Lesbian-Led Foundation Welcomes New Executive Director

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Wednesday April 20, 2011

The top movers and shakers in New York's lesbian and social justice community came together at the Deity in Boerum Hill on April 9 to welcome J. Bob Alotta as the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice's new executive director.

Astraea is a global foundation dedicated to providing financial support to lesbian-led LGBT and progressive organizations. Board Chair Mary Li also honored founding executive director Katherine Acey with an emeritus standing at the Brooklyn event.

EDGE spoke with Alotta the day before her public reception to find out a bit about the woman who will take the helm of the touted 30-year-old organization that granted more than $1.7 million to 146 organizations and individuals in 40 countries in 2010. "My background is a little diverse," she said. "By trade I'm a filmmaker; I come from a traditional film media/activist/academic background. I did digital filmmaking at Columbia, new media at Zeitbyte and was board chair at FIERCE. I invested quite a lot in that organization."

Alotta's modesty belies her achievements. Over the course of her career; she has successfully grown and managed non-profits, media companies, education and film projects. Alotta was Zeitbyte's director of digital media and content. She was also the principal executive responsible for technical, financial, and staffing infrastructures while serving as creative producer/director for all productions.

As the director of digital technology at Columbia University; she raised multi-million dollar gifts and expanded her staff from three to 30 and developed successful philanthropic partnerships with Apple, Adobe and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Alotta used film to share the stories of LGBT communities and to advance social justice. Her work directing the award-winning film project Outspoken used social media to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Alotta also chaired FIERCE's Board of Directors for four years, where she doubled the Astraea-funded organization's budget and completed a 10-year strategic plan. Alotta was a longtime grant reviewer for the Open Society Foundations, led media trainings for the grantee constituents and accepted the Stonewall Foundation's Alan Morrow Prize for Excellence in Board Leadership in 2009. And at the intersection of art and activism, she found Astraea.

"My involvement with Astraea prior to now was on the grantee level, as an artist," said Alotta. "Many of my friends have gotten Astraea's grants, so I was cognitive of the good work they do. It is wonderful to think that all of my activist and arts work caused me to land in one place."

Alotta, who officially took the helm at Astraea on Monday, April 18, will work with the Board and Interim Executive Director Aimée Thorne-Thomsen to ensure a smooth transition. She will also benefit from Acey's 23 years of work in creating lasting social, racial, economic and gender equality.

Acey will leave Alotta with some very big shoes to fill, but she reiterated that EDGE is not the first to mention this legacy. "I would say that Katherine wore her shoes well: Astraea is an outstanding place that already does amazing work," said Alotta. "I am not trying to fill anyone's shoes, because there is no need for that. It is really about coming in and assessing where the organization is, and then continuing what Astraea does phenomenally well."

She further applauded the work that Astraea has already done.

"Astraea is at the cutting edge in terms of understanding that local issues are national, and have implications for the LGBT community across the board," said Alotta. "I am hardly going to come in with sweeping changes. It is much more about making sure that all of the current constituents that hold the organization dear know it is continuing in good hands, and then proselytizing the work Astraea does to new audiences, both younger and older generations."

She also lauded Astraea staffers.

"So I will be coming in and really listening, taking stock and using all of my skill sets to that end," said Alotta. "I do come to the organization as an artist, filmmaker, and community activist, and having a staff that is filled with amazing talent across so many different lines, I want to really make sure I use these skills in the best way. I want to make sure the organization is in the best possible position to succeed."

Because she is taking over in the middle of the fiscal year, Alotta said she would not enact any immediate changes. Instead, she will use the skills she picked up at the recent Women's Funding Network's annual conference to make sure the organization's work is truly inclusive.

"People were talking about innovation in a particular kind of way, looking at the ways women's funding and social justice funding work," said Alotta, discussing the conference. "We have to make sure when we talk about women that we are inclusive of all women, looking at lesbian and transgender health care and communities of color within those paradigms. We want to look at economic and social justice and women's health, and be sure that we are actually being inclusive of all populations and of the specific needs of our community."

Log onto www.astraeafoundation.org for more information.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.