Welcome to the Online Forum on Equity in Arts Funding

Grantmakers in the Arts designed the Forum to expand the dialogue around funding equity in the arts and to encourage a response to the systemic issues of equity identified during sessions at the recent GIA national conference and in Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change, a 2011 report published by the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy. Bloggers represent an exciting cross section of the country’s arts funding, service, and equity thought leaders.

Beginning December 6, new blogs will be posted and announced daily. The Forum is designed to run through December 16 and the discussion is open to all who wish to participate.

View a listing of the bloggers here.

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Alternative Pathways to Change

by John McGuirk (bio), program director, Performing Arts Program, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change raises critical issues that arts funders should address to minimize disparities to accessible and relevant arts opportunities for all Americans. The report recognizes that our communities are evolving due to demographic changes including race/ethnicity, age, income, education and other factors. In addition, it identifies leading organizations that have successfully fused arts and social change, as well as funders that are using this lens in their grantmaking practices. The report indicates funding and participation is rapidly growing for culturally-specific organizations, and decreasing for major arts institutions.

However, the report falls short in describing the evolution of funding practices to meet the changing cultural needs of our communities. It should better recognize the progress made over the past two decades by arts organizations and other “institutions that focus primarily on Western European art forms” to broaden and diversify their audiences and programming. And disappointedly, the report reinforces outdated stereotypes, such as “high art” or “elite” in describing arts organizations. It creates an us-versus-them polarization: large budget versus small budget, western canon versus other traditions, urban versus rural, and on and on.

My suggestion is to take the “Funding Typology and Pathways to Change” from the NCRP report and reframe them to be more inclusive, and to recognize the value of the entire arts ecosystem. Pathway 1 could be titled “Sustaining Diverse Traditions” — this includes both the Western classical canon as well as culturally-specific practices from multiple traditions. Then Pathway 1 is about continuity of multiple traditions and artforms that are meaningful to our evolving communities. Pathway 2 could be “Nurturing New Cultural Expressions” from varied backgrounds and aesthetics. Pathway 2 focuses on developing innovative new voices, diverse aesthetics and emerging artforms. Finally, Pathway 3 could be “Ensuring Equitable Access to Arts Education.” When multiple cultural traditions are taught to K-12 students, this is the great egalitarian solution to reach all segments of our communities. I would also include life-long learning in this pathway to recognize that adults and seniors continue to engage in arts and cultural learning.

This is an imperfect taxonomy, but hopefully more inclusive and less divisive. I intentionally did not include pathway strategies for art-based community development and economic development. In these instances, arts are a tool for achieving other outcomes, but it is a mistake to assume all arts and culture should fuse with these social change goals.

Finally, as we continue this discussion, let’s be careful with homogenization and stereotypes. We can’t cluster all funders into one homogenous group; nor can we cluster all artists and arts organizations into a homogenous group. It’s the differences, the variety, and the vast pluralism that make our communities vibrant and interesting. We must continue to work together respectfully and diligently for a diverse and inclusive arts ecosystem so that everyone has access to the arts.

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Hard Questions for Hard Times

by William Cleveland (bio), director, Center for the Study of Art & Community

We are living at a time when many of our societies most closely held assumptions are being assailed. Often the push seems to come from the convergence of historic forces outside our control. But in other instances the momentum emanates from more intimate temblors set in motion with intention, by individuals and groups, across sectors, within organizations or communities. Regardless of their locus, the primal tensions disturbing the status quo are no secret. The disparity between rich and poor, climate change, polarized politics, the clash of tradition and modernity, the pervasiveness of corruption are all adding fuel to the fires, above and below.

One interesting byproduct of this tectonic dance is a widespread increase in what I call “gap awareness.” Until recently, a critical mass of American stakeholders (and stock holders) perceived themselves to be on the safe side of the “haves/have-nots” divide. Now, for many middle class Americans, the gap is becoming personal and long held assumptions about fairness and equity are getting questioned, right and left. It is inevitable that as global/local economies continue to languish and the inequities and imbalances inherent in our economic, political, and social system become more pronounced, this awareness and the accompanying turmoil will continue to grow. This has implications for every sector, even the arts.

I am a strong believer in challenging my own assumptions — particularly the deeply held ones that help to form my personal worldview. It keeps me on my toes. For some, the NCRP’s Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change report is probably an assumption challenger. For others, it likely adds substance to existing perceptions about a historic resource gap plaguing country’s cultural ecosystem. To be sure, the report presents a pointed analysis of select data; drawing sharp conclusions about what the authors hold is the unbalanced, inequitable state of cultural investment in America. It is clearly intended to provoke, to challenge, to call the question.

Personally, I appreciate this kind of forceful insistence. After re-reading the report the question that it calls up for me is not whether it is mathematically unassailable. I have no doubt that there are many in the cultural philanthropy field that can, and will parse aspects of the report’s data and analysis. For me the meta-challenge it poses for each individual reader is whether the “truth” it holds is concerning and compelling enough to call the questions it raises in ones own back yard.

Is cultural equity a core value that informs our work? If not, why?
If so, how specifically do we define it and hold ourselves accountable?
If we looked hard at the patterns of cultural investment by our organization and across our community, over time, what would we find?
If there were a significant “gap” between our stated values and this investment history, what would we do?

I have no doubt that this is what NCRP would encourage you to do. To that end, the report concludes with a “Typology” that can be used by funders to begin a process self-inquiry into the equity issues it raises. It is by no means an easy set of questions. There is no escaping the fact that this kind of reflection is hard work that can be painful and contentious.

At their core, both the NCRP report and the Typology can be taken as an invitation to arts funders to pause and scrutinize many of the assumptions that have framed cultural philanthropy in the US for the past fifty years. If there ever was a time for this kind of rigorous self-examination it is now — most certainly, as a forthright response to the fairness questions raised by the report but, more importantly, because of its implications for the cultural community, and society at large. This is because the report’s thesis describes a cultural ecosystem that is out of balance in a way that threatens both the health and relevance of the entire sector — all artists and arts organizations, in all communities. So, in the end, the question being posed is not “either/or”, or “we vs. them, but rather how can cultural investment in America truly make sense and be meaningful in the 21st Century.

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Theatres Sharing the Bandwidth

by Teresa Eyring (bio), executive director, Theatre Communications Group, Inc.

The Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change study spotlights concerns about the distribution of private foundation dollars to arts groups in a nation that is witnessing rapidly shifting demographics, emerging artistic traditions from Asia, Africa, Latin American and the Pacific Rim, an increasing number of hybrid forms, and more artists pursuing social justice aims through their work.

What the numbers and this study don’t capture are the often invisible ways in which larger and mid-sized organizations deploy financial, human and capital resources for the benefit of individual artists, smaller organizations and diverse communities. These systems of mutual support often go unnoticed by the wider public, but they are tremendously valuable. As we continue our conversation about funding equity, we must also acknowledge the impact of the actions these larger theatres are taking, and share models that are working.

I think of the La Jolla Playhouse and its “Resident Theatre Program” started under artistic director Christopher Ashley. Each year, a local company without a venue is selected for a year-long residency. They receive two productions in LJP’s performance space–rent free. They receive sound and lighting support, as well as marketing and fundraising advice. Companies that have benefited from this relationship are the San Diego Asian American Repertory Theater, MOXIE Theatre, Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, and Eveoke Dance Theatre. La Jolla Playhouse doesn’t receive any special grants in order to serve as home to those companies. They simply do it in order to share their bandwidth, and to support the larger cultural ecosystem.

This is part of a wider trend profiled in a recent American Theatre Strategies article. Programs like Arena Stage’s Visiting Companies Initiative, Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Garage Rep program, New York Theatre Workshop’s Companies-in-Residence program and South Coast Repertory’s Studio Series are all examples of the power of collaboration between larger and smaller theatres.

There are also unsung ways in which larger organizations and their staffs lend support, visibility and infrastructure to emerging artistic communities. One example can be found in Portland Center Stage’s “Ideas in Play” program, which seeks out diverse community partners whose missions can be served by creative use of PCS facilities and staff. These partnerships include: The Hispanic Chambers “After Hours” networking event; Women & Race, a discussion series presented by PCS and the local YMCA; and the Colored Pencils Art Collective, a vigorous collective of fourteen nationalities and ethnicities and five religious traditions dedicated to facilitating intercultural learning through artistic expression.

My former home, the Children’s Theatre Company, is fortunate to have a full-time music director, Victor Zupanc, who is constantly building relationships in the local and immigrant music communities. When CTC premiered Nilo Cruz’s adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, Zupanc searched for local musicians playing in South American traditions. He found and hired a harpist from Paraguay, a percussionist from Brazil, a guitarist from Argentina and a flute/pan pipe player from Ecuador, and CTC paid for all of them to join the local musician’s union. Not only did this build unexpected ties to emerging artistic communities in Minneapolis, but the music was gorgeous!

Here at TCG, where diversity is a core value, the staff and board regularly investigate challenges that exist with respect to an ever-increasing plurality in our field. For instance, there are only a few artistic directors of color at the helms of the largest theatre institutions. What is the right strategy to affect change in this area? We believe that at least one puzzle piece is in the active development of a new generation of leaders of color–and connecting these talented individuals to the larger national theatre community. Through funding partnerships with foundations, such as the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, TCG launched a number of programs, including a young leaders of color initiative, which allows these talented theatre practitioners to attend conferences, develop new thinking and build networks.

One outcome of our national conversation about philanthropic equity may be a shift in the awareness and priorities of some funders to award more dollars directly to marginalized groups. Another outcome may be a series of funding strategies both to document and to cultivate more relationships and practices — such as those described above — in order to help strengthen art-making and build overall capacity in marginalized artistic communities. In a world where there isn’t enough funding to begin with, there may be clear advantages to exploring both avenues.

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Walking the Walk at Private Foundations: One Program Officer’s Perspective

by Lynn Stern (bio), program officer for Thriving Cultures, Surdna Foundation

How can private foundation staff advance equity and inclusiveness in its arts and culture grantmaking? The publication of NCRP’s report, Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change, comes at an opportune moment for us as we wrestle with this very question at the Surdna Foundation. Like many of our private foundation peers, Surdna is in the throes of organizational restructuring, a process begun in 2009. This journey has led us to a new mission—fostering just and sustainable communities—and redefined core programs in culture, economy and environment. It also affirmed the importance of social justice as core concept to apply to our work going forward. We are now poised to embark on a strategy development process that will result in clearly articulated grantmaking strategies within each of our three programs.

So how do we “walk the walk”? The NCRP report has already served as a springboard for revisiting and refreshing the assumptions and strategies that undergird our culture portfolio with an eye toward equity. We were fortunate to have NCRP report author Holly Sidford join us at our September Board meeting for a conversation with board and staff about the report’s findings and its implications for our culture portfolio’s strategy development. It was a rich and challenging discussion. In view of the demographic, economic and aesthetic trends transforming our cultural landscape, the report’s data on philanthropic giving trends in the arts and culture sector gave our board and staff pause. It compelled us to ask: To what extent are Surdna’s grantmaking practices across its culture portfolio inclusive, responsive and relevant to these trends? Are we addressing the inequities that face our communities and the pressing needs and concerns of our most marginalized populations?

These questions are not unfamiliar to us. In fact, we’ve been grappling with issues of equity and access in our support of teens’ artistic advancement since the inception of this line of work nearly two decades ago. In the last five years, as these concerns have grown more central to grantees’ work, our grantmaking intensified its focus on “widening the door” to the arts training pipeline for underserved teens, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds. Our support to organizations along the arts training continuum—community-based art groups, specialized public art schools, summer intensives, and national centers of excellence in arts training around the country—helps strengthen their capacity to identify talent and provide key supports (e.g. pre-college preparation, scholarships, financial aid, etc.) to benefit teens with the least access to arts training opportunities.

Our “expanding access” work is one way we’ve tried to be inclusive and responsive in our grantmaking. But there is much more that we can do. And the NCRP report gives us a helpful framework and fresh set of questions to consider in our strategy development process moving forward. Here are some of the questions the NCRP report has spurred me to ponder. In terms of changing demographics, how can we achieve more equitable outcomes for the young people—and their communities—we want to serve? Alongside our “expanding access” work, we have begun to support the artistic advancement of teens from disadvantaged communities through programs with strong artistic practice and a social justice/cultural equity purview.

In terms of cultural economics, are we contributing to a sustainable ecosystem of arts education/training organizations? Currently, our grantees represent a wide spectrum of organizations in all disciplines along the arts training continuum, from large institutions (e.g., art colleges, university-based arts programs, major museums and performing arts centers) to mid-size and small community-based arts groups. How do we need to recalibrate this mix (e.g. increase percentage of mid-size and small arts groups) to ensure a healthy biodiversity of arts education/training organizations? Given the chronic funding challenges faced by many mid-size and small arts groups, how do we reorient our current grantmaking practice (three-year, project-based support) to promote their long-term financial sustainability through multi-year, general operating support?

In terms of changing aesthetics and cultural practices, are we contributing to greater diversity in art forms and aesthetic practices? We expect to do this kind of analysis of our portfolio in the coming months, though my hunch is that grantees providing arts education/training opportunities for underserved teens in non-European arts forms and cultural practices are underrepresented in our work. We have begun to look at how Surdna can help validate and support the artistic advancement of young protégés/apprentices of master artists in immigrant and indigenous communities. As a national funder with a small staff, this will be challenging. Our notion of what strong arts education/training for young people looks like along the “conventional” arts training continuum is wholly inadequate when applied to the practices by which young people learn and master art forms and cultural practices in these communities. We know that it will be essential to partner with cultural intermediaries and/or community foundations with “on the ground” knowledge of these practitioners and their communities.

So this is a just a glimpse into my thinking and questioning as we bring a greater focus on equity to our arts and culture grantmaking at Surdna in the coming months. It’s been a humbling process so far. With “just and sustainable communities” as my north star, it has challenged me to look critically at our culture portfolio with a new set of priorities and identify grantmaking strategies and institutional practices that impede equity. I am grateful to GIA for making this online Forum on Equity in Arts available, and I look forward to engaging in dialogue with fellow bloggers and readers on this critical field-wide issue.

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Size Matters

by Lisa Cremin (bio), director, The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

It was not a surprise to learn the findings of the excellent report Fusing Arts, Cultural and Social Change, because I have experienced the phenomena in my work with The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund. The Arts Fund has been funding the stability and capitalization of small and mid-sized arts organizations since 1993. My immediate reaction to the study was that many arts organizations supported by the Arts Fund reflect and embrace much of what the study recommends foundations support.

To dig further, for sport, we looked at the organizations that the Arts Fund supports. We took the categories that Fusing attributes to “underserved” (which, unfortunately, spell check really wants to be “undeserved”) communities or marginalized populations. We found that many of the organizational and programmatic characteristics the study recommends that foundations embrace occur naturally in small and mid-sized organizations. Of the 75 or so organizations the Arts Fund has supported since it was founded, nine include social justice in their mission; fifteen expressly support individual artists; six work deeply in low-income communities; eighteen focus on non-majority race/ethnic populations; eleven are in rural communities; and two focus on GLBT populations.

There is nothing grassroots about our grantmaking methodology but many of our grantees work very close to or in the grassroots. When reviewing organizations, we look at all the characteristics of a strong nonprofit in a rigorous grant review, even though most of the organizations have budgets under $1M, and some only have one full time paid staff person. Our application process encourages and rewards advocacy and diversity.

For funders seeking to get closer to arts organizations whose mission involves social change and reflect the real diversity of our urban, suburban and rural communities, one approach is to focus on smaller arts organizations. The key is scale. Smaller organizations are comfortable with artistic risk and experimentation and naturally reflect their communities. Smaller arts organizations are usually led by artists and their creativity is often fueled by inequities and a drive to make change.

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Equity and Community Arts Education

by Jonathan Herman (bio), executive director, National Guild for Community Arts Education

I commend the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Holly Sidford for reporting on a critical disparity in funding within the arts sector — particularly for community-based organizations who are serving low income communities — and thank Grantmakers in the Arts for hosting this forum.

Community arts education organizations are deeply affected by the circumstances described in this report. The National Guild for Community Arts Education’s constituency includes more than 5,000 organizations and government agencies in the U.S. that employ professional teaching artists to provide arts learning opportunities to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Collectively the National Guild’s 430 member organizations serve 1.2 million students, employ 16,000 teaching artists, and reach an additional six million Americans each year through performances and exhibitions in rural, suburban and urban communities. Approximately 35% of students served by these institutions are Black/African American; 33% White; and 18% Hispanic/Latino.

Most of our constituents operate at the bare bones with annual budgets under $1 million. But even those organizations whose budgets are more than $5 million do not typically fit the “conventional assessment criteria” of an arts institution used by funders to determine success. In addition to providing studio and project-based instruction, many community arts education organizations also intentionally effect learning and development through the arts with a focus on healthy aging, youth development, community building, etc. They share a common commitment to quality in both arts instruction and community well-being, and focus on both process (e.g. classes, rehearsals) and product (e.g. performances, recitals, exhibitions). Most serve increasingly diverse student populations.

They do this vital work despite serious difficulties securing the kind of funding that would allow them to make their greatest impact. As the economic crisis continues to take its toll, these organizations are facing greater demand for subsidized programs that help to ensure access. At the same time, grants that support these programs are drying up or simply not available.

When funders cut back, the most deeply affected are youth and families with the least access to arts education. Examples of arts programs cut in the past two years include a program for teenage girls recovering from substance abuse, a partnership with a local housing authority, a music therapy program for autistic children, and numerous in-school and afterschool partnership programs. Additionally, community arts education providers across the country have had to reduce financial assistance to families who otherwise would not be able to afford arts classes for their children.

At the same time that these funding challenges pose serious threats to our sector, they are driving organizations to develop new ways of doing business and maintaining their ability to serve the public.

Two major opportunities for sustainability and growth include:

  1. Collaborations within the Arts Sector: One significant challenge to our sector has been the internal barriers that divide us along the lines of professional/non-professional, high/low and by artistic discipline resulting in a culture of competition for scarce resources and visibility. In cities and regions across the country, organized collaborations within the arts sector—like the Providence Youth Arts Collaborative in Providence, RI, a partnership of six non-profit community-based youth arts organizations—are striving to sustain high quality arts learning experiences and ensure that all segments within the arts learning population (young children, older adults, ESL students, etc.) are adequately served.
  2. Cross-sector Partnerships: Similarly, we believe there is great opportunity in promoting arts education as a resource within a much more comprehensive community and human development framework. The arts can positively contribute to youth development, workforce development, place-making, healthcare and other areas. Strategic alliances between the arts and these sectors can be formed based on shared values, commitments and goals.

A new skill set is required to help arts leaders facilitate and sustain these alliances. Additionally, more research is needed regarding the positive impact of these collaborations on individuals and communities. Many community arts organizations are getting better at establishing metrics for their work; however, with limited resources, they primarily focus on providing broad access to high quality programs, leaving inadequate resources to thoroughly and systematically collect and analyze data or to share successful models and best practices.

We believe these kinds of collaborations within and beyond the arts sector hold promise for extending the impact of arts organizations and increasing access to arts learning opportunities for all Americans. Funders can help by increasing their support for professional development, evaluation and research.

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Creatives on the Rise

by Ken Grossinger (bio), chairman, CrossCurrents Foundation

The NCRP report is striking in the stark display of inequity it outlines. And the press coverage the report received was significant, fueling further interest in creating baselines for measurement and ideas for action.

In the last decade, an increasing number of funders, artists, scholars and art advocates has accelerated a slow but forward movement toward embracing arts and culture as an essential element in the lives of ordinary people. Their activities reflect small but scalable steps towards what is needed to re-direct funds to reach low-income, minority, and otherwise disenfranchised communities. They are, at least, signs of forward movement.

Many funders and arts advocates also have been pushing for quantifiable measures to determine the amount of money that funders allocate for art and social change. Some of these funders include large institutions such as Surdna, Nathan Cummings and Open Society Foundations, and others are smaller family foundations and donor advised funds such as the Lambent and CrossCurrents Foundation. The NCRP report followed in that vein.

There are other notable initiatives to watch as well. A year before the NCRP report, Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts issued a report entitled Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking that focused on the scope of this emerging field. The report was unable to exactly quantify the proportion of funding going into this field, but it demonstrated that tens of millions of dollars went into art and social change work, and illustrated this finding with many key projects. The report laid out a road map for future research including the need to develop more relevant and rigorous assessment metrics and for the field to come up with common definitions of this work.

Among practitioner-led initiatives are two significant projects that focus in part on issues of equity. The Creative Change convenings, organized by the Opportunity Agenda, have brought artists, funders, and academics together to develop effective strategies for public engagement. The annual convening serves as an important communications hub for the several hundred people who have been involved, and it has generated projects — most recently on immigration and the economy — that address some of the issues reflected in the NCRP report.

Another relatively new formation closely associated with Creative Change is The Culture Group, a group of artists and activists working to deepen progressive cultural activities while generating theory from that work. On the research side they plan to assess the impact of cultural strategies and to map where these activities are taking place. And they plan to generate sustainable revenue models for cultural work. They’ve also initiated pilot projects such as Culture Strike, a multi-pronged initiative that includes writers, visual and performing artists who are focusing some of their work on immigration and migrant communities. Recently, some 50 artists met in Arizona to learn first hand about immigration policies and to develop projects in response.

Within the GIA family a few years back, former Nathan Cummings Foundation program officer Claudine Brown and others began organizing The Art and Social Justice working group, convening primarily at the annual GIA conference. The first meeting I attended had attracted about 15 people. This year the daylong GIA pre-conference on Artists and Social Justice had to close registration owing to space limitations. The level of interest among funders in providing a more equitable distribution of philanthropic resources can be seen even in this small measure.

Taken together, these new initiatives (among many others that might be discussed) simply reflect a field in development. Some two billion in philanthropic dollars every year goes into the arts, but a relatively scant proportion of these resources goes to strategies aimed at engaging poor and minority communities. When a family of four has to pay $80.00 to enter the Museum of Modern Art it is right to question whether the museum is receiving philanthropic dollars for the 1% or the 99%. These new initiatives are meant to occupy a new space. They and others like them should be more fully supported.

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Next Steps

by Carol Bebelle (bio), co-founder and executive director, Ashe Cultural Arts Center

Private foundations, convinced of the need to expand their reach to community-based organizations that serve marginalized communities, should begin with a two-fold strategy (1) Altering their guidances to their traditional grantees (museums, operas, symphonies, etc.) to require significant partnerships with diverse community-based organizations in their communities, and (2) Using the networks of community-based arts organizations (National Performance Network, Diverse Spaces, Leveraging Investments and Creativity etc…), artists (Alternate Routes etc.), and funders (Grantmakers in the Arts…), to identify potential grantees for consideration.

These strategies should be accompanied by involvement with foundation industry organizations and colleagues that fund diverse community-based arts organizations, and regional convenings focused on culture/art/community and change which would allow foundation representatives the opportunity to learn about organizations and models that are effective in this work.

To strengthen the capacity for foundations to recognize effective organizations and programs in this targeted area, grant review teams should also be adjusted to include representatives from currently funded programs by other funders (Ford, Nathan Cummings, Lambent, Kellogg, Open Society, etc…) and grant officers with a history of this style funding when possible.

This is a beginning plan for adjusting the course of grant-making for a foundation. To become good at grant-making in this area, foundations should also review the values, mission, knowledge base and analysis of America’s sociology, demography and capacity to meet the democratic principles of social justice. The foundations armed with this reflection should look to find an evolved strategy and approach that serves the foundation well and the nation better than their previous style of grantmaking.

NCRP’s Fusing Arts,Culture and Social Change by author Holly Sidford is a most recent wake-up call to us in the cultural and creative communities that we are in a non-reversible cultural shift. Our increasing diversity is meeting with a sluggish to absent capacity to adapt and rather than becoming stronger and richer as a country we are stalling, resisting and denying the obvious reality.

The curriculum for learning about and working to accept our new neighbors, co-workers, fellow-students, and fellow-Americans is being provided in community-based cultural and art programs where people are encountering each other, checking each other out and making the gradual and necessary acceptance of new folks in our communities.

This community making is intimate and careful. We are meeting our different neighbor/friend/family member on the block around the corner at the store etc. Community gatherings are another place where this delicate diplomacy takes place.

This is a rich opportunity for the cultural and creative communities to be the acknowledged guides to this better practice of diversity at work. There are thousands of efforts, initiatives and programs attempting this work across America because it is necessary and because it appears be do-able at the community level.

Foundations that appreciate culture and art and are investors in culture and art should recognize the service this community diplomacy work is to our American community as a whole. Supporting this work is a very important part of building sturdy bridges to our richly diverse present and tomorrow.

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Lessons from Public Funders

by Barbara Schaffer Bacon (bio), co-director, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts

GIA asks, “What can private foundations learn from public funders who are working with marginalized communities?” I think public support programs, some old, and some more current have a few lessons to offer. Though neither was without problems or controversy, both Roosevelt’s Federal Arts Projects in the 30s and The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in the 70s suggest that light structure can produce great results. They provide evidence that talented artists will answer the call and can produce great works that are relevant to and reflective of the communities for which they are created. While the Federal Art Project was more prescriptive, artists had a very public platform and some latitude to create their work. The public works they created and the artist’s interaction with the public is credited with stimulating national interest in American art and laying the groundwork for the National Endowment for the Arts to be established.

As a jobs and not an arts program, CETA had a looser structure. Artists and creative administrators were deployed, often creating their own job descriptions as they went to work in neighborhoods and community centers around the country. But they found their way and many of the programs created had staying power. The San Francisco Art Commission’s Neighborhood Arts Program, and later SOMArts Cultural Center, began a Technical Services Program that helped support the establishment of many neighborhood and culturally-specific parades and festivals that still thrive today. In Minneapolis, the American Composers Forum, The Loft, Dance Today (formerly the Minnesota Dance Alliance), Forecast Public Artworks, Warm, Illusion Theater, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Springboard for the Arts (formerly Resources and Counseling for the Arts), Milkweed Chronicle and many others grew out of the CETA era.

The lesson from these federal programs seems to be that we should keep program structures loose and expectations open. Instead of prescribing outcomes, we need to trust the artists and communities we seek to serve to couple creative expression with community engagement in meaningful ways. While we’re thinking about it, a jobs program for the arts would be a pretty good idea now — any interested funders?

Lessons and models are also available from local and state arts agencies that have evolved effective programs to serve marginalized communities. The most impactful have worked systemically, sustained leadership and funding over more than a decade, and combined training with program support. For example, the St. Louis Regional Arts Council Community Arts Training Institute (CAT) is a five-month curriculum fostering successful partnerships among artists, social workers, educators and community activists with the goal of creating significant arts programs in community settings such as neighborhood organizations, social service agencies and after-school programs. Now in its 15th year, CAT as developed a cadre of over 200 skilled artists and social service agencies through a well conceived community arts training and project support program focusing on strong partnership work.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s YouthReach Initiative promotes out-of-school arts, humanities, and science opportunities that are providing at-risk youth with in-depth experiences in arts and culture. Whether it’s linking a high school dropout to a teaching artist, or introducing an incarcerated teen to Shakespeare, these programs find innovative ways to inspire positive growth. The award winning program reaches deeply into communities and neighborhoods across the state and has helped to shape programs of the highest quality that are garnering national awards themselves. YouthReach is informed by and grounded in strong youth development principles. It has enjoyed consistent leadership, invested in evaluation, provided training opportunities, and developed effective partnerships at the state level that have helped to advance appreciation for the role the arts play in positive youth development.

As Sidford cites in Fusing Arts Culture and Social Change, public arts agencies have provided significant support for artists and groups whose roots may be more in the community than the academy as well as leadership for reaching marginalized populations. They can offer more than models and lessons to private foundations seeking to broaden the scope and impact of their investments in art, culture, and society. They can be strong partners or intermediaries for reaching marginalized communities.

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What If?

by Holly Sidford (bio), president, Helicon Collaborative

NCRP commissioned Fusing Art, Culture and Social Change to illuminate distribution patterns in foundation funding for arts and culture, and to encourage culture funders to allocate more of their resources toward directly benefitting disadvantaged people. As the author, I am gratified that the piece has attracted some attention. I hope the attention is leading to some reflection and some fresh conversations – within foundations, among foundations and between foundations and diverse cultural practitioners. I also hope it’s spurring some useful conversations within cultural organizations about our work in the larger context of issues and needs facing people in our communities.

Genuinely fresh conversations are difficult to organize; they are even more difficult to actually pull off. We are all caught in our respective worldviews, and in our organizational dynamics. And the days are short. While I was writing the essay, I was reminded repeatedly of how patterns of history and culture shape current realities. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.” And management guru Peter Drucker got it right too: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Most change occurs incrementally. Authentic paradigm shifts are extremely rare. As the saying goes, “It’s easier to behave your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of behaving.” But sometimes the path to real change in behavior starts with a big re-thinking of the fundamentals. I would love to see a community, or a state, or a region, or the whole country take up this question:

What if we could start fresh and design a new system of support for arts and culture in this country, with equity as one of its fundamental tenets?

What would that system look like? How would we define equity and what would be its principles? How would we define art and culture, support and system? How would we balance aid to the system’s beneficiaries – people, communities, institutions, artists, artistic and cultural forms themselves, and the interests of future generations? Knowing what we know now — about the astonishing spectrum of cultural practices alive in our country; about the important contributions the arts and artists make to cognitive development in people of all ages; about the central role that art and culture play in community cohesion and the health of immigrant communities, especially; about the glories of art without social message and art with a distinct political purpose; about the dynamic interplay of the commercial, nonprofit and unincorporated cultural forms – what philanthropic goals would we set for the new system and how would we array its resources? If fairness and equity were fundamentals, how would we shape the functions of public sector contributors as well as the various private sector ones – individual and institutional? And by what philosophy would we establish measures to know whether our new design was working?

We may need to start again – at least in our heads – to see the possibilities in a fresh way. Anyone up for a design charette?

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