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.

ARTISTS FRONT AND CENTER

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?

OPENING UP THE GRANTMAKING PROCESS

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.

CONCLUSION: THE MEANS AND ENDS OF INNOVATION AND CAPITALIZATION

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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