By Carlos García León, Queer, non-binary, Mexican-Statesian, and anti-capitalist fundraiser

Opening Monologue

Bienvenidos, willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, etc, etc. (A little homage to Cabaret) Please take a seat. Ladies, gentlemen, and all my gender rebels, this show is about to begin. 

Unlike many other productions, you are welcome to take pictures, record, leave, and enter in the discourse at your leisure. But like many productions, please share with your friends, and let us know what you think of the show. We love the engagement. 

And now, let the show begin! *imaginary curtains rise* 

We, of course, begin with a soliloquy, because what else do you expect from a one-person show? *audience laughs* 

I am not sure if you have felt this way or not. This might just be me battling my inner demons and hoping that if I speak on them, maybe someone else who may also feel the same gets some solace that you aren’t the only one in the world. 

As the title suggests, the target audience is those who work in the arts and culture sector. Yet, as any marketer can tell you, there are lessons that can be learned from even those outside of the target audience. I would even argue that sometimes learning from someone outside of your sector is even more valuable. 

For example, the invisible barriers of my upbringing in orchestra education were made crystal clear by colleagues in the museum world. Questions like, what does make a good orchestra if you don’t have an ear for being “in-tune”? How come there isn’t much engagement from anyone on stage about the program? 

I have been a fundraiser exclusively for arts organizations for a few years now. It wasn’t my first choice. I had a dream of being a bassoon rockstar when I graduated high school. However, as you Google what a bassoon is, there is also the realization that even if I did become one, I would have no significant power in changing the field as one. Thus, to stay close to my appreciation of arts, and for some job stability, I applied for jobs in the administrative side of the arts and culture sector, which led me to fundraising. 

However, it is not all jazz hands, kick lines, belters, and razzle-dazzle in this part of the fundraising pie. 

Act 1: Why the arts?

Finding CCF has been a great weight off my shoulders, a source of inspiration, and the hope and push to continue working in the fundraising field. 

Working in the arts as a community-centric fundraiser has been a pleasant joy. And by pleasant joy, I mean that every few weeks, I go into an existential crisis at the state of the world, the state of funding for the arts, the idea does any of this really matter?!, and the crushing doom of capitalism. You know, typical stuff. 

I am occasionally grounded by some performances that I get to watch that remind me of the reason I stayed in the arts field in the first place. A couple of examples in the past months have been Breaking the Binary Theatre Festival’s Play Maid, Goodman Theatre’s Lucha Teotl, National Museum of Mexican Art’s Dia de Muertos annual exhibit, Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Blacknificent 7 concert, Museo de Carnaval in Barranquilla, Colombia, and of course, I have to toot my own company’s production of Twelfth Night

If we want to be political – even though I believe all art to be sociopolitical even when it’s not engaging in social or political commentary because choosing not to engage in socio-politics is a privilege that is chosen when deciding in programming – here is this lovely video of a girl from Gaza dancing a traditional Palestinian dance

The ability to create hope and joy even amidst tragedy, especially during tragedy, through a dance brings a little smile, knowing that while history is being actively erased and destroyed, people celebrate the culture through a medium of art. 

Act 2: Who is the community? 

The main crux of working in the arts as a community-centric fundraiser is that finding the community is half the battle. In other nonprofits, the community is clear. It’s the reason the nonprofit exists: volunteers, children, voting rights, local lack of food accessibility, queer safety, homelessness, etc. These are the stated missions of the organizations. Meanwhile, in the arts, the mission is often for the arts’ sake. Hence why, when thinking of who to center when thinking of community-centrism this becomes a source of confusion. 

As someone whose work involves interacting with individual donors, what I’ve attempted to do is change the way the organization and myself interact with donors through CCF principles. 

The community I am centering are the communities that should have access to the art that is being presented. This, of course, means communities that may have never seen a production or have been off-put by the stigma created by elitism in art organizations and the spaces they take. This has been a pain point for me as I have only worked in predominantly white institutions. 

That is no shade to them. Each of them, including my current organization, makes progress actively to engage with a diverse audience (although sometimes the motivation is capitalistic rather than because of any DEI values) – whether by premiering new works by creatives of the global majority or by changing the setting of a classic tale. There is pride and merit in hoping to move the needle forward, and as a fundraiser, it is great to see the arts be the motivator for that.

There have been times, however, when donors talked to me as a fundraiser as if I had any power in making decisions in the programming of the organization. Donors would off-handendly, or directly, say that if x organization programs y thing, they’ll give z money, which, in my opinion, is a hindrance to the art.

Part of my role is to communicate with donors that maybe this upcoming production is not their usual Carmen, or that the Beethoven 9 symphony will sound a bit different than what they have listened to in the past 250+ years. Most importantly, part of my job is explaining the why. What is the organization hoping to achieve with these changes? and also letting them know that our efforts are to bring in new audience members and tell different stories and different perspectives. 

This is particularly frustrating when donors claim to want younger audiences to come see the show and experience the organization or to engage more with the culture that we have brought on stage (like Caribbean folks for a production set in the Caribbean, or veterans with PTSD for a new work with a story focused on that community). Only to be met by these donors afterward, saying they didn’t like it, didn’t connect with the story, or the story we’ve shared is not the reason why I began supporting the organization

I’ve been calling this the dichotomy of well-intended donors. 

So not only do I have to be a fundraiser, but also an educator, a therapist, a mini-historian of the art form, and manage white fragility and guilt while also minimizing any harm that may come my way. 

Entry way to the restrooms with writing that says The Public is committed to providing restrooms that offer privacy, safety, and dignity for everyone. To that end, we are exploring ways to modify our facilities rom gender binary restrooms to all-gender in the near future.
It is exhausting work, but this is the way I have interpreted being community-centric and what I can do within my role. There are also ways that an organization can move to be more community-centric. My favorite example of this, from an institutional perspective, was The Public in New York City and their change to all-gender bathrooms. Here, they have a public statement expressing that they affirm and welcome gender diversity.

It is a bit sad that there has to be an explanation of the why, as if caring for folks outside of the heteronormative experience isn’t reason enough, but in this work, figuring out who the community is and passing that along to the rest of the organization is pivotal. 

Ultimately, a lot of this work is battling capitalism and our role in this industrial complex. It does feel odd that the arts and culture sector are a part of it, too, but recognizing that we are emblematic of the problem is crucial and finding some solutions, like The Public has, continues moving us forward. To me, it is particularly tiring that I am convincing folks that the arts matter enough to contribute to, but alas, here I am sharing with you all that the arts are important for our humanity.


As we begin to dim the lights on this piece, I do have to give some gratitude to this community of other CCF-minded professionals who, in a virtual town hall, gave me some words of encouragement. 

Working in the arts and culture sector can be a bit disheartening because we aren’t raising funds to solve hunger, poverty, homelessness, cancer, mistreatment of children, voting injustices, labor rights, and so on. We are just putting on a show, or a couple of paintings on a wall, or a concert, and sometimes, sometimes, we do reach the audience that may benefit the most from this story. 

We open perspectives and minds into the lives of other people. As the community told me, the performances can and do bring joy, heart, and hopefully, sometimes, a moment of the vision we have for the future or an idea that challenges the way we have been living in the present. After seeing the injustices of the world and finding funds for those, being able to see a production is the grounding others need. 

My mission, not as a nonprofit, but as an individual, is to fight for equity and justice in the arts sector through the philanthropic space. This is a mission that I hope is accomplished in my lifetime, and while I don’t envision that happening (solely because there is not enough action being taken toward preventing the dangers of global warming), I do hope that I can make the fight easier for the next generation of warriors. 

*curtains drop*

*standing ovation and applause* 

Thank you everyone for coming! Feel free to take your program with you. If you liked what you read, please consider making a donation, and share with your family and friends to come see this show. Enjoy the rest of your day, and please make plans to attend and/or volunteer at your local arts organizations. 

Carlos García León

Carlos García León

Carlos García León (he/they; el/elle) is a queer, non-binary, Latine, Mexican-Statesian, and fundraiser. They were born in Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico, but currently reside in the stolen land of the Peoria, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, and Kaskaskia tribes, also known as Chicago, Illinois and work as the individual giving manager of Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Their work, both in the arts and through writing, is driven by a fight for cultural equity, decolonizing the arts, and social justice. Outside of working and writing, Carlos likes to stream TV and movies, read a good book, learn German, take naps under their weighted blanket, drink milkshakes, and look for the next poncho to add to their collection. They can be reached via email or on InstagramTwitter, and other social media platforms @cgarcia_leon. Tip them for their work via Venmo @cgarcia_leon or via PayPal using their email,