This year, Metro received 95 applications from around the region requesting almost $2 million. An advisory group of community members who work at the intersection of arts and social justice in greater Portland will review the applications and make a funding recommendation to Metro. In early January, up to $193,000 will be awarded in grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.
Kolini Fusitua, a leader among Portland’s Pacific Islander community had a message for community organizers in greater Portland: “Apply for a Community Placemaking grant because Metro is genuinely wanting to listen to members of communities like ours that haven’t been well represented in government and haven’t had access to resources.”
Fusitua, who was born and raised in the island of Tonga, came to Portland in the early 1980s, when he was in high school. His career has led him to work with various immigrant and community support organizations. Through those networks he became aware of opportunities that other members of minority groups have not always known about — or have not known how to access. He uses his own community as an example.
The Portland region has been home to a significant Pacific Islander community for decades. However, it wasn’t until after the 2010 census that they started receiving recognition and attention from the government. As Fusitua explains, that was the first time there was a concerted effort done to reach out to the community. As a result, he says, “There was a big, big increase in community participation in the count, so our numbers went way up — to truly reflect our presence here. Some people got the impression that there had been an influx of Pacific Islanders in Oregon, but that is not the case; it’s just that we hadn’t been counted before. We’ve been here for generations, and we’re here to stay.”
When it comes to accessing government-funded opportunities such as Metro’s Community Placemaking grants, communities like Fusitua’s have not always known where to even begin. “We’re not used to asking for help or seeking funding for community development because that doesn’t exist back home,” says Fusitua. “And on the other side, decision makers in government haven’t known how to reach out to us.”
Fusitua is encouraged by the changes he has seen take place in recent years. In 2018 he helped fellow members of the Portland Tongan community apply for a Metro placemaking grant, and they were awarded $15,000 to organize Tonga Day, a two-day event celebrating their culture. The grant allowed them to provide food, entertainment, and educational opportunities. Looking back on it now, Fusitua sees the event as a turning point for the Tongan community. “Thousands of people attended, with some traveling from out of state. It helped us all feel proud of our heritage while also feeling part of the local community.”
This year, Fusitua joined forces with a team of community engagers recruited by Metro to help spread the word about the placemaking grant opportunity. The team of nine received a $1,000 stipend each to reach out to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and help them learn about the program. They used creative approaches, such as a web TV series and podcasts, and made themselves available to answer questions about the application process and help them connect with Metro’s grant manager — who is not part of the selection committee, and is therefore also available to provide personalized and unbiased help with applications.
Fusitua focused his efforts on reaching out to fellow Pacific Islanders, and is excited about the projects that might come from this cycle’s grants. “This is a great opportunity because Metro is really going out of its way to reach communities that have been underrepresented in the past.”
For more information about the 2021 grant cycle visit the information page and sign up to receive email updates about grant awards and future cycles.