?

MK: Yes, we provide programs here in our beautiful new facility in Great Barrington, where we have two gorgeous art studios, one that was designed specifically for visual art and writing and the other was designed specifically for the performing arts and dance. So we have people who come to our CATA studios here in Great Barrington, really from all across our community, and through those very robust community-based partnerships that I mentioned earlier with 55 different organizations. So we have folks coming here every day of the week, Monday through Friday, to participate in stimulating and lively and dynamic arts workshops across about 14 different art forms. Then we are also sending our wonderful CATA faculty into the settings of our 55 program partners so that they are providing programs onsite for people in residential programs, people in day habilitation programs and for young people with special needs in local public schools. So we have that dual model where we’re giving people the opportunity to come to us but we are also actively going to them where they are during the day, which allows us to reach as many people with disabilities as possible across our community.

KS: And that ‘going out’ isn’t limited to just your programs. I see that you just ended an exhibit at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens. Are there other local partners that bring you into their space too, to collaborate that way too? To broaden where CATA gets to go?

MK: I love that you brought that up, because that is also really an important part of our model. We are working not only with those 55 program partners, but also with a growing group of cultural and arts organizations to bring the incredible artwork of our CATA artists out into the community. And I think that’s such an important piece of what makes CATA’s model distinctive. We are an arts organization with a mission for profound social change. We know that people with developmental and intellectual disabilities deserve opportunities to thrive, we know that they have so much to say about how they see the world. So at CATA, our artists have the profound experience of saying, ‘This is who I am’ through painting, and dance, and acting, and music, and poetry. And then we, as community members, have the profound experience of witnessing their art and seeing a perspective that we might not have encountered before. So our partnerships with cultural organizations are really an important piece of that. Through art exhibits at places like the Berkshire Botanical Garden, and the Clark Art Institute, and the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. Through the poetry readings that we do every year at The Mount in Lenox. Through the annual performance that we have every year at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox. We are giving our community an opportunity to engage with the incredible talents of our CATA artists.

MB: We’re speaking with Community Access to the Arts Executive Director Margaret Keller. What’s exciting about McKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving of $2 million, one of the only 18 organizations in Massachusetts to receive it— a hugely competitive grant with no strings attached— is that I heard that you applied for $1 million, but because you were such a high scoring applicant, you got $2 million! Tell us what the process was like and what you think the narrative was that pushed the work that you’re doing with CATA over the edge to make it double what you even asked for.

MK: This was an open call application process that was launched in March of 2023. And as you’ve said, it was designed to be a $1 million grant opportunity. Nonprofit organizations across the United States that had a budget between $1 million and $5 million we’re able to apply. We did not have any kind of inside track or prior relationship. We simply applied for the grant opportunity along with over 6,000 other organizations across the United States. It was a very rigorous application process that had multiple stages of review. That included an in-depth peer review process, as well as review by panels of national experts. We were absolutely delighted when we learned that we had not only received a grant, but that because our application was among the highest scoring, the final review panel had made the decision to double our grant award.

MB: That’s incredible. It makes me feel a little less guilty on the rare occasion that I purchased something from Amazon now.

KS: So what is doubling that amount, that gift, really mean for your programs? What does it mean that you’re able to do on top of what you’d already been planning to do with the gift money if you’ve received it?

MK: We understand the kind of invaluable momentum and inspiration that this kind of support can provide. And we see it as an opportunity to tell CATA’s story to a wider audience. And that’s tremendously exciting. We want to seize this opportunity and use this grant to inspire broad community support so that we can do even more for our community. We intend to use the yield grant to launch the CATA For All Capital Campaign to help more people with disabilities thrive through CATA arts programs.

MB: Tell us a little bit about what that’ll look like.

MK: We know that there is unmet need in our community, especially for children and young people with special needs and for people who are struggling financially who need and deserve access to the arts. We see this as an opportunity for us to work closely with our program partners and with our community, and with our families and CATA artist to really hear directly from them about their needs, their challenges, the opportunities that they see— and to grow our programs to meet their needs.

MB: That’s exciting. I think it’s such a great thing. I love that there’s such a strong arts focus on this. I think it’s wonderful work that you’re doing there at Community Access to the Arts. Well-deserved $2 million, no strings attached gift, from McKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving.

KS: The $2 million gift isn’t like an end-all be-all for what CATA actually needs financially. Can you talk about people donating more if they’d like to, and your upcoming Gala?

MK: Thank you so much for asking that question, because it is an important one to just really put this in the context of our financial model and our budget and the work that we do CATA. With all of the growth that we have achieved over a 30-year history, and especially in these last eight to 10 years as we have really surged forward to grow in response to the growing needs in our community, our annual budget is now $2.6 million. We rely on community support to deliver over 2,000 programs each year to 1,000 people with disabilities across the community. We don’t have an endowment, we don’t have multi-year federal or state funding that we can rely on. And CATA is unusual, even among other nonprofits, because such a high percentage of our annual budget originates from contributed income each year. We must fundraise 85% of that $2.6 million annual budget in order to deliver our mission. And we do that through the generous response of people in this community and through gifts of all sizes that truly make a difference and that make our daily work possible. A gift like this one from MacKenzie Scott and Yield Giving means that all of that unwavering support will go even further to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. We have our CATA Gala, which is right around the corner in early May. And that is an opportunity to tell our CATA story. That is an opportunity to showcase the incredible talents of our artists with disabilities. And also to fundraise to turn to our community to invite them to continue to support this vital work.

MB: Margaret Keller is the Executive Director of CATA – Community Access to the Arts, which is just received a $2 million grant from McKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving. Once again, congratulations! Glad that they doubled it, it seems so well deserved. I hope that one day we’ll be able to come out there and check out your work in action.

MK: We would love to host you here! We absolutely always love any opportunity to show off our beautiful art studios, and also to introduce you to our CATA artists because they have so much to say and so much to share with the wider community. That would be a pleasure!

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(interview starts at 18 minutes)


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