Welcome to the GIA 2013 Conference Blog!

Grantmakers in the Arts is pleased to have a great team of bloggers covering the 2013 Conference in Philadelphia. Diane Ragsdale, Barry Hessenius, and the team from CreatequityIan David Moss, Daniel Reid, and Talia Gibas–will be posting their comments and reactions beginning Monday, October 7.
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My Grantmakers In the Arts 2013 Conference. I’m Sensing an Evolution.

This is a syndication of a post on my blog, Jumper.

A few weeks back I was invited to attend the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in Philadelphia as a Conference Blogger. I joined Barry Hessenius (Barry’s Blog) and a whole team of bloggers, led by Ian David Moss (Createquity), from Fractured Atlas. I wrote three posts summarizing the activities I attended and reflecting on key themes, which you can find here. I vowed (to myself) that I would let the conference sink in a bit and then write a post for Jumper–a brief summary of the sticky points, if you will. This is that post.


In a relatively short period of time (since I was last at GIA in 2009) it seems that the conversation has shifted from being largely organization-centric to being oriented to the needs of both organizations and individual artists (with increased attention being given to the latter at the moment). This was certainly noticeable from the way artists were incorporated into the plenary sessions, but was also evident in the sheer number of sessions dedicated to artists, or artist collectives, or the relationship of artists to institutions (not including the Support for Individual Artists Pre-Conference).

Of course support for individual artists (in practice, or as a topic for conversation at GIA) is not new. What does seem new, however, is the idea that such investments are needed not simply because most artists exist outside of institutional structures but because artists are potentially important agents of change in the arts sector. If we want to see innovation in the arts sector, goes the argument, then perhaps we need to support artist-driven enterprises and encourage the presence and influence of artists within institutions.

To be clear, I didn’t hear the latter argument articulated, per se. The closest sentiment (I heard) came from Ben Cameron when he explained the motivations behind a new program at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which puts artists in residence at arts organizations with the aim of  Building Demand for the Arts. In his opening remarks, Cameron mentioned that the program was “a reaction to the book Outrageous Fortune,” which he characterized as having “reinforced a divide between artists and institutions.” (For what it’s worth, I would characterize the book as having drawn attention to the divergent perspectives of arts organization leaders and artists that many in the theater field were previously unaware existed or were unwilling to acknowledge.) In any event, I sense that this particular program of the Duke Foundation is representative of a more general idea in the air. As I wrote in this GIA post,

For the first time, in a long time, I was at an arts conference in which artists (rather than organizations) seemed to have primacy. Where are the new ideas going to come from? Artists. Where does the energy to create community organically originate? Artists. Who are the entrepreneurs in the arts and culture sector? Artists.

If this is a growing sentiment, perhaps it would be worthwhile to structure a discussion next year around this idea and its implications for arts organizations?


A second (rather minor) theme was one that I experienced in large part due to the sessions I chose to attend. It’s the idea that funders now have the motive, opportunity, and means to give communities-at-large, or expert citizens, greater influence in the grantmaking process. Whether they want to take advantage of these tools is another matter; however, it appears that some long established grantmaking processes and structures may be shifting.

When the Knight Foundation first launched the Knight Arts Challenge in 2008 my sense was that it was perceived as a quite radical leap for a private foundation. I didn’t see (m)any other established foundations following Knight into the land of crowdsourced grantmaking. Even a couple years ago when Ian David Moss gave a TEDx talk and wrote an essay advancing his idea for  Citizen Curators to be engaged in the panel process, the funding community seemed rather perplexed by the idea, and it didn’t really seem to take off. At this year’s conference,however, it felt as though the tide may be shifting. Many arts funders acknowledged that they are rethinking their panel processes and some expressed receptivity to the idea of opening up their decision-making processes for direct engagement, or at least influence, by the end users that they are trying to reach through the arts. You can read more about this theme in my third blog post, which includes a discussion on the shift in Irvine’s program goals and strategy.

If I’m right about this then, again, it could be worthwhile to engage a discussion or debate around the implications of such shifts.


After writing this blog I decided to read the wrap ups of my fellow bloggers and I was struck by two things: (1) None of us attended the same conference–in the sense that we each walked away with a different perspective depending on the sessions we decided to attend. (2) If you attend GIA every year (as I did for years) it is hard to sense the change that may be happening.

In advance of going to GIA I was told by those organizing the conference that GIA had changed quite a bit since I was last in attendance. I was skeptical. And wrong to be so. Being away from the conference the past four years has, I believe, enabled me to detect the degree to which some things have, indeed, shifted with the times. When I was last at GIA the conversation seemed to be largely focused on the mis- or under-capitalization of arts organizations and ways to enable and encourage flailing organizations to either innovate or die gracefully. No doubt this was in large part due to the influence of the recession.

Don’t get me wrong—Systegic Survibrustainadaptinnovaccountabeffectipreneurism (my mash up of current funder jargon) continues to waft through every discussion and capitalization, in particular, is still cooking on the front burner. However, the conversation seems more evolved now. I sense (and hope I am right on this) that funders have begun to see innovation as a process rather than a destination (and one that should not be institutionalized by funders) and to ask themselves a question that the chair of my department at Erasmus, Arjo Klamer, might ask. Namely, “What’s capitalization good for?” In other words, what are the “goods” (the values, ideas, benefits to the world) that foundations are striving to realize in supporting the capitalization of organizations?

As I understand it, GIA has been actively recruiting new members to the fold the past few years (e.g., family foundations, local and regional arts councils, and community foundations). Additionally, it feels as though the median age of participants at GIA has dropped. It makes me wonder if the evolution in the conversation (if I’m right about that) is a result of having a wider lens on the world … and the role of the arts, artists, and arts organizations within it.

I sincerely hope others in attendance will consider weighing in. Did I attend the same conference you did? If not, what themes emerge

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GIA 2013: Making Room for the New

I have now been to the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference five times. I sort of can’t believe I’m writing that — it simultaneously makes me feel old and very, very lucky. I’ve written about my experiences there now four of those five times; you can find my wrap-ups for 200920102011, and of course 2013 on Createquity.

I basically retired from conference blogging two years ago, but the opportunity to bring together our hot-off-the-presses editorial team in one place and try out a new medium for us (video) was enough to drag me out of the attic for this go-round. Once you’ve attended any conference for several years in a row, it’s easy to get jaded and start to care more about reconnecting with old friends and making new ones than about the session content. This phenomenon probably reached its peak for me during last year’s conference in, of all places, Miami Beach, where I arrived to discover a hot tub in my room and one of my coworkers got randomly upgraded to a swim-up bungalow. Kind of hard to concentrate on PowerPoint slides in that kind of environment; I remember hanging around the pool with colleagues right after presenting one afternoon, wearing my nametag over a full suit and tie and feeling like a very sweaty idiot. I figured I wouldn’t have quite the same sorts of distractions to contend with in Philly, but still, it was another year of GIA and what promised to be another year of what have become some very familiar conversations.

Many conferences have formal “tracks” corresponding to industries, sectors, topic areas, and so forth, so that if you identify with one of those tracks you can easily navigate your way through the content that is most relevant to you. The GIA Conference essentially has implicit tracks that pop up every year: arts and social justice/cultural equity, arts education, technology, support for individual artists, creative placemaking, and so forth. I’m more invested in some of these topics than others, and it had become my practice at GIA and other conferences to gravitate towards those topics and engage with the kinds of people who get invited to speak on them. Nothing wrong with that, except that over time I found myself learning less and less from these sessions; I was already pretty on top of whatever conversations were going on and had met most of the people there were to meet. I’ve now been to not just GIA but also the Americans for the Arts Convention five times each, and my most positive experience at each conference was my first, in 2009 – when I was new to this corner of the field and everything was fresh.

So this year, I decided to switch it up a bit and deliberately attend some sessions that were outside of my comfort zone. The first of these was the Arts Education pre-conference, which you can hear about in our first video blog if you haven’t watched it yet. I’m going to focus here on two sessions during the main conference that blew my mind for two very different reasons, neither of which I had a chance to talk about much during our in-the-moment recaps.

On Monday, I attended “Invisible » Visible: New Native Voices on the Forefront of Change,” organized by Reuben Roqueni of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. That morning, GIA had unveiled its much-ballyhooed IDEA LAB, a series of TEDx-style short presentations, and the initial round of mini-keynotes were all delivered by artists or curators. While some of these talks were compelling, most of them ended up being about the artist’s individual work or the importance of art in general without much connection to grantmaking practice or the broader themes of the conference, and felt like tangents as a result. I came to this artist-centric session bracing myself for more of the same, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Rulan Tangen of Dancing Earth started things off with a full-group movement and sound exercise which managed to transcend the awkwardness of our windowless hotel room setting. Poet Natalie Diaz followed with two riveting readings from her work, and media artist Cristóbal Martinez demonstrated two of his creations (one live and one via slides). The difference with this session is that not only was the artistic content engaging in its own right, it led seamlessly into a fascinating discussion about how to support, respect, and engage creatively with indigenous communities around the globe. Tangen’s participatory dance workshop helped to bring us closer to the subject matter, Diaz’s poetry laid bare the tensions between ancient traditions and modern realities that make up her daily reality, and Martinez told us of a remarkable installation in a Sydney art gallery that involved cutting out part of the floor to allow voices from the earth to echo through the space. Each of these artistic explorations, in their own way, showed a different side of the clash between Eurocentric and Native worldviews, of the power imbalances inherent in that clash, and of the halting and uncertain efforts to call to account and heal the rift. Because philanthropy itself is at the center of not only the clash but the healing, the artistic connection was not just a feel-good reminder of why we’re all here, but intimately woven in to the conversation itself.

The distance between that session and Tuesday morning’s “Alternate Funding Tools: Program-Related Investments” shows the range of GIA at its best. Deena Epstein and Robert Jacquay of Cleveland’s George Gund Foundation offered a down-to-earth, relentlessly practical, and admirably candid take on their own experiences offering lesser-used tools such as low-interest loans, equity investments, and more to arts groups in their community. The topic wasn’t uncharted territory only for me: session organizer Regina Smith from the Kresge Foundation kicked things off by asking who in the room had direct experience with PRIs; only a couple of hands went up. After a brief review of the history of PRIs, Jacquay described the Gund Foundation’s work with this tool. About 3.5% of the foundation’s investment corpus is held in this asset class, with examples of investments in the arts including a low-interest loan to the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art to help the institution secure a New Markets Tax Credit for a new building, using an equipment purchase as leverage with the landlord of an organization that was at risk of losing its lease, and (my favorite) depositing $25,000 in a local credit union that gives loans to working musicians. Epstein and Jacquay reported that despite a perception of PRIs as risky and unfamiliar on the part of some institutions, their experience has been that the due diligence process is “not a huge mystery.”

The theme of this year’s GIA Conference was “The NEW Creative Community,” and conference organizers made a concerted effort to deliver new thinking to its attendees both in the plenaries and the choice of breakout sessions. That effort wasn’t 100% successful in an absolute sense, as emcee Ben Cameron pointed out on the second day of IDEA LAB – when you try to make room for the new, a lot of times what you get is old ideas in new clothes. But attendees can nevertheless make room for the new in a relative and personal sense by taking a risk and giving unfamiliar topics a chance. I’m following up my GIA experience this week by attending the American Evaluation Association Conference in Washington, DC. This is my first time at this event and it is providing a rush of stimulation due to its dramatic differences from GIA and any other conference I attend regularly: over 3000 attendees from all over the world (I shared an eight-person table on Monday with people from Germany, Brazil and Indonesia), 1000 sessions (sometimes more than 50! at a time), dozens of workshops, and very little arts content. I’m getting a lot out of the experience because I’m stretching myself to learn things I don’t already know. So if you think you’ve seen and heard it all, take it from one who has learned his lesson and consider how you too can make room for the new.

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Systemic Change in a Pointillist World – Questions from GIA 2013

I approached the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts conference as an opportunity to revisit my roots while stepping out of my comfort zone. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and my first job out of graduate school was in grantmaking. Since then I have been living and breathing arts education. I arrived last week happy to be “home” and eager to take a break from edutalk. I wanted to sit back and revel in topics I know little about.

Wouldn’t you know it? Of the nearly ten pages of notes I wrote over those three days, almost half are about public education.

So much for that break.

I did go to a few sessions specific to education: an update on GIA’s Arts Education Funders Coalition’s advocacy efforts, for example, and a session about the Hive Learning Network‘s support for digital learning. Most, however, didn’t explicitly have much to do with K-12 classrooms. One described a multi-city performance festival. Another shared lessons learned from one foundation’s attempt to coax a bit of “ridiculousness” from its grantees. They were fascinating in their own right, but as I listened I kept writing vague questions to myself about “evolution,” “innovation,” and “the system.” Something was nagging at me, and I didn’t know what it was.

Then Ethan Zuckerman made my head explode.

Mr. Zuckerman’s keynote on day two of the conference was the perfect cerebral counterbalance to the soul-stirring meditations provided by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Nikky Finney on days one and three. (Kudos to GIA for lining up not one, not two, but three exemplary plenary speakers for this gathering.) He talked about how digital media is changing our interactions with one another, changing what it means to be an engaged and globally-minded citizen, and changing how we access and filter the information and opinions that shape our understanding of the world. The upcoming generations of “digital natives,” he said, are raised with a “pointillist” worldview. They seek and expect constant participation and engagement in the causes they think affect their social circles. They want immediate impact. They risk falling into an echo chamber of ideas that support their existing conception of the world. They are suspicious of institutions. They engage via social connections, not broad issues. To them, “the idea that [their] job as a 20-something is to read the newspaper every day and every two years elect someone to represent [them] is bullshit.”

I don’t have a Facebook account but I don’t live in a cave. The idea that the Internet and social media are changing how we consume information isn’t new to me. However, Zuckerman hammered home both the speed and uncertainty with which the world is shifting beneath our feet. We can’t yet judge whether these changes are for good or ill, but must be flexible in our understanding of what things like “citizenry” and “creativity” mean. Creativity, according to Zuckerman, isn’t just about creation. It’s about settling into a space between concepts, actively seeking divergent points of view, drawing connections between people and disciplines that seem to have nothing to do with one another, indulging in an “import-export business” of ideas, and resisting the temptation to lapse into homophily.

For the rest of the conference, everything I heard and discussed was about “the space between.” I went to an off-site session at Drexel University, where fashion majors work alongside engineering majors to create wearable pieces of circuitry, and students in a music and technology engineering lab stay up to the wee hours figuring out how to program robots to play drums for a tongue-in-cheek video rendition of  ”Come Together.” As one of the presenters quipped, showing us a visual map of men and women with “hybrid competencies” working between disciplines, “the tree of knowledge has been cut down and replaced by a network.”

It was pretty darn cool.

It was also clarified my vague musings about “evolution” and “the system.” In arts education we seek “systemic change,” trying to determine the structures we must put in place so all students have equal access to studying visual art, dance, etc. Those structures are based on our own understanding of the artistic disciplines and our experiences with “the system.” In light of what Zuckerman described, however, they seem, well, rigid. To give one example, our advocacy efforts often make clear that “the arts” refer to four specific disciplines – visual art, dance, drama, and music. (With the advent of new national core arts standards, a fifth discipline, media arts, is getting its due, though the fact the word “digital” is missing may be testament to just how far our efforts lag behind student experience.) We do this because our field is a “big tent” and we want to be sure no one is left out (unless, like both our plenary speakers on days one and three, you happen to work in the literary arts). So we are careful to call those four-or-five disciplines out as separate-but-equal, and maintain that students should have high-quality learning experiences in each.

Those decisions make sense to us. But do they make sense to our students? Do they align with their “pointillist” worldview?  Will they be relevant in 2020? Will they be relevant in 2016? How on earth do we craft policies that have the “teeth” to get to issues of equity, but not the rigidity that will render them obsolete? How do we take a “systemic” view to support students with a “pointillist” lens? What if a “pointillist” generation doesn’t want or care about four-or-five separate artistic disciplines? What if our desire for policies and definitions that reflect how we think about our work are getting in our way of supporting what they need?

Uncomfortable thoughts, but not unwelcome. I came to Philadelphia thinking I would lend a newcomer’s perspective on foreign topics. I left with those foreign topics challenging my longstanding perspective. The “space between” is interesting indeed.

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Supporting Excellence in the Arts – Lessons from GIA 2013


To this newcomer, the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Philadelphia was a whirlwind tour through dozens of ideas and themes that have currency among arts funders, from creative placemaking to creativity and aging, from combatting racism in our own practice to ensuring all students receive a robust arts education. A few days after the final breakfast, I’ve achieved some distance from the details, and from that vantage, I want to reflect on a fundamental question that cropped up in various plenary presentations, breakout sessions, and side conversations throughout the conference: How can we as grantmakers most effectively support excellence in the arts? The question has special resonance for me as I step into a new role as Executive Director of the Whiting Foundation, which gives to individual writers.


A Voice from the Other Side of the Grant

Two remarkable artists gave plenary talks that not only moved and inspired everyone I spoke to in the audience but also demonstrated the speakers’ facility with the written and spoken word. Each is the kind of artist any of us would be proud to have supported, the kind we have in mind when we think about artistic excellence. And, in the course of retelling her own development as a writer, each offered important lessons for how to think about grant program design.

Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, author of Water by the Spoonful and In the Heights, grew up “in the barrio” in Philadelphia; among her family, she was “the one who got out,” though not the only artist: a cousin was inspired by her success to write his first novel from prison. He has just finished his third. That inspiring success was enabled – or at least facilitated – by three critical grants, one received when Hudes was a sophomore at Yale, one when she was a graduate student in playwriting at Brown, and one when she had achieved enough commercial success with In the Heights to face the hard choice between signing up to write for the screen and re-devoting herself to less remunerative but more personal writing. In each case, as she put it, it was the length (one to two years), quantity (enough to allow her to quit the jobs she held to pay the rent), and quality (no strings attached) of the grant that made it transformative. At least in this case, it seems that the best thing a grantmaker could do was spot a potential talent, give her the gift of time, and get out of her way.

These grants worked differently from each other in an important way, it seems to me. The first freed a young artist who had thrown herself into theater at college from the need to work over a summer, offering what may have been her first chance to get lost in a single project; the second gave force to the eternal promise of the MFA as an uninterrupted opportunity to focus on craft, to experiment, and to produce. Both awards encouraged an early-career artist in important ways: they were bellows to a spark that, for all anyone could know in advance, might have sputtered out rather than catching.

The third grant, by contrast, emboldened an artist in full command of her powers to turn down a lucrative screenwriting gig – “my agent fumed,” Hudes gleefully recalled – to pursue a project with much less commercial promise that she couldn’t quite get out of her head. The result was the Pulitzer-winning Water by the Spoonful, the second play in what is now a trilogy. This third grant was a different kind of gamble: by this point, we could be pretty sure Hudes was going to make something wonderful (television and film are both vibrant media, after all), but the grantmaker presumably believed she would make something more wonderful without financial pressure.

It’s hard to know what might have happened without any one – or even all three – of these philanthropic interventions. Hudes clearly has immense inner resources to complement her immense talent: she had made it to Yale before the first of the grants she mentioned, and from the lectern she conveyed such mastery and conviction that it was hard to imagine her not creating art and amazing audiences. If cultural philanthropy did not exist, perhaps Hudes would have made the time and mental space to make equally acclaimed work. Or perhaps she would have followed so many of her classmates into business or medicine or law and put her art on hold, for a few years or a lifetime. Ultimately, we can only celebrate what did happen, and take Hudes seriously when she says that the support she received – long-term, sufficient, and unqualified – was crucial for her.


Considering How We Give

We can also think hard about what Hudes’s example tells us about how we select grantees. Of course we do our best to assess talent, but is there a way to know in advance who has the grit to persevere in a life dedicated to art, which can be hard even with grant support? Is there a way to identify the established artist who has a new, brilliant idea that won’t attract commercial support, that she can only pursue with philanthropic dollars? How can we nurture the excellent art that otherwise might not happen?

Expertise and judgment must be the answer, and, thanks to IRS rules, it is almost always the expertise and judgment of panels that determine which individual artists and arts organizations receive grants. I moderated what seemed to be one of the more tactical of the breakout sessions, in which Ian David Moss of Fractured Atlas and Createquity and Ed Harsh of New Music USA presented on ways of “Rethinking the Grant Panel.” Diane Ragsdale has an excellent summary of the presentations in her final post from the conference, so I will only say here that there seemed to be a hunger to discuss the specific changes that some funders are making to their panels. Some of the questions that we could only touch on (or didn’t even have time to) in the one-hour session include:

  • How can we use technology effectively to expand grant panels to fairly evaluate the work of a growing number of artists?
  • What kinds of expertise are most important on grant panels? Should a jazz pianist’s proposal be evaluated only by other jazz pianists?
  • At what stage and by whom should different criteria (artistic excellence, project potential, financial sustainability, etc.) be evaluated?
  • How can we balance the advantages of a model that requires consensus among judges (e.g., fairness, direct comparison of applicants) with the advantages of a model that gives weight to the passionate advocacy judges may feel for an especially strong applicant?
  • What should be the role of deliberation, face-to-face or otherwise, in selecting grantees?
  • From a technical perspective, should we account for “easy” and “hard” graders among panelists?
  • Who wins and who loses when we adopt new techniques like dispersed panels or applications that emphasize public presentation through a website?
  • What promising innovations is no one trying yet?

We plan to continue the conversation about these and other questions; leave a comment if you’d like to be a part of it.

We actually know surprisingly little about how private arts funders give to individual artists. Grantmakers in the Arts publishes an annual report on the state of giving to arts organizations that, despite the imperfections of the data, is an excellent guide to the field. GIA is now a year into a similar project covering giving to individuals, which was the subject of a breakout session at the conference and a plenary discussion at the “Support for Individual Artists” preconference. GIA’s Tommer Peterson (the quiet heart of the conference) is leading work with Alan Brown and Claudia Bach to catalogue the various ways funders can support individual artists, from outright cash grants made directly to artists to the provision of a variety of in-kind services through a financial intermediary. Once a taxonomy is established by March 2014, the real work will begin, as data is collected from pilot sites to test the system before GIA establishes a national database. Within a few years, we may learn much more about the tools available to us as funders and how those tools are currently being used. In the meantime, GIA has collected articles on the topic and provides updates on what they’ve learned so far on their website.


Who Will Support the Sensitive Child?

And, of course, we can continue to learn from artists what makes the difference to them. I want to close by returning to the second artist who gave a plenary talk at this year’s conference, National Book Award-winning poet Nikky Finney. Finney opened with a quote from Willa Cather: “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” She spoke movingly about growing up as a “sensitive child” and the editorial attention of a high-school English teacher who helped her realize that her intense experience of the world was something to be treasured, mastered, and recorded. (Hudes spoke of similar attention, from a local street musician who give her a crucial cassette and an unforgiving Russian piano teacher.) Toward the end Finney posed a question that was also an exhortation (roughly transcribed): “Who looks for and seeks the sensitive child before she needs money to make her art? Call out her name to let her know she has been loved and cherished. Make her know that what she has witnessed – whatever it has been – greatly matters in this world.”

For those of us with our heads fully in the technical construction of grant panels by that final breakfast, Finney was, as she said artists must, “saying the hard thing beautifully.” This was a plea to consider the stage when an intervention – philanthropic or otherwise – can make the most difference in fostering excellent art: the stage when a child is learning how to confront and express the creative impulse within her, is accumulating unbeknownst to her the resources and materials that will fuel her art for years, and is making the choices that will one day turn her into a professional poet.

There is a clear message here for those who grant in arts education, but there is also an important lesson for those of us who support adult artists. It matters that we give; it matters to whom we give; and it also matters when in their development as artists we give. There is something special about support that comes early enough to turn the sensitive child into an artist – or that, later, comes at a moment when the artist must choose between art and another of life’s demands. As we strive to improve our grantmaking, how can we more effectively intervene with the right person at the right moment to make possible the commitment to a potential masterpiece – or to a lifetime of creating excellent art?


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Who do arts funders exist to serve? Who should decide where the money goes? Do historic processes serve current needs and goals?

This is my third, and final, post reporting on the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference. Rather than writing up a daily roundup of the sessions I attended at GIA I decided to reflect upon them thematically. The overarching theme of this year’s conference was “The New Creative Community.” In my last post I discussed how this theme seemed to manifest in a general orientation toward the role of the individual artist in moving the field forward. I wrote:

For the first time in a long time I was at an arts conference in which artists (rather than organizations) seemed to have primacy. Where are the new ideas going to come from? Artists. Where does the energy to create community organically originate? Artists. Who are the entrepreneurs in the arts and culture sector? Artists.

As I begun mulling over the last two sessions I attended two other manifestations of the conference theme began to emerge—What communities do arts funders exist to serve? and How do those communities participate in the decision-making process?


Laura Zucker (Los Angeles County Arts Commission), Huong Vu Bozarth (The Boeing Company) and Glyn Northington (Target) were the presenters for a session called “Who Are Our Constituents?”  I was compelled by the description of the session in my program: “Borrowing a concept from the for-profit sector, what does grantmaking look like if we try to think about those we serve as constituents? Are we in a business-to-business model, generally characterized as a collaborative relationship between organizations, either of which is the actual end-user (constituent)? Or are we in a business-to-customer model, serving constituents directly?”

As the session began I took note of an argument that seemed to be advance through the presentations: (1) Corporations are often, by necessity, quite explicit about the constituents they exist to serve (which can include, for instance employees and their families or customers).  (2) There is frequently a quite conscious effort to align philanthropic contributions with the values and priorities of these constituents with the hope that this will encourage their loyalty to the company or brand. (3) Philanthropic investments by corporations are frequently tied to a theory of change to reach business objectives (e.g., “Strong businesses thrive in strong communities; and nonprofits create strong, vibrant communities”). (4) Are there lessons in this approach for government agencies and private foundations?

This session allowed ample time for discussion, which Laura Zucker opened by asking What are we trying to change? Who are we responding to? Probing the contours of strategic investment, in particular, she wondered aloud When does positive investment turn into manipulation? What’s the line between reactive philanthropy and responsive philanthropy? The discussion was wide-ranging but a good bit of time was spent reflecting upon the Irvine Foundation’s recent shift in focus away from a more traditional form of arts philanthropy to one in which the focus is on hands-on participation. Irvine is a great case through which to examine the questions Zucker was asking. (For those reading this that may not be familiar with this shift, here are two Jumper posts, here and here, that delve into the shift and also point to other bloggers reflecting upon it.) Clay Lord (New Beans) who was in the audience (and who has also written at length about Irvine’s new approach on his blog), kicked off the discussion by making the observation that we should not assume that private foundations are not aware of their constituents  and that one could argue that Irvine, in particular, is almost “hyper-aware” of its constituency. Laura Zucker agreed and remarked  that Irvine’s constituency seemed to have shifted from arts organizations to people in the community not being served by arts organizations. Jeanne Sakamoto from Irvine, also in attendance, spoke up to modestly reframe the point; she remarked that Irvine sees its constituency as all citizens in the regions it serves and that their new approach was intended to help them serve everyone, rather than the minority of citizens that traditionally participate in the professional nonprofit arts.

The conversation then touched on the implications of such shifts on grantmaking processes—for instance, lightly institutionalized organizations that do the best job of reaching immigrant populations may not have the capacity to fulfill reporting requirements of foundations or even government agencies.  This led to a discussion of the grant application itself and how this may both preclude some organizations or inadvertently nudge them in the direction of adopting practices and structures that are at odds with their nontraditional goals and values. Zucker made the point that there is (sometimes? often?) a disconnect between what funders have traditionally thought of as indicators of best practice (which get translated into eligibility requirements and metrics considered in the application process) and the new practices that they are now hoping to see in organizations. The session ended with Zucker posing a few questions for everyone to consider as we walked out the door:

  • Are we aligning our practices with what we say we want to do?
  • If people give to people, who are the people in this relationship?
  • What processes will allow funders to shift from engaging in a funding transaction (which too many are doing at the moment) to engaging in a relationship?


As it turned out I walked from this session into one led by Ian David Moss, Ed Harsh and Daniel Reid on the limitations of the traditional grant panel and whether that process may need to change. This session was asking, in essence, If arts grantmaking has traditionally existed to channel funds to worthy people and project not adequately valued in the commercial marketplace, do current panel processes allow funders to find and fund voices not already being recognized by the commercial marketplace? Moss discussed ideas theorized in a 2012 piece he wrote for the GIA Reader called Audiences at the Gate and argued for a grantmaking model he calls “guided crowdsourcing”. In contrast to a more traditional model in which the distribution of funds is filtered either through a program officer or grants panel, guided crowdsourcing employs an army of what Moss calls “citizen curators,” who are brought into the process to ensure that a large and diverse pool of potential grant recipients is able to be recognized and reviewed.

Ed Harsh was on hand to discuss the shift that New Music USA has made in its grant panel process. (New Music USA is the new organization that was formed out of the merger of Meet the Composer and the American Music Center.) Harsh explained that there were two fundamental ideas motivating the recent shift in its grantmaking philosophy: (1) It’s better to ask artists what they need than to tell them what they should want; and (2) the application needs to be rethought as a way to engage the public. With regard to the panel process itself the new system needed to enable the fair evaluation of projects with little in common and needed to scalable. New Music USA’s new process engages a large, virtual panel (all paid for their efforts) to review an estimated 600 applications. Each application is reviewed by four panelists, specifically matched to the application based on the particular expertise needed. One of the key benefits of the large number of panelists is that it allows for individuals with diverse skills to be selected at this initial stage. The 600 applications is whittled down to the top 20% (using an algorithm) and then another virtual panel is engaged to go through the same process with that group. The process allows for virtual deliberation if necessary to discuss applications but does not require discussion of applications for which there seems to be strong consensus.

Following the excellent presentations by Moss and Harsh, others in the room raised their hands to mention large shifts and small tweaks that they had made or were planning to make to their grant panel process—some in response to having a glut of applications and some in response to recognizing that the old process was not yielding high quality decisions. It was exciting to see that so many funders are rethinking some of their longstanding, fundamental practices and processes.


Tuesday’s luncheon plenary, which featured a keynote address by Ethan Zuckerman (Media Lab at MIT and the Center for Civic Media) actually dovetailed nicely with these two sessions. Barry Hessenius has given a nice summary of this talk in his GIA Day 3 Post. I jotted down a few questions that Zuckerman posed that strongly resonated with the Constituents and Grants Panel sessions I attended:

  1. Is there a change happening in civics and grantmaking  – a new paradigm about how change happens in the world?
  2. How do the arts help us embrace cultural diversity locally and globally?
  3. How  do we find and support the innovators who are rethinking the paradigm?

Like the other two keynotes given by Quiara Alegria Hudes and Nikky Finney (whose acceptance speech for Poetry at the National Book Awards has gone viral, read it here, or watch it here) Zuckerman’s keynote was inspiring, intelligent, and provocative. I have given scant attention to these keynotes in my posts (in large part because I was so captivated by them it was difficult to take notes). I hope and trust that GIA will post them.

Finally, on the last night of the conference participants were invited to view the collection at the new Barnes Foundation. I never visited the old Barnes and I know the move was controversial, so I really approached the experience as a newcomer. I was moved almost to the point of tears by this collection (by both its content and its presentation) and highly recommend a visit to this museum on your next trip to Philly.

My sincere thanks to GIA for the opportunity to blog. It was a great conference and I am pleased to have been given a chance to give those not in attendance a glimpse into the ideas that were in play.


Posted in Diane Ragsdale, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GIA Day 3

Good morning
“And the beat goes on……………………”

Breakout Sessions:

I. Who Are Our Constituents? This session was based on the proposition that clarifying one’s constituency can change the approach to grant making.

I think the reality is not so much in clarifying the constituency, as identifying which constituency the focus needs to be on to advance whatever strategies have currently been adopted to meet a goal or the mission.

Though some see the public and private sectors as having different ultimate constituencies, I don’t think that is necessarily the case. Corporations, nonprofits, government entities all ultimately serve a public interest. In the end, a public good is the ultimate constituency.

The traditional corporate model suggests the purpose of the corporation is to “enhance shareholder value” (and arguably, that is a private, not public interest). For the most part, that may well be an increase in bottom line profits. But it may also be accomplished through a myriad of other activities. Thus, for a company like Boeing – where their workforce is rapidly aging – philanthropic efforts that address that issue (like the promotion of creativity as an educational objective resulting in a more qualified workforce) indirectly relates to the enhanced shareholder value. And in serving that objective, the corporation is (even if indirectly) serving a public interest.

For Boeing, their external stakeholders logically include: the airline customers, their suppliers, government agencies and the local communities in which they operate, the people who fly and the tourism industries. Their internal stakeholders include their employees and their stockholders. Also included in the mix is their role in the overall nonprofit sector in the geographic areas (principally Seattle) where they do business.

So, where they focus their philanthropic strategies, is, to me, the issue. Workforce development is a key upcoming challenge to them, so education that seeks (long term) to support and develop a more creative workforce is a no brainer. Success in that strategy benefits the wider public.

Target Stores, like Boeing has concluded that philanthropy is good for business (and thus the shareholder value). Their constituents likewise include their customers and employees.

In the nonprofit sector, the government accords a special tax status on organizations that are legally defined as “public benefit corporations” (that provide a benefit to to the public) – which is not altogether much different than enhancing shareholder value – with the public itself being the shareholders. Our nonprofit grant making includes a gamut of stakeholders – from the artists and arts organizations, to audience members, to communities. Nonprofits too must determine where their focus will lie as they try to balance their constituent interests. Clarifying which constituencies that focus will be on may help them to clarify their approaches to grant making in pursuit of an objective.

Finally, government agencies (like local arts councils, cities, states) also have as their underpinning, the public as the ultimate constituency. They spend taxpayer money to enhance public value. Where they choose to focus that spending affects how they design and implement programming.

I am not sure where this all leads, but it seems that asking the question “who really are out (current) constituencies” may be helpful in then determining how and to whom to make grants.

In the comments portion of this session, the discussion went far beyond the base question of who are your constituents and into the realm of how you go about vetting new ideas. Mario Garcia Durham, from APAP, had what I think is a very keen observation: he suggested that we ought to embrace some mechanism that would provide strong skepticism to new ideas; that while we didn’t want to discourage new thinking, we did need to challenge new ideas on multiple fronts with rigorous due diligence before rushing to embrace them. I think he is right. Too often, our dedication to the very concept of new ideas, leads us too quickly to move from one approach to another and that as a matter of strategy, we need healthy questioning of all the implications and likely impact of changing from one thing to another. I think that is a good idea at both the organization and the sector levels.

II. Capitalization – What are the Next Steps?

There is ample evidence that a huge percentage of arts organizations are in a financial crisis; they simply do not adhere to the principle of spending less money than they take in. The funding community has played a role in allowing a culture of tolerating the conditions of inadequate capitalization to exist. How then do we now help arts organizations to retire their debt, and embrace adequate capitalization, to become the requisite norm of the business model?

In the private sector, the market makes frequent corrections. But in the nonprofit sector, market forces are undependable, unpredictable and chaotic.

One fundamental problem for arts philanthropy is that grantees – increasingly in a survival mode, desperate for funds, and wanting to appease funder demands – make two critical and costly decisions (consciously or unconsciously):

First, they continue to seriously underestimate the cost of overhead. Whether intentionally or cavalierly, they submit budgets that suggest the cost of their doing business is far less than the reality.

The second error is the flip side of the coin: they seriously overestimate their projected incomes.

The philanthropic community has moved, in recent years, to address the first error by providing more money for general operating expenses, and more money for the overhead and management of specific projects (moving to a more realistic goal of 30% for overhead). And evidence suggests funders have gone from providing general operating expenses in the 15% range to the 35% range. But they haven’t yet found the best way to change that culture of misinformation – with grantees providing unsubstantiated and false figures on expenses and income. Many arts organizations are in denial about both, and many are not being completely honest with themselves, let alone their funders.

The challenge is to change that culture – to where grantees are more honest and realistic – in order to arrive at a better working relationship between grantor and grantee.

Two realities seem apparent to GIA: 1) Bringing organizations to a position of being more comfortable with being honest and realistic with themselves and funders, and moving towards positions of adequate capitalization, are both part of a big conversation involving the whole arts organization’s communities, including Boards who are often not thinking about capitalization. And 2) This will be a long, long conversation.

III. Luncheon Plenary. Speaker Ethan Zuckerman

Working through his organization Global Voices, Zuckerman is concerned with helping activists have a social media voice, and in the process is learning about how change happens in the world.

Some of his observations:

1. The media didn’t see the changes wrought by new technology coming, and don’t yet know how to recover. That seems to me akin to the music business (post Napster) failing to see a fundamental change in their business model – changes that moved them from selling records as the primary income generator, a model that supported touring of artists as incidental to the selling of recorded music, to the model where recorded music became the tool to promote touring as the primary source of income. Napster enforced a new reality – the non-paying downloading of music – and that new reality has fundamentally changed forever the music business model. I wonder if the rough equivalent of Napster for the nonprofit arts is somewhere out there lurking, and that the proverbial bus for us is leaving the station? And whether or not we are perilously close to missing that bus as our model is morphing into something we don’t yet see and from which we may not recover?

2. The new media stars are former bloggers.

3. Twenty year olds (the new generation that Zuckerman calls the “digital natives) have already decided what actions they will and won’t take to affect change. For example, this group doesn’t look to Congress or government as the place to make change happen. They are suspicious of institutions. They live in a high tech social world and cherish a “participatory world” – and if there is no participation, then they aren’t interested. Moreover that world is seen through a “pointilist lens” wherein the impact desired (and having impact is a highly desired outcome) is achieved by small increments, not big movements.

4. There is, in this group, the tendency to gravitate to small, known groups – which inclination is most pronounced online, where the “digital natives” live. Thus creativity is an import / export business – not a solo endeavor. Participation is based on passion for this cohort, and the questions for the arts are: 1) How can the arts be a cultural bridge?, and 2) how can the arts support institutions in a pointilist world?

IV. The offsite session: Challenges, Opportunities and Impacts at the Intersection of Art and Science:

One of many off-site, afternoon long sessions, this one was held at the URBN Center at Drexel University.

SEAD is a network for Sciences, Engineering, Arts and Design, and interested in new forms of collaboration among SEAD constituencies. They did a study to identify issues that must be addressed in order to create an ecology of networked knowledge and innovation among these groups. Such a program needs to attend to the following issues:

Translation – of the SEAD constituencies’ preferred language, objectives, modus operandi, assumptions and more – among academic, commercial and civil societies.

Convening – overcoming trans-disciplinary thresholds.

Enabling – sustaining balanced SEAD relationships, i.e., establishing safe places within academia for hybrid individual practices.

Including – dynamic varied communities. Global communities with local diversity.

Embedding – public engagement and negotiation.

Situating – engaging ecologies of creative and alternate spaces.

Sense making – of the multi ways (modals) of knowing.

Integration of understandings through the varied SEAD perspectives.

Documentary – Capturing, publishing, curating and archiving new forms.

Learning – Tapping into life long learning and creativity and sharing of blended experiences.

Collaborating – methodologies across disciplines and institutions. Partnerships across organizational boundaries.

Thriving – ethical values including well being and joyfulness.

Two things struck me from this session:
First, there is a lot more (science / art) cross disciplinary conversation and interaction going on (at least at the academic / university level) than we realize. In touring the Drexel schools, there is a wealth of intersections going on crossing the art, design and science departments. The challenge for us is to promote wider understanding that these conversations have already started and are moving forth fairly rapidly, and then to seat ourselves at these tables so that as these dialogues and resultant new thinking continues and emerges, we are part of the decision making process and that we have the opportunity to provide input all along the way so that the relationships that develop include our issues, our perspectives, our needs, our hopes. The nonprofit field sector of the arts seems very likely (to me anyway) already behind in this effort. The academic aspect of these intersections is a train already moving and gaining speed. If we are to catch this particular train, we need to get on board quickly to join the planning process of how this all unfolds.

Second, that movement of citizen scientist and citizen artist is making progress. But again that development is moving without benefit of any consensus, comprehensive policy to guide its formation and output. We need to work with the academic arts and science communities to involve: 1) us as the arts field practitioners; and 2) the private sector business scientists as the science field practitioners. This whole effort has to be more than an academic / University led evolution.

The cross sector challenges for us to promote those intersections and the potential to bridge silo thinking are: first to gain more widespread awareness of these efforts. Professional organizations of scientists and artists need to meet regularly, and the conceptual framework of STEM to STEAM may be a good place to start. And second, to identify the ways each sector can be supportive of the other. Both sectors suffer from cultures of territoriality.

Finally, I also think there has been little movement yet in building the leveraging of public opinion bridge – little progress in creating mechanism whereby arts and science can support each other’s value and validity via leveraged advocacy and educational efforts.

V. The conference reception at the Barnes Foundation’s Philadelphia Campus:

For me one of the great benefits of going to different kinds of arts conferences across the country over the last decade plus has been the pleasure of seeing cultural facilities and art in a score of cities as a VIP guest, and that has been a unique and joyous opportunity. The reception at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia added to that long list. The collection (the subject of much controversy in moving it from it’s original distant site to this new site) is stunning – Van Gogh, Matisse and other impressionist masters – but the real stars are the Cezannes and Renoirs. I have never seen so many Cezannes and Renoirs in one place. An extraordinary collection, now housed in a beautiful building – the clean lines of the modern architecture complementing the collection and how it is housed and displayed.

VI. Finally, Poet Nikky Finney closed the conference with a eloquent talk centered around the plaintive question: “Where is the support for the sensitive child.”

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Posted in Barry Hessenius | Leave a comment

Dispatch from GIA: Artists front and center, modeling the way forward

Rather than posting a daily roundup of sessions that I’ve attended at GIA I decided to see all my sessions and then reflect upon them thematically.

Let me start by saying that this has been a terrific conference and that the quality and impact of this conference seems to stem from three things:

  1. CHANGED FORMATS. This year GIA introduced a session at the 8am breakfast session, called IDEA LAB, that featured a handful of artists doing eight-minute talks (a la TED), interspersed with videos of artists (captured from various sites), introduced and summed up by the always inspiring and thoughtful Ben Cameron at Doris Duke Charitable Trusts.
  2. NEW PEOPLE AND LOTS OF THEM. I have been away from GIA for a few years and I can tell you that there are many new voices at GIA. This has led to new topics and a richer discussion in the sessions. Evidently, this is the largest GIA conference to date.
  3. PATIENCE TO TACKLE LONGER TERM ISSUES INCREMENTALLY OVER TIME. Finally, there was a palpable sense of needles moving at many of the sessions I attended. While (as at all conferences) there was encouragement for new ideas to be introduced, I was compelled by GIA’s commitment to stick with some of the more intractable issues that face grantmakers and those they fund and to design sessions to keep members focused on doing the slow, steady, incremental work that will lead to broadening, deepening and diversifying audiences (to use Wallace’s language), addressing issues of race and class in the sector, and strengthening the finances of organizations so they can fulfill their missions (the capitalization initiative). Rather than feeling tedious it felt as though great attention is now being paid to learning from the work already done, building upon it, and continuing to move forward.

Though we are still stuck with the panel format (which almost all arts conferences still rely upon) I also noted that in every session I attended the panelists stuck to time limits and left ample time for those in the audience to make points and ask questions.

So let’s dig in.


The theme of this year’s conference is “The New Creative Community” and it seems to have been infused throughout the three-day gathering by the presence of artists and thinkers from other fields, who gave talks aimed at illuminating new practices, conceptual frameworks, and metaphors. From these contributors I heard art being conceptualized as a tool that enables us to be in charge of our own narrative (Favianna Rodriguez); as a mechanism for pushing out new values (Trey McIntryre); as a tool for connection (Ethan Zuckerman); and as that which enables us to think about time in new ways (Carin Kuoni).  I heard that artists shape and transform by holding spaces, telling stories from deep within, and building bridges (Marshall Davis Jones). I heard that learning an art form is only one benefit (and perhaps a side benefit) of an artistic practice (Quiara Alegria Hudes). And I heard artists articulate about embracing diverse rather than absolute aesthetics (Byron Au Yong).

The dominant metaphor is clear. Art is a counterforce in a world in which we are surrounded by destruction, division, and decay. It engages, activates, pulls, pushes, and creates pathways between people, places, and times that would otherwise be disconnected.

And what do artists need to do their work? Grants of sufficient size and duration that they can find the time to think, experiment, and do their best work. A rather beautiful and uncomplicated idea offered up over and over again to a field that (in my humble opinion) can have a tendency to ignore mundane issues and simple solutions and instead create much more complicated problems that require complex interventions. For the first time, in a long time, I was at an arts conference in which artists (rather than organizations) seemed to have primacy. Where are the new ideas going to come from? Artists. Where does the energy to create community organically originate? Artists. Who are the entrepreneurs in the arts and culture sector? Artists.


Indeed, I attended a terrific session called Artists ARE Entrepreneurs led by Heather Pontonio (Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation), Cinda Holt (Montana Arts Council), and Bill Cleveland (Center for the Study of Art & Community) whose very point seemed to be that rather than thinking of artists as dependents to be supported it’s time to see them for what they really are: self-employed small business owners whose work has significant elements of risk, control, and reward. What are the implications of thinking of artists as entrepreneurs? Well, for one it would suggest that we may need to provide them with professional development aimed at strengthening their entrepreneurial skills. But another implication would seem to be that funders need to be recognize the potential for programs or practices to diminish (rather than enhance) the artist’s sense of agency by putting them in a subordinate or supplicant position in relationship to the institutions that (ostensibly) exist to help advance their work.

In this session Bill Cleveland reported on a couple of terrific studies that he did, including one called Artists Count in which he surveyed more than 3,000 artists in St. Louis. This is a rich study and I would encourage you to go online and read the summary. Here were some of the top-level findings that I picked up from the session that may be particularly relevant for funders. What do artists need to thrive? Well, there are some small things that mean a lot): Feedback (!!!), Friends and Family, and Helping Hands. No surprise, Work, Space, Audiences, and Funding top the list. But so do Respect, Predictability, and Time (unencumbered for reflection). Cleveland’s recommendations, arising from the findings of his two studies, are that funders should be focused on Fellowships, Micro-Funding, Growing Art & the Community, Career Development, and Strengthening the Arts Ecosystem (while being very careful not to harm it).

In the session we also heard about artists in Montana that have been participating in an Artrepreneur program and how they have been able to expand their networks and advance their work using skills and contacts made in that program. Organizers also passed out a survey aimed at helping participants reflect on what types of data they are collecting and why. The point was made that while artists and their artistic process and product are often the intended beneficiaries of funding programs (many of which channel funds through organizations) quite often funders do not solicit the perspectives of artists in their evaluations of programs and organizations.

Finally, I was taken by a comment made by Heather in her opening remarks. She said, “No one has laid out a path or framework for artists to think in terms of being entrepreneurs or startups.” While I see entrepreneurship programs cropping up now in conservatories, I do think that Heather’s point is well taken–that there is a tendency in the arts and culture sector to see entrepreneurism as being at odds with artmaking.  However, I mentioned to the organizers after the session was over that there is a framework that posits the artist as being akin to the entrepreneur. I learned about this framework thanks to an oral defense by a masters student at Erasmus University. This framework, which comes from the great early 20th century economist and political scientist, Joseph Schumpeter, would seem to suggest not that artists are entrepreneurs but that the essence of entrepreneurship is artistic (as the focus of his inquiry was the nature of the entrepreneur) and that the artist and entrepreneur have similar characteristics and behaviors.

The Entrepreneur/The Artist The Static Majority/Manager
Breaks out of an equilibrium Seeks equilibrium
Does what is new Repeats what has already been done
Active, energetic Passive, low energy
Leader Followers
Puts together new combinations Accepts existing ways of doing things
Feels no inner resistance to change Feels strong inner resistance to change
Battles resistance to his actions Feels hostility to new actions of others
Makes an intuitive choice among a multitude of new alternates Makes a rational choice among existing alternates
Motivated by power and joy in creation Motivated exclusively by needs and stops when these are satisfied
Commands no resources but borrows what he needs Commands no resources and has no use for new resources
Source: Swedberg, R. (2006). The cultural entrepreneur and the creative industries: Beginning in Vienna. Journal of Cultural Economics, 30(4), 243-261 as cited in the thesis of K. Pille (2013).

Funders have been spending a lot of time the past several years trying to encourage entrepreneurial behavior or innovation in risk-averse and static organizations (run by “arts managers” rather than entrepreneurs, for the most part). I am pleased to see that there seem to be several efforts now underfoot to bring artists into institutions so that bridges can be crossed, the status quo can be disrupted, and fresh thinking and approaches can emerge.


This idea is exemplified brilliantly in a new program of the Doris Duke Charitable Trust, Building Demand for the Arts, which is about bringing artists into arts organizations to work collaboratively with arts managers to think about and experiment with new approaches to building demand. Barry Hessenius was also at this session, which was presented by Ben Cameron and Alan Brown of WolfBrown, and has given a great summary of it in his GIA Day 2 Breakout Sessions Report, so I will only briefly summarize some key takeaways from the session.

This is a long-term program but the researchers (WolfBrown and Associates) and Duke have promised an annual report reflecting on the new knowledge being created in these learning communities (which is how they are conceptualizing the participants in the program). Alan Brown began this session with a brief reflection on the shifting discourse around building audiences, much of it led by funders who continually reframe old problems using new language. Is building demand different from developing audiences? I don’t know and I’m not sure that this is the conversation that Duke is wanting to engage. The core ideas seems to be this: audience have been declining, we want to reverse the trend, we believe that traction could be made if artists and organizations could come together to consider the problem. Why? Because audience decline is not primarily a marketing problem, it is a problem that relates to content, but also to such things as setting, format, and process (i.e., the degree of orientation towards, or involvement of, the community).

There also seems to be a strong desire embedded in this initiative to look backwards at years of efforts (by Duke and other foundations) to address the “audience problem” and see if something can be learned and brought forward. A theoretical framework, if you will, that might help us understand the path of from DISINTEREST/AVERSION to the arts experience to LIKING to  LOVING and finally to SHARING and bringing along others. I, for one, will be looking forward to the first annual report.


I decided to attend another session on audience engagement, this one led by Teresa Eyring, who reported on a multi-year program of Theatre Communications Group (also funded by Duke). The program goals are to study, promote and support successful audience engagement models in theater and the session reported on some findings to date, including a number of strategies or paths for audience engagement and community development currently being employed by theaters. The research has also brought forward four recommendations for organizations seeking to engage audiences: (1) Get out of season-to-season mentality; (2) connect audience and community development strategies to process and programming; (3) connect to your constituents outside of buying a ticket and attending a show; and (4) form community partnerships.

Though this was not articulated at the session, it seems to me that there are some clear implications of these recommendations for funders. Arguably, lack of adequate capitalization, single year grants, and the overemphasis on short-term evaluation has contributed to a season-to-season mentality. Funding tends to be directed at strategy implementation and product creation and distribution, rather than to strategy development and process (the time to think and plan). And evaluations tend to be focused on metrics that can be counted (butts in seats) rather than assessing the quality of relationships between organizations and those they serve. If grantmakers want to see organizations improve in their ability to engage audiences, it would seem they may need to recognize their role in some of the current challenges the arts sector is facing.

Following Teresa’s presentation leaders of two organizations funded by the program (Robert Hupp of Arkansas Reperotry Theatre and Trina Jackson of The Theater Offensive program: OUT in Your Neighborhood) reported on their work. I will only repeat that it is incredibly valuable to have artists at this conference discussing their work. It was a rich discussion and I jotted down several concepts in my notebook that resonate for me, including: “engagement over time” “risk taking is a relative term” and “the tyranny of project support.” Emilya Cachapero of TCG was also in attendance and spoke up to talk about the evidence that they are seeing (now a few years into the program) of structural change; organization buy-in; and growing loyalty of patrons. I applaud TCG’s efforts to track these more subtle and perhaps more meaningful measures that new practices are beginning to take hold and, more importantly, have impact.

I was truly pleased to have the opportunity to sit in on these sessions, all three of which left me feeling quite hopeful and inspired.

Posted in Diane Ragsdale, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Video-blogging from GIA: Day 3

Our third and final Grantmakers in the Arts conference video blog is our meatiest yet, covering curation as a moral imperative, rethinking the grant panel, expanding outside of our arts silos, and the nature of radical change. Oh, and there is some gratuitous giggling at the end.

We’ve had a great time in Philadelphia this week. Look out for additional wrap-up posts in this space coming soon!

Posted in Daniel Reid, Ian David Moss, Talia Gibas | Leave a comment

A Brief Interlude

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on…………….

It’s been a great conference.

But I am Cezanne and Renoir overloaded after the Barnes. Will post tomorrow a final blog on some great breakout sessions from earlier today – and some final thoughts.

Thanks Janet, Tommer and GIA.

Don’t Quit.

Posted in Barry Hessenius | Leave a comment

Are we ready to leap? On the Support for Individual Artists Pre-Conference

When I left the Mellon Foundation in 2010 to move to the Netherlands I thought I had attended my last Grantmakers in the Arts conference, but I am quite happy to have been invited to take part in the 2013 GIA conference as one of several conference bloggers. For my first day, I was assigned to cover the Support for Individual Artists Pre-Conference. This is a longstanding event that, as one of the conference hosts admitted, can feel a little clubby to newcomers. I can’t speak for other newcomers but I thought the vibe from the get-go was incredibly relaxed and inclusive—in no small part because the day began with a participatory music experience led by musician Dan Blacksberg called Spontaneous Ensemble Music for Scratch Orchestra.

Part 1: On the origins of our structures and whether they may need to be disassembled to reflect the way artists make work today.

Holly Sidford, Ted Berger, Frances Phillips and Cindy Gehrig led the first session of the day, which was aimed at reviewing the history of support for artists in the US. Panelists reflected upon the significant impacts on artists of public programs, including the WPA (a program designed for all citizens but which benefited artists, as well); the Social Security Act (which enabled artists to collect unemployment between jobs); the establishment of the NEA and NYSCA, which led to the state arts agency movement; artist in schools programs, which spread across the US; and the Comprehensive Employment Training Act, a much revered program that ran from 1974 to 1981, and which had an annual impact of $300 million ($800 million in today’s dollars).

The panel also discussed the emergence of private support for artists, which began to grow in the late 80s, but which was modeled on early support for artists by the Guggenheim Foundation. In contrast to public support systems that required artists to “give back” to the community, panelists noted that private support was “an evolved form of patronage” aimed at fostering the “flowering of genius” and at giving talented individuals the “leisure to pursue their work.”

Out of reflections on these rationales and their origins, the panelists noted three enduring concepts:

  • A conceptual framework (credited to Nello McDaniel) that puts the artist at the center, as the hub, with spokes leading to various source of support (e.g., Family, Work in the Field, Work in Other Fields, Artist-in-Schools Programs, Residencies, Grants, Unemployment). The image was meant to convey two ideas: (1) Artists have agency and a way of making life through multiple support systems; and (2) the whole system needs to be managed every day.
  • Lack of support for the whole artist: by-and-large, the arts support system is about “making work” and “bringing that work to the public.”
  • Lack of adequate compensation for artists, stemming in large part from the fact that support for artists is generally channeled through organizations but also from the idea that too much support will have a corrupting influence on the artist.

As a newcomer I found it helpful to hear others take stock of this history as well as to point out that much of the vocabulary, frames, and beliefs underpinning individual support for artists today, to a large degree, hearken back to early rationales for support. The group also reflected on some trends in philanthropy that have emerged since the culture wars, including: seeing the artist as a contributor not only to artistic life but to economic and social life; the decline in international work and exchange; a pulling back in the sense of collective research and action; and the emergence of many permutations on the support for individual artist “model” including the growth in artist support organizations (like Creative Capital) and intermediaries (though it was also noted that the intermediaries may be increasingly vulnerable).

The discussion among the group centered primarily on suggesting edits, additions, and caveats that should be added to a timeline the panelists had created, which marked the emergence and loss of support for individual artists over time. Toward the end of the session Ben Cameron asked the panelists: What’s the most important conversation for us to have that will determine what we should be doing ten years from now? They responded:

  • Ted: We should be talking about what’s happening to independent workers in general.  Artists are like the factory workers in Detroit.
  • Frances: We should be thinking about what makes good youth development
  • Holly: Inequality, climate and metrics.

As the session wound down, artist Magda Martinez attempted to synthesize what she had been listening to and said she wondered if there was a thread of equality (dividing up the pie in equal slices) versus equity (investing more in some so that they can achieve equality). She ended with a question that would echo throughout the day: How far are funders willing to go to disassemble structures to reflect how people make work today?

Part II: What is an “individual artist” and what do we mean by “support”?

A significant challenge facing the sector, and the topic of the second session of the day, was calculating current levels of support for individual artists. Alan Brown, Claudia Bach, and Tommer Peterson reported on an exploratory research project being undertaken by GIA, aimed at just that end. Tracing the funds flowing and trickling to artists from philanthropic sources is, without a doubt, fraught with challenges. Not only does much of the monetary and non-monetary support (tricky to capture and quantify) flow through intermediaries, including arts organizations and crowdfunding sites, but on a much more fundamental level it seems that this exercise is complicated by the fact that the field does not seem to have a shared conception of what is meant by “individual artists” or what counts as “support.” For example …

What criteria should be used to categorize a person or entity as an individual artist? Do artists working in collectives count? Do choreographers that had to incorporate as 501c3s to be eligible for grants count? Do commissions count as a form of support? Grants to artists that come from sources outside of Arts & Culture programs? Grants channeled through crowdfunding sites?

And as critical as these definitional and taxonomical concerns appeared to become as the conversation grew, they began to recede in the face a more systemic and perhaps fundamental issue raised: How much will funders really understand about support for artists if they are looking only at philanthropic support? As one funder put it, referencing the hub and spoke model mentioned earlier: We’re trying to create the wheel that will support the artists … but we’re only measuring one spoke of the wheel.

In introducing the session Alan Brown noted that although he and others working on the project thought that “counting money was the center of this research” what they found was that in order to do that work they first needed to understand the motivations, methods, and tools that funders were using. He also reported that there was a lot of energy around intermediaries (and some debate among funders around their value or role). My sense is that if Alan and other working on this project can begin to illuminate these methods, motivations, and tools (including the use and impact of intermediaries) that this would be quite valuable to the field.

An Unexamined Lunch

The second panel was on my mind as I made my way to lunch, which was provided by Jon Rubin of Conflict Kitchen. Jon Rubin is an art professor from Carnegie Mellon University and Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant in Pittsburgh that serves only ethnic foods from nations with which US is in conflict. Participants were fortunate to be given a taste of what this catalytic public art project is about and the opportunity to hear the principals talk about their work.

Ironically, Jon Rubin is an artist entrepreneur that does not need much philanthropic support. He mentioned that 80 percent of his support comes from those that buy the food that is served at Conflict Kitchen. He mentioned a couple grants, including one from the Heinz Foundation; however, I found out later that the grant from Heinz didn’t come from the Arts & Culture program. After experiencing this nontraditional (but highly impactful) art project I wondered how many arts funders in the room (a) would consider Jon Rubin to be an individual artists; or (2) would have a mechanism for supporting Conflict Kitchen.

I thought again of the spoke and wheel metaphor that had been used throughout the day and how much it relied on the idea of the artist at the center as “something to be supported” by the monies running from the periphery to the center through the spokes. As I listened to Jon Rubin a very different conceptual framework was coming to mind: the artist as a node on a network, whose value comes from being able to connect people across divides, who is by nature an entrepreneur, and who has found a way to earn money not only to support his own artistic practice but to employ and support others as well.

I expected that there would perhaps be some discussion of this project and how it illuminates exactly the points that many artists were making in the earlier sessions about how artists now have a very different relationship to making and financing their work, and even how we define such things as “artist” or “public art.” But the experience was not raised for discussion. Perhaps I was alone in feeling a bit of cognitive dissonance between the day’s discussion and the artistic experience of lunch?

Part 3: On having faith.

The rest of the day turned to looking to the future. We first heard from three funders with innovative programs aimed, it seemed to me, at supporting the whole artist. The first was Tony Grant who, with his wife started the Sustainable Arts Foundation to help artists and writers with families pursue creative careers. As Tony put it, “It’s one thing to be a starving artist; it’s not really acceptable to raise starving children. When creative people decide to settle down and raise a family, we want them to not give up their creativity.” The second was Carolyn Somers of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, an artist-endowed foundation, who discussed its very successful “Creating a Living Legacy” program (now being replicated in cities around the US) designed to help older artists organize and document their work. And the third was Ben Cameron who discussed the Doris Duke Charitable Trust’s Performing Artist Initiative aimed at providing support that will help artists get off the creation treadmill and buy themselves time to think. In addition to large cash grants the program (offered in partnership with Creative Capital) provides technical assistance and guidance to artists on the tax and financial implications of their awards and guides them through a process designed to help them make choices about such things as when to take their disbursements and how to prioritize their financial needs. This was an inspiring session in large part because all three programs appeared to be (1) designed in direct response to the needs of artists; and (2) exceedingly flexible in their implementation.

Finally, the day ended with four artists (Byron Au Yong, Ann Carlson, Andrew MacLean, and Ain Gordon) discussing support that was meaningful to them but also considering the future of support for individual artists. Panelists reflected on moments in their lives when sometimes rather small grants had made a difference in their career trajectories; however, they, and other artists in the audience, also described the ways that frames, eligibility requirements, formats, and questions posed in the grant seeking process frequently make it difficult for artists to present themselves authentically. This was a key topic that floated to the surface throughout the day.

I was particularly taken with a small exchange between Ain Gordon and Ann Carlson around the disparity between the real and imagined project (a disparity that inevitably confronts every artistic endeavor):

  • Ain: Is it possible to promote a culture in the application process of complicated truth telling in which artists could say, “I don’t have any idea how much it costs so why don’t you tell me how much you can give me.” Or “I can’t raise any money so why don’t you give me all of it.” How can we talk about un-viability as viable?
  • Ann: […] There is a fiction between how a project is imagined and written about. I’d be curious to hear everyone talk about that acknowledged disparity between the real and imagined project. And there’s no way to get away from that because we’re always imagining into the future.
  • Ain: Unless we weren’t asked to describe the project.

In the end I walked away from my first Support for Individual Artists pre-Conference event with three takeaways:

  1. We can learn a lot from talking directly to artists, watching them work, and allowing ourselves to see that they are more than the sum of their work, and that they are no longer living and making work as they did even ten years ago.
  2. Those that care about supporting individual artists may need to radically change their structures, processes, and the types of support if they want to continue to be beneficial.
  3. In this time of shifting sands, rather than trying to anticipate or steer, funders may do better to grant more faith to artists and follow them, rather than seeking to lead them, into the future.
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