Welcome to the GIA 2014 Conference Blog!

Grantmakers in the Arts is pleased to have a fantastic team of bloggers covering the 2014 Conference in Houston. Latoya Peterson, Barry Hessenius, and Sarah Lutman will all be posting their comments and reactions beginning Sunday, October 12. We hope you enjoy their observations and that you join the conversation.
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Some ideas for #GIA2015

Steven Tepper's talk at GIA included this slide

Steven Tepper’s talk at GIA included this slide

I’m not certain but I think it has been 15 years since I attended a GIA conference. Much has changed since I was deeply involved in GIA, and for the better. The membership has grown in number and in the kinds of grantmakers who attend. In the early days there were very few public sector grantmakers, trustees, or smaller family foundations. The organization was a home base for staffed private, community, corporate, and family foundations, a place we could gather to share information and ideas. I’m sure fewer people felt like GIA was for them.

Compared to GIA’s early years, last week’s conference was more diverse demographically, and courageous in the difficulty of topics brought forward for discussion. The through-line of conversations about race, for example, was substantive and it is vital, challenging work to embrace. The question of whether grantmaking can do more harm than good also was raised. Bravo to GIA for broadening the discussion, involving more people, and creating urgency around deeds, not words, in addressing the field’s most deeply-rooted problems.

So why not take a few additional steps toward broadening the conversation even further? Here are five ideas for the 2015 conference that could open the dialogue to more people without changing the fundamental nature and purpose of what is essentially a private gathering.

1 – Invite artists not only to speak and present their work but also to attend the entire conference and participate as equals at all of the conference sessions. As GIA policies now stand, anyone who speaks at the conference who is not a grantmaker is not welcomed to stay beyond the day of their session. Why not invite a cohort of artist-instigators to fully participate in the conference? Each year’s conference could include a mix of artists from the host city and from elsewhere. This would enrich the conversation, and help overcome the lack of transparency that a closed conference represents.

2 – While on the subject of transparency, how about using SlideShare to share conference presentations broadly? And how about live-streaming keynotes and plenary sessions? This has an added plus in that it raises the bar for presenters who would know that their ideas and materials would have a life beyond the conference.

3 – The Twitter handle for the conference #GIA2014 was never announced from the podium. There were no signs with it displayed at conference sessions. Twitter handles were not included in the participants’ directory. To encourage broad sharing of ideas and issues facing arts grantmakers in real time, the field should be using Twitter or other social media platforms to share the conference with their networks. Afterwards, put social media documentation into Storify and share it widely.

4 – While I was live-tweeting a session, a grad student from American University responded (via Twitter) with the request that I ask GIA to open the conference to a group of grad students each year. What a great idea. Just think what an interesting experience it would be for them and think how much you would learn. Afterwards have a seminar with them to share impressions and discuss ideas raised through conference sessions.

5 – Since the membership is growing, take care that new people get to know long-time participants. At the start of every session, have the moderator ask everyone present to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know. When questions are asked from the audience to a panel or presenter, ask people to identify themselves. And create a buddy system for new members.

As a founding board member, it is heartening to see how far GIA has come. The organization is an ever more important resource for arts philanthropy. But the doors can be opened wider without the field suffering any damage. On the contrary, such an opening would model the very behaviors grantmakers are asking the cultural sector to embrace. For inspiration, remember the slide from Steven Tepper‘s keynote talk:

“We must focus on:

  • Authentic relationships, not transactions
  • Slowing down not speeding up
  • Conversations, not marketing and sales
  • Doing less, not doing more
  • Open source our institutions”

Good advice for arts organizations and their funders.

Thanks for including me in the 2014 conference!

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GIA Wrap Up and Thoughts on the Equity Social / Racial Issue

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

When I first got into this field, the dominant buzz was all about PARADIGM. Irrationally, I grew to hate that word. Over time our lexicon changes. Here is a summary of the GIA Conference in BUZZ WORDS (all of which I heard repeatedly during the three days):

Curate UNPACK  authentic  Cohort  Value mapping TRANSFORMING SocialJustice EQUITY intersection RISK Agency CAPACITY BUILDING  story telling Conversations GUARDRAILS  2.0  challenges COMMUNITY of PRACTICE  DIVERSITY Sustainability TRUST Outcomes Recipe MARKETING  Collective Impact  excellence inclusion Transparency

Whew. Master these concepts and you too can sound erudite and informed at any gathering of the field! While some of these are actually helpful in framing discussions, one can only hope some of the more pretentious of these will be short-lived.

The 2014 GIA Conference was, I think, very successful. This gathering remains small enough to be intimate, but large enough so that the conversations are expansive. As the funding community continues to grapple with some very large challenges, as a body it is making steady progress on working together to, if not collaborate on every approach, at least coordinate some of what use to be very disparate and wide ranging approaches. Perhaps the word that ought to be included in the vocabulary above is the word “SHARING”. Increasingly this community is doing just that – sharing knowledge, practices, research and data, approaches, concerns and more; sharing all of that not just with each other, but across the field. The challenges all remain, with ever greater complexity involved. GIA is pitching a big tent, with notable success.

Several sessions dealt with the Equity and Racial / Social Justice Issue – detailing pilot programs that are beginning to develop tools and approaches to addressing the issue. I won’t detail them here, as they really are at the beginning stages. Suffice it to say, I think we are moving steadily, if slowly, from talk to action on a practical basis. What I hope is that we can ramp up and move faster.

Personal Opinion Piece: It strikes me that if we are to really move towards a future that corrects the mistakes and omissions of the past, we are going to have to abandon the idea that we can treat this as a challenge, and move to treating the issue of equity, of social and racial justice (within our field anyway) as an obsession. We need to move away from the dispassionate and detached position of observer to one where we voluntarily and eagerly move as committed activists to change – not in the long term, but now. This isn’t just another issue or challenge for us – this is a defining moment for us. We can’t simply treat it as business as usual and approach it as just another issue to deal with. It’s more fundamental than that.

It also strikes me that if we are to institute real change, and do it sooner rather than later, we need to find ways to move towards equity that will unite us, not pit us against each other. Thus, on the money allocation side of equity, we have got to find ways to convince those among us who are going to have net losses by virtue of a realignment to a fairer distribution of wealth that it is ultimately in their own best interests to support that realignment. I believe that to be the case, but we need to (here I am, OMG, about to use one of the buzzwords) unpack exactly how that might play out. We must, I think, avoid at all costs creating internal sector factions and the silo-ization of our field. We have to avoid demonizing any group, casting blame or boxing anybody into a corner. But saying that does NOT mean we have to now go very slowly so as not to upset any apple carts. Just the opposite, I think. We need to move as quickly as we can to reaching a situation where equity exists (remembering the point made in the pre conference, that equity does not always mean absolute equality.)

The questions for us are: Are we going to exhibit real leadership and foresight for our collective future? Are we going to make course corrections that will ultimately serve us all (painful to some as those corrections may be), or are we going to procrastinate and find ways to avoid any real movement? As I said, this is I think, a defining moment for us. Going too slowly, too deliberately now is a mistake. While I am not suggesting we act with total abandon before we fully understand all the ramifications and nuances and potential impacts and consequences of the pursuit of a strategy, I am suggesting that, at this point, we pretty much understand those ramifications, nuances and potential impacts and consequences, and we need to boldly move towards implementation of a new reality. And that new reality is a fairer and more equitable allocation of resources and opportunities that will give voice (or a louder voice perhaps) to those who really haven’t been seated at the big table yet. This is just my opinion. Others can reasonably disagree of course.

If we dilly dally, and jibber jabber, and hesitate, we will only put ourselves in the position of “also rans”. The equity issue cuts across a wide swath of our entire culture. The change is coming no matter what. This isn’t a party we want to come late to. We need to get out front on equity and justice issues now. Because it is the right thing to do. Private funders and arts organizations need to convince their Boards, government agencies need to convince the decision makers, and the various parts of our field need to convince each other to act. We don’t want to be in the middle of the pack as the demographic societal shifts change the mechanisms by which our society runs itself. The Nonprofit Arts need to be at the forefront of this leadership. And the train is leaving (if it hasn’t already left) the station. All aboard!

What does that mean? To me, it means a significant shift in the allocation of funding. That shift does not necessarily have to be exclusionary to those that heretofore got the lion’s share, but it does mean a meaningful shift that now gives substantial resources to the smaller and mid-sized and multicultural organizations. And yes, that will be somewhat, but not entirely, at the expense of the larger, more Euro centric and established white cultural organizations. We should also bear in mind, that as to scarce and limited financial support, there are always two options. Just like in your own personal budgets you have two options when pressed for funds: you can spend less, or make more. The arts need to more deeply explore both – and especially the ways we can make more (including a state of the art (no pun intended) , world class lobbying (not advocacy) campaign to get a fair share of the government largess that we help to pay for. As I said above, we need to demonstrate to those organizations that will lose some of their base funding, that the positive benefits to them outweigh that loss. We need to identify what those benefits are, and make them an integral part of the whole approach.

What are those benefits? A rising tide that will raise all our boats. Inroads and connections to the Millennials for whom this is not even a debatable issue. New intersections, collaborations and potential windfalls for all of us. And new ways to work together to leverage our collective numbers. It may also yield us some new partnerships and the benefits that come with being seen as true leaders. The list goes on.

What else does it mean? It means we have to dramatically rethink our criteria for all the things we value and how that valuation is manifested. We will need to foster and nurture cross platform decision making and collaboration on a level that has nothing to do with programs or projects, and much more to do with conceptual thinking about how we can leverage the strength of our numbers. It means we can no longer sit at isolated tables when we consider both sector wide cultural policy and what is right for each of our organizations. It means we will have to build a level of trust and intimacy with each other that, quite simply, has never existed before. It means we will not only have to pursue, but succeed in that pursuit, at finding ways that when we say art and culture, the consensus meaning of that phrase is automatically all inclusive.

It will entail some very hard decision making both at the individual organization level, and at the sector level. It will mean that there is a general, if begrudging acceptance, that we are not going to solve everyone’s problems, and that we are not going to be able to meet everyone’s needs. That will be very difficult, but it absolutely, positively has to happen. And it means that we must redefine the reality as it exists and our relationship to, and acceptance of, the changing dynamics of the world – ours and the wider one (neither of which we have complete control over).

Can we do it? The more appropriate question is probably: can we not? Ebola has everybody freaked out now, and to an extent, rightly so. It is a dangerous and frightening threat. But it is manageable. What scares me about Ebola is that it may just be a test case. If (or perhaps when) a deadly virus mutates so that it is airborne, then we will face a real crisis that may endanger the world. How we handle the current Ebola threat is telling about how we may handle the future. I think the same may be true of the future of the arts: How we handle the big dangers to our thriving in the world right now, may tell a great deal about how we are able to handle some much bigger threats down the road.

The chief attributes we need to succeed as we remake our hierarchies and fundamentally shift from one (ugh, here it is again) paradigm to another, include, it seems to me, first and foremost mutual goodwill towards one another. It also will include bold action and vision, risk, hard decision making, and tenacity. It will involve sacrifice, compromise, and new thinking about how to proceed – together.

We, of course, need to proceed methodically – but not in the sense that methodical implies dragging our feet, or plodding along; methodical in the sense that we have thought things through and are willing to do what has to be done to emerge stronger, healthier and equipped to withstand the pressures the future will surely bring. This is about surviving and thriving – for all of us.

Have a great week.

Thanks GIA.

Don’t Quit

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Storytelling is a muscle

Tunnel Creek Map from NY Times story, Snowfall

Tunnel Creek Map from NY Times story, Snowfall

The staff of the John L. and James S. Knight Foundation offered a terrific session on Transmedia Narrative on Tuesday. Presenters were Eric Schoenborn, Creative Director at Knight, and Nicole Chipi, Arts Program Associate. In the three main parts of their presentation, they showed examples of narratives they consider well told; described their internal creative processes for telling Knight’s own stories and how they choose which media to use; and offered advice to other grantmakers for ways to work with grantees to tell their stories effectively and to get their stories out to more people.

Knight’s own work is distinguished by its contemporary graphic design and digital smarts. It makes sense that a foundation led by a former newspaper publisher, Alberto Ibarguen, would make storytelling a priority. Also, with Knight’s current strategies focused on “transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts” they’ve set out to practice what they preach. “We want to be native to the work we are trying to do,” said Eric Schoenborn.

Snowfall, the 2013 Pulitzer-winning New York Times multi-media story led by John Branch, was the first example shared. This beautiful piece of reporting incorporates photography, video, maps, animation, and written narrative and weaves them into a single integrated story. If you haven’t looked at all of its elements (including photos of the 16 people who worked on the project), head over and check it out. It defines a new kind of journalism that integrates story elements into a cohesive and comprehensive narrative.

If Snowfall sets a new bar, then the average arts nonprofit has a ways to go to get there. Lack of time, limited production skills and resources, and an inability to clear rights for certain kinds of media projects (think opera companies and orchestras, where Knight is actively funding) all hamper nonprofits’ efforts. But looking at their arts grantees as potential media producers and storytellers, Knight sees a content-rich field that has plenty of compelling material to share. It’s just a matter of learning how to get it done.

The Knight Arts Program was used as an example of ways Knight works with its grantees to strengthen their storytelling capabilities, to document grant-funded work, and to communicate with audiences and constituents using social media. Over the years, Knight learned that gathering documentation at the end of a grant period was time-consuming and resulted in missed opportunities to capture work-in-progress, performance documentation, and other strong visual material. Today, Knight provides media training at the beginning of each grant, and sets expectations for how many and what kind of work samples should be collected. Additional grant dollars are allocated to organizations so that they can work with media makers to create strong visual and narrative elements. Rights’ clearance is a must for every grantee, and is incorporated into individual grant agreements.

It was interesting to hear how Knight approaches network building. Schoenborn said that the Foundation “Internet stalks” its grantees to see which social media channels they use and how well they use them. Then the Foundation actively helps grantees expand their networks, believing the key to many opportunities is the size and interactivity of the networks the organization operates within. The Foundation staff identifies specific people and networks that can amplify the grantee’s work. This is all part of the grantmaking process.

Schoenborn offered a few words of advice for grantmakers:

– Learn to write in a conversational tone about your work. It builds the [storytelling] muscles needed and helps people understand what you do.

– Part of any effective design is to construct a non-linear approach to the information. That’s how people explore. They move in, out, and around information, not from beginning to end.

– Make your storytelling fun. Your grantees are doing incredible work.

– It’s about the story, it’s not about the tools. Focus on the story and not all the bells and whistles.

– The first and hardest task is to figure out what story you are trying to tell. Once you figure that out then figure out what media can best express it.

– Push your grantees to create multimedia documentation of processes and outcomes that you can use, including video and photos. “No” cannot be the answer.

– Creating media that is not shareable is not effective. No one can share your PDF. No one cares what’s on the cover. It’s not how people use information.

– Time spent producing print publications can be converted to interactive media, and may even save time.

– To be effective in today’s communications environment, you may need to hire different people with different skills. You can find these people in your network, and maybe already working for you in a different role.

For an example of Knight’s documentation of one project, O Miami, a poetry festival, check out the web portal here.  Be sure to click through the press releases, blogs, and publications about this grantee on Knight’s website.

I hope Knight’s advice to other foundations sticks: if it does, more funders and grantees will build their all-important storytelling muscles, and more people will understand the work of philanthropy and the arts sector. That would be a good thing.

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The Unique Practice of Arts Grantmaking – GIA PreConference

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

The Unique Practice of Arts Grantmaking – GIA PreConference (Sunday 10/12)

This all day session was intended for newer program officers, trustees and foundation executives – but the reality was that the attendees were split between newbies and those who are recognizable names in the philanthropic community with long resumes. The combination of the two made the questions throughout the session very interesting and relevant.

As many of the readers of this post may not be involved in foundations or government agencies that make grants, my attempt here is to give those who deal with funders – but at arms length, and who perhaps don’t fully understand how the grant making process really works, or what the issues are for the funders themselves. I want, if possible, to de-mystify a little bit the world of arts grantmakers, and to try to humanize those in that field so that those dependent on the funders might have a little better idea who they are dealing with and how they do their work.

I think there are two fundamental things to bear in mind if you want to understand grantmakers:

First, like you, these people are professionals and they want very much to have a positive impact on our field. They know very well the challenges you all face, and maybe they even have a better understanding of the challenges we face as a field – because most of them have as part of their charges and portfolios a range of arts organizations across the various disciplines — various sizes, compositions and ages. From your perspective, program officers can seem indifferent to your needs and situations. That’s understandable, but I can categorically state that 98% of them care deeply that the arts thrive. They spend their waking hours trying – sometimes against the odds, and much like a lot of you – to make a difference. Their objective though isn’t specifically to make art or present it, that’s what you do. Their job is to grow it, to protect it; to enable you to do your job. They don’t want to do your job for you, they want to do what they can so you can do your job better. Perhaps they are not always your close friend, but they are never your enemy.

Second, they are not really in charge. Their boards are. Their job is to realize the objectives of the founder / board, and while often they disagree with some of the prescriptions and priorities imposed on them – their job is to make those priorities realizable. That’s not so easy. Most of you have had some experience with imperfect boards, but most of your boards are on the same page with what you as the staff want to do. That’s not always true with foundations or even government funders. The program officers don’t set the overall objectives, nor construct the funder’s ecosystem for determining where funding goes, and (in a general sense) to whom. Many have input into the process at various points, but that’s not the same as being an equal player in that process. Those who have been in this arena for a long time have learned how they can move, even if only in small and seemingly unimportant ways, their organization closer to the direction they see that would benefit the field, territory and constituents they serve. But often times they need to do that quietly, on the sly and even invisibly. You try doing your job invisibly sometime. As funder officers are trying to help you do your job – in part by trying to better understand you and your job – it would be equally helpful if you try to understand them and their jobs. The more grantors and grantees can understand the challenges faced by each other, the better each will ultimately fare in meeting those challenges. We’re all on the same side here.

This all day session was divided into four sessions: While I tried to hit the highlights, this encapsulation is by no means comprehensive. I am merely trying to paint a general picture of what funders are doing as part of their grantmaking practice in the arts as presented in this excellent session.

Session I: Turning Vision into Reality – led by Vickie Benson program director of the McKnight Foundation, and Regina Smith, senior program officer, arts and culture, at the Kresge Foundation.

How to move from mission statement to a fully realized funding program.

Bullet Points:

  • There isn’t likely an ideal linear approach to progress; no step by step blueprint. The point is that every funder and funding goal is unique.
  • While aspirational, funders face multiple priorities and multiple masters.
  • Developing program strategies is a constant negotiation.
  • Even successful programs are in a state of constant evaluation, rethinking, adaptation.
  • While the trend of “scaling up” is gaining traction, Roberto Bedoya suggested consideration of “scaling out” as well.
  • Julie Fry of the Hewlett Foundation, offered that Asset Building is not specifically about problem solving. It is more about problem identification.
  • It’s important to embrace the fact that the paths are not always clear and that the competing conversations are often disconnected.
  • Arts funders often work in in silos. The best option is to build bridges between the silos.
  • The program officer’s job is not popularity.

The bottom line: There is no off the shelf blueprint to design programs that are effective, efficient, fair and equitable and address the priorities of the funder. And that makes the program officer’s job very often problematic at best. While it is enormously satisfying awarding money that can make a difference to individual organizations (and artists), it is also difficult to always be right in your assessments and conclusions. Those seeking the money must ask themselves if it would be any different for them? And if their answer to that question is: “Yes I could do it better and make it all work“, then my guess is they just don’t have a clue. Though it may sound wrong, it isn’t as easy as it sounds to use limited money to have highly positive impacts.

Session II: Supporting Artists and Arts Organizations: What do Funders Need to Know to Encourage Financial Health and Sustainability – led by Janet Brown – President / CEO GIA, and Cynthia Gehrig, President Jerome Foundation.

The need to understand the financial health of arts nonprofits, of all sizes, as well as the unique marketplace in which they reside. Turning around the undercapitalized nature of the sector.

Capitalization – not cash flow, but savings. Having the cash to execute strategy. Both capital and revenue are essential: capital to change organizational structure or direction, and revenue to conduct and sustain day-to-day activity. Adequate capital addresses risk taking. Adequate revenue insures continuity of operation.

Bullet Points:

  • A majority of grant applicants in the arts are undercapitalized – meaning they have negative liquid cash on hand (apart from Endowments et. al.) and are basically living month to month.
  • Applicant fear is that if they have a surplus, a grantor will say: “You don’t need our money.”
  • More often than not, applicants underestimate costs and overestimate income.
  • The arts funding community is very diverse. The old adage is: “If you’ve met one funder, you’ve met one funder.”

GIA led a consensus agreement of its membership on a set of common principles about the urgency of the capitalization issue, including: 1) Encouraging surpluses and operating reserves – break-even is not enough. 2) Encouraging organizations with untenable business models to take steps to adjust how they do business so they can move to operating reserves. 3) Offer, whenever possible, general operating support, and 4) Support project support that includes the cost of overhead and indirect costs for the project.

  • Funders help the field by taking harder looks at applicant balance sheets and asking questions to determine whether the applicant has an effective business model in place – i.e., one that generates revenue and capital.
  • While there may be understandable reasons for an organization to continue to pursue programs that are ultimately unsustainable (legacy, Board and political reasons), asking questions about past commitments as ongoing Albatrosses for organizations is essential. The field benefits if we break the cycle of under capitalization.

Session III: Looking Deeply at the Community You Serve – led by Maurine Knighton, senior vice-president of grant making, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, and Justin Laing, senior program officer, The Heinz Endowments. (Note: Unfortunately, due to a passing in the family, Justin was unable to be at the conference.)

How to create an equitable funding practice with authentic community voices informing program development.

Equity is unquestionably one of the major issue in the arts field today. What does equity mean? Simply put, it is a fairer distribution of power, access and allocation of funds, resources, and opportunities. Equity manifests itself in a myriad of ways. Racial equity might be defined (as does Race Forward as: “A vibrant world in which people of all races create, share and enjoy resources and relationships equitably, unleashing individual potential, embracing collective responsibility and generating global prosperity.”

The question is how do we in the arts promote and facilitate more equitable outcomes for everyone?

Bullet Points:  Advice on how to proceed

  • Get clear about what you want to accomplish; develop a theory of change and start with self-awareness.
  • Self-assessment includes appreciating your own world view (including its limitations); understanding and valuing the world views and practices of other cultures; developing the fluency and capacity to interact respectfully and effectively with cultures other than one’s own. (And we may need help with some of these steps.)
  • Don’t assume you already know everything you need to know.
  • Most culturally specific arts organizations are small to mid-sized; most have missions that articulate a social justice purpose.
  • Don’t automatically assume less aesthetic rigor or artistic quality for smaller culturally specific arts organizations.
  • Be creative and expansive in adjusting your approach. One size never fits all.
  • Find the sweet spot between solid practices and responsiveness
  • Seek out important practices you are already using.
  • Equity doesn’t necessarily imply absolute equality.
  • Widen the circle – connect people; develop a ‘kitchen cabinet’ of trusted advisors and colleagues to help with ideas, feedback, assessment and identifying other thought partners.
  • Weigh ALL the options
  • Be humble and take the lead from those you intend to benefit.
  • Embrace new ways of thinking, listen more than talk, ask questions, borrow from others, keep learning and bear in mind no approach is perfect.

Session IV: Is All This Really Working – led by Pam Korza, co-director Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts, and Edwin Torres, newly appointed Deputy Commissioner, Office of Cultural Affairs, New York City (and former program officer at The Rockefeller Foundation) and congratulations Eddie.

How can you measure and evaluate program and grantee success?

Evaluation is a systemic process to determine merit, worth, value or significance. We do it because it promotes accountability, improves decision making, increases our knowledge base which helps us with sustainability and building capacity, and it increases our case making ability.

Bullet Points:

  • Evaluation is not an audit. It’s not about blame.
  • Kinds of evaluations: a) Baseline Study – an analysis describing the situation prior to an intervention, against which progress can be assessed and comparisons made; b) Cluster Evaluation – Looks across a group of projects to identify patterns and factors that might contribute to variations in outcomes and results across the sample; c) Formative (Real Time) Evaluation – Carried out while a program is underway to provide timely, continuous feedback as work progresses; d) Emergent Learning – learning that happens in the course of a project when goals and outcomes are not easily defined; e) Participatory Evaluation – Engages a range of participant stakeholders in the process of designing the evaluation so it is useful and relevant to all involved; f) Summative Evaluation – Assesses the overall impact of a project after the fact.
  • Theory of Change – A systematic measure of what needs to happen in order for desired outcomes to occur, including an organization’s hypothesis about how and why change happens as well as the potential role of an organization’s work in contributing to its vision of progress.
  • Measuring what matters – types of change: 1) Individual, organizational, community, structural / systemic, field wide; 2) Artistic / cultural (intrinsic value, access, equity, development / innovation / capacity; in pacts, excellence; 3) economic, social, environmental, educational, health etc.
  • Einstein said: “Not everything can be counted. Not everything that can be counted, counts.
  • Outcomes count. “At the end of the day, what matters is the strength and usefulness of what has been built, not how elegant was the blueprint.” — Steven Schroeder, former President, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Sometimes the tools and process of evaluation may have as much or more meaning that the results of the evaluation. (Ian David Moss observation)

For those of you not funders, my best personal advice is to build a relationship with the funders who operate in your area, your world. A relationship is a two way street. It’s not just about asking for what you need – it’s shared time, mutual learning and the creation, over time, of respect, trust and the opportunity as peers to move forward. It may sometimes be about help, but it offers much more than just that limited support; it offers the potential of real learning and true friendship.

This was a very good session and I thank the presenters for their clear and astute thinking and for their presentation in a real world sense.

Have a good day.

Don’t Quit

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First, do no harm?

Susan Nelson of TDC gave us a healthy dose of her thought leadership in her GIA session with Olive Mosier of the William Penn Foundation. She presented — for the first time — the findings of a new report on Philadelphia cultural institutions that comes five years after the breakthrough study, Getting Beyond Breakeven: A Review of Capitalization Needs and Challenges of Philadelphia’s Arts and Culture Organizations. The 2009 study rocked the national philanthropic boat with its analysis of ways local grantmakers offered a robust but chaotic grants marketplace and showed that more than 70% of Philadelphia organizations had high financial literacy but weren’t able to apply it successfully to their operations. The report spurred both conversation and action across the U.S. and helped inform GIA’s own National Capitalization Project.

So, no surprise when Nelson dropped successive bombshells on the packed room of grantmakers on Monday. Her five-year review shows a rapidly changing external environment in which Philadelphia cultural institutions (spurred by the funders who support them) have created an ever larger number and variety of offerings, but that paid attendance across the participating institutions has not grown at all.  Does Growth Equal Gain? is the title of the new report, and you’ll want to read it when it’s released. Bravo to the William Penn Foundation for pursuing this important work.

Part One of the report shows how organizations fared from 2007-2013; who gained and who lost. Part Two looks at philanthropic investments made toward growth, and attempts to answer questions posed by the William Penn staff about how best to guide organizations toward growth, how to know when growth is advisable, and what markers beyond growth can be used as a proxy for success.

Using CDP reports and in-person interviews with 40 organizations, the new study shows that Philadelphia organizations remain financially weak. About 70 percent fall into Nelson’s “at risk” or “vulnerable” categories of financial health, as defined by available cash. “Vulnerable” organizations have about one month’s cash on hand, while one week of cash defines “at risk.” The percentage of organizations in these categories is approximately the same as found in the earlier study.

However, the reasons for poor health are evolving. Nelson documented three trends worth further investigation.

The weak did not exit
Here’s a topic few people are willing to discuss – why don’t more of the sector’s weak organizations fold? And should they? Nelson reports no evidence of significant exits, even after the Great Recession. Possible reasons? Closure is extremely slow in the nonprofit sector; there are both process barriers (convincing everyone that it’s the right move is certainly one), and legal ones. The possibility of functioning with partial or total volunteer labor also makes closure less likely.

Large organizations gained philanthropic market share
Data show that very large organizations “swamp the system” (Nelson’s terminology) and have grown over the past 5 years in both size and number. The report shows a more crowded playing field at the top with larger organizations competing with each other, and with some Philadelphia-based major institutions rebounding with larger capitalization campaigns that are successfully drawing major philanthropic support. In total the study organizations are looking for $1.4 billion in new capitalization, a number Nelson called “typical for a city the size of Philadelphia.”

The number of paid patrons was stagnant
Data showed that increases in earned revenue beat inflation, but only because of higher ticket prices. The number of paid patrons did not keep up with population growth. “Churn” in patrons was identified as an invisible factor. Many new patrons are sampling but fewer are subscribing or they’re attending less frequently. Nelson reports that organizations understand the ways demographic and audience behavior trends are changing, and they are planning for it. However, they have insufficient change capital to test new approaches. The result is a fundamentally reactive operating mode, with organizations chasing changes in the marketplace rather than evolution based on demand. In this environment, Nelson asked us to consider whether “flat” is actually “good.”

So organizations face a conundrum. They need to maintain current audiences while shifting dollars to attract and retain new people. But they don’t have enough money to account for both needs. 90 percent of interviewees had a strategy for new audience engagement, but only 20 percent had money to fund it.

The philanthropic market plays a role in sector stability
Perhaps most sobering of all the data from a grantmaker’s perspective: Philadelphia’s foundations and major individual contributors led the way to the growth that may have in fact contributed to destabilization of some organizations in the study. During the 5-year period, foundations tipped the balance and became the area’s largest single source of contributed revenue. But their increases did not allow organizations to make consistent investments that would “move their needle” over time; foundation funding is inherently episodic. The result is that organizations grew, but not strategically.

So what?
Nelson’s analysis goes much deeper than what I’ll recount here. After all, you should read the report, and soon. But there’s a giant “so what” here for the philanthropic sector. Funding choices and program structures are based in a growth paradigm. There is an underlying assumption — a dominant logic — that foundation grants allow organizations to invest and grow and that in this growth all other problems will be solved.

But Nelson reports that the growth orientation of so much grantmaking may not only be unhelpful, not merely benign, but actually working against success.  She cites several reasons, of which two stood out for me:

  1. Funders’ tastes may not align with the rest of the audience and therefore growth-in-audience assumptions are flawed. The audience is changing in its demographics, purchasing habits, and attendance patterns. Foundations may not be in tune with the times.
  2. Funders invested most in the organizations that were financially weak. Nelson shows that sustainable growth is different from significant growth. Organizations cannot move into a significant expansion without first dealing with fundamental financial weaknesses. Further, it is easy to spend money but much more difficult to predict the net from any investment. Expansion is likely to cost more than its direct costs. Not only organizations — but also their grantmaking partners — fail to exercise financial discipline when making funding choices.

Nelson closed by suggesting that grantmakers take more time to think about the context of the larger ecosystem in which any given organization works, then ask, “When is it better not to invest?” She suggested that foundations think about their success measures in light of the increased competition, market saturation, and audience preferences that are characteristic of our times. Is the aim to strengthen and advance particular organizations? Is the aim a particular community vibrancy goal? Or a meta-audience goal? “Just what is your score here?” Nelson asked.

What was particularly refreshing about Nelson’s presentation? Her willingness to talk turkey. She does her homework, she has researched and thought through the details, and her messages are clear. If you need evidence that grantmaking is a complicated endeavor, reading this report will be fodder. And perhaps grantmakers need to have their own oath: First, do no harm. That’s a lot harder than it looks.

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(Silent) Poetry in Motion

Movement. Motion. Swag.  The middle of Tuesday had a dance battle break (with a Google Glass intro) when Dance Houston took the stage.

Unfortunately, I respectfully had my phone set to silent during the presentation – which meant Instagram did not record the sound. [Editor note: GIA will be publishing full video soon.] Still, the short bursts of movement are poetic in their own right:

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


I. Session: Funding Commercial Creative Businesses: Sell Out or Smart Design?
The City of San Jose (CA), in partnership with the Center for Cultural Innovation, has started providing small “investment grants” to creative entrepreneurs with goals at the nexus of cultural and economic development. Basically this project is still in its infancy, as only two rounds of funding have been completed, and only a total of $40,000 has been awarded in total to 12 grantees, with the $40,000 third round coming up.

Support for private sector, for profit ventures as part of an overall attempt to support the development of a creative culture is an area long neglected. Detractors and critics may balk at the idea of funding anything that might even remotely be considered non arts, using theoretical arts money. There are those that believe that commercial businesses really don’t have social missions, and thus should not be part of what we try to do. There are also those that decry the absence of a bar of artistic excellence as fundamental to the judgment criteria, and think without it, this kind of venture should not be part of what we do.

I disagree. I think there is room for us to wade into the area of providing some kinds of investment in the private sector, for profit field as part of our wider charge to nurture, support and develop the whole of the creative sector in a given area. Doing so will open doors and vistas we usually don’t open, will build bridges to sectors we don’t usually intersect with, and provide a holistic perspective on what is really a larger effort than we have thus far been fashioning.  Now if this becomes a trend, maybe we want to think long and hard as to what our ROI is going to be — general or specific.

The small business types of projects being funded are the same kinds that Economic Development offices routinely fund. San Jose’s criteria are that the awardees must be San Jose based “for profits”, contribute to the city’s cultural vibrancy, promote the city’s positive brand, and have a positive economic impact. And while a T-Shirt company (particularly one that targeted the sports enthusiast market) seems a far cry from what is valuable to the arts field (and this was one of the grantees), it did indeed contribute to the city’s cultural creative market, it did promote the city in a positive way, and it did have a positive economic impact. The key is to think about the process of creating, not the end product. And the process clearly qualified. As Kristen Madsen of the Grammy Foundation (in the session audience) pointed out: we have to get beyond the thinking that arbitrarily and artificially puts constraints on people who create that they don’t put on themselves. Thus, support for a musical artist who sought to record and promote their own album shouldn’t be limited just to the kind of act that would appear on a Folkways label distributed by the Smithsonian.

We need to expand our thinking.

I can see this type of approach having wide application were the funding pool to grow large enough — and perhaps with government economic development money, it just might be able to. If we are trying to create an ecosystem in which creativity and the arts and culture can all thrive, then moving into this kind of uncharted territory – especially as a minimal investment level – makes perfect sense. Let’s play in this sandbox at least a little, and see what happens. It will be interesting to see what results from this kind of venture funding.

All kinds of things might surface. And eventually, we might build some interesting bridges and intersections of for profit and nonprofit on two way streets.

II. Session: ENGAGE: State Communities of Practice in Arts, Health and Aging
Fact: People are living longer and there are more older people every year.

“ENGAGE is a first-of-its-kind initiative to support state arts agencies in developing infrastructure and programming in arts, health and aging in their individual state and as regional and national collaborators. In partnership with the NEA and NASAA, and with matching funds from the Aroha Philanthropies, the National Center for Aging has been working with 13 state arts agencies (SAAs) in 2013/14. In 2015/15 an additional 12 states will join the group to work toward next steps in forming new business models, policy development and cultural resources.”

Three states that were part of the original cohort reported on their approaches:

  • Minnesota (which will by 2020 have more people over the age of 65 than it will have children in the K-12 group) has attempted to address the opportunity of intersecting the arts with the aging issues by developing infrastructure, increasing organizational capacity, and building coalitions with other sectors and agencies that are also concerned with aging citizens. Their activities include: grants, training, roundtables and a statewide conference.
  • Montana (which will have the 4th oldest population per capita in the US in the nest 20 years) is offering artists National Center for Creative Aging seminars, hosting webinars on creative aging, and providing expanded teaching artist training. They have also identified potential partners and stakeholders – including AARP, the Montana Art Therapy Association and the Montana Geriatric Association.
  • Texas (in which the 60+ population is expected to increase by nearly 50% in the next few decades) is tapping into existing programs that may lend themselves to intersections with the arts, developing webinars, and workshops for arts organizations, looking for other partners to move forward and is compiling a database of creative aging programs in the state.

Lessons learned: These three states reported that they found it relatively easy to: (i) convince people of the importance of moving forward on the arts / aging intersection; (ii) get buy in; and (iii)  find doors opening for collaboration.
They found it more difficult to get state funding from their legislatures for this kind of work.

It was also pointed out that when you talk about creativity and health care you raise political red flags that may get in the way of moving forward, but when you package the same ideas as creativity and aging, many of the political obstacles fall away.

Maybe what we need is a creative ombudsman for the elderly.

Professional development opportunities in the 2015 year of the project will include:

  • Quarterly teleconferences
  • Ongoing technical assistance
  • Peer to peer mentoring
  • Capacity building tools
  • 2015 White House Conference on Aging

While this whole program is still just a beginning for the arts to move more fully into the arena of serving the growing community of seniors across the country, there are already lessons to be learned in moving forward. Those lessons include:

  1. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Use existing networks, models, programs, tools, and relationships.
  2. Prioritize what you want to do and take manageable steps. Don’t try to cover all the steps from the start. Choose a focus, then work on realistic goals within reach.
  3. Create a structure for creative aging work within the organization and make it a priority. Allocate dedicated staff time and make it part of the organization’s calendar and work.
  4. Intersect with and involve the arts learning / arts education staff and fields.
  5. Partnerships are the key. Reaching out can help do a lot with a little. Build bridges. There are lots of potential partners out there.
  6. Internal education and dialogue are essential. Get buy in across your whole organization.

This is the tip of a big, big iceberg. Just as every arts organization has arts education somewhere on its agenda, in the future every arts organization will have arts and aging somewhere on that agenda too. Aging populations, aging audiences, aging supporters – all these things will intersect across a broad range of what is important to us.

III. Lunch Plenary: A Conversation with Roberto Bedoya and Rick Lowe
Roberto Bedoya (Executive Director Tucson Pima Arts Council) and Rick Lowe (Founder Project Row Houses, Houston, and 2014 MacArthur Fellow) are two very highly articulate leaders in the conversations – within and without our sector – on issues of diversity, equity, race, color and the arts (among other conversations). They have both been around long enough to know what they are talking about, and they both offer comments that are incisive, yet intended to educate and inform rather than accuse or corner.

This was a very good exchange. I confess my notes may not due justice to the nuanced texture of old friends talking candidly, gently offering sage and penetrating analysis.

Lowe started out offering the concept of Cultural Sculpting of neighborhoods. Art as a solution to working “in” the community, not coming from outside of it. Engagement is ultimately about “listening” he said. “Creative people should be involved in creating communities”

He added that placemaking gentrified community development. It comes from a privileged perspective, and we need to deal with the reality that community developers are not always excited about placemaking – at least in the way it is sometimes framed.

Bedoya put forth his theory of sovereignty of place – which is about placekeeping; protecting the character of a place while recognizing that the authenticity of a place may not fit the mold of what those seeking change from the outside may have in mind.

Lowe talked about how the real estate market of a decade or two ago in Houston allowed for the development of Project Row Houses; and

Bedoya posed the question: How does a city speak through its neighborhoods?

Lowe suggested that placemaking has a softer quality to it than social sculpturing. “Place” is different than “belonging”. A sense of belonging is about trust. How to honor the community?

Bedoya echoed the role of trust in the community as critical to place, and

Lowe opined that outsiders “don’t know how life is lived in certain places. Outsiders don’t really know how to function in certain places.” He also noted that if the last four or five decades have been about disempowering certain communities, then re-empowering them will not be done quickly.

Both agreed that the work that must be done goes on and on.
From these two – MORE PLEASE.

While the conference ended Wednesday morning, I plan on at least two more posts covering last Saturday’s PreConference on the Practice of Arts Grantmaking, and on a couple of sessions on Racial Justice, Racism, and Diversity.

Have a good day.

Don’t Quit.

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Racial Conversation as Long Table Performance

The rules of the Long Table.

The rules of the Long Table.

Can a conversation about race be a performance? What does that simple framework shift do to the conversation? The answer: everything.

The long table conversation is a fascinating thing to watch unfold. Participants come in and out as they please. There is snacking and scribbling, mostly on topic. Some people were determined watchers, setting up camp on the chairs on the far edge of the perimeter. And others eagerly queued up in the seats closest to the table, waiting for the moment they could tap someone on the shoulder, sending that performer out and putting themselves into the conversation.

The Long Table - The Beginning

The Long Table – The Beginning

The conversation starts off immediately. There aren’t really any awkward pauses. The presence of the table as a speaking space created a flow that participants respected. I wondered if an art project gave people license to break the rules and conventions of conversation. I felt inspired to draw a circle around an errant blueberry on the table. And at times, I felt the urge to run around, to lean over someone and circle their scribble, to interact out of order and out of place. After all, isn’t that art? Responding to stimuli?

But that will have to wait for another long table. People needed this space – stories flowed alongside tears and while this may have been intended as an art project the space morphed to accommodate mass catharsis.

Defining racial equity.

Defining racial equity.

Race Scrawl.

Race Scrawl.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 11.01.58 AM

(TRA is an abbreviation for transracial adoptee.)

Racial Scrawl 2

Racial Scrawl 2

The session draws to a close. Many are in tears. Some feel a profound shift. Others looked at the way inequality replicated itself at the table. There is no solution. But in art, does there need to be a neat resolution?

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Zoom Out

Galaxies Collide, NASA

Galaxies Collide, NASA

Days One and Two at the 2014 GIA conference in Houston have gone by quickly — jam packed days with sessions from early morning (8:00) through evening (9:00 or 10:00 + socializing) and almost no breaks. I have been Tweeting during several sessions @Lutman_Sarah and taking copious notes for future posts that will take some time to compose. So stay tuned.

On Monday the very first session I attended was Art and Tech: Bending New Technologies to Native Traditions, organized by Wendy Red Star, Program Associate, and T. Lulani Arquette, President and CEO, of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, based in Vancouver, Washington. The session provided a platform for three Native artists to present their work to a relatively small but deeply engrossed audience. Its description promised an exploration of  tradition as a vital piece of a cultural continuum that is fluid, and added that, “Native peoples are not trapped in amber.”

The three artists who shared their work were Raven Chacon, composer; Rose Simpson, multi-media artist, and Kealoha Wong, poet. Follow the links and check out their work or better yet go and find them and their work in person. In thinking about how I would tell you about the session, which moved me and I’m guessing others to tears, I decided to ask National Slam Legend Kealoha if he would share a portion of the 14-minute poem he performed. It’s part of a larger work he explained as his life’s work — a 90-minute exploration of the intersections between the hard science he mastered as an MIT-trained physicist and traditions of creation storytelling. His electric performance took us from the Big Bang to primordial ooze and to dinosaurs, birds, and homo sapiens and then out into the cosmos to see ourselves in the grand perspective of geological time.

When the poem, Zoom Out, reached its climax, the right stage was set for what conferences like this are all about anyway — to get some necessary perspective on what life means in your corner of the universe, to get a grip on your own cosmic insignificance and to remember that joy is the answer to life’s mysteries and truths. “you, me, all of us … are transient … / you will not be you in the grand scheme of things, which makes all your suffering trivial / which makes your ecstasy the only thing worth remembering as part of the universe”

Zoom Out

tonight… i want you to think about your life

i want you to think about what you stand for and realize that all the suffering you’ve ever experienced
means nothing in the long term
for every year you live, the universe will be around for trillions
and for every friend you’ve made, there are billions yet to be born that you will never meet
in the grand scheme of things, we are nobody
and yet at the same time, we are everything
we are X and Y chromosomes
we are G, C, A, and T genomes
we are complex carbohydrates, simple proteins, soft tissue, hard-wired neurons…
we are strong bonds linked in nervous systems
and while this earth’s surface is covered with 65% saltwater,
we are walking bags made of 65% salt water
merely mimicking the environment that we evolved from

and when we are done, this flesh we call our own returns home to the sea when we dissipate… evaporate into water vapor
and these bones…
these bones will be broken down by the roots of the tallest trees
while this earth, hurling through space, will freeze and boil as it has for eons as it orbits the sun
which in five billion years will transform into a red giant and scorch all life as we know it,
it’s last blast before it fizzles into a whimper remembered by nobody,
or maybe charted by aliens as they peer through telescopes
logging our sun as a piece of data that came and went
and these aliens, whoever they may or may not be
i want them to think about their lives
i want you to think about your life as you study me through your primitive telescopes
and i want everybody, the aliens, you, and me, to realize that even when our hearts break,
or when work sucks or when rents due or when someone somewhere says something stupid about you
even in the face of homicide, genocide, and suicide
in the face of racism, sexism, classism, and insert really bad word here – ism
no matter how much life may suck for you or for other people,

zoom out

zoom out and realize that all the evil in this world is transient…
heck all the good in this world is transient…
you, me, all of us… are transient…
you will not be you in the grand scheme of things, which makes all your suffering trivial
which makes your ecstasy the only thing worth remembering as part of the universe
expressing itself in one giant orgasm known as the big bang
we are its aftermath sigh
its alibi for not having a reason
you are the universe learning about itself
you are the universe asking itself why it’s here
you will soon be the universe not learning or asking anything
you are everything and nothing at the same time
and no matter how hard it is to admit, no matter how afraid we get and how much we want to deny the truth, the truth is… well the truth is we’re gonna die
maybe not tonight, tomorrow, or next year
but sooner or later we’re all gonna die

but the truth is hard to swallow,
and so we do everything we can to avoid the big picture because the big picture is paralyzing…
and so we focus our eyes on the day to day dramas of our lives…

but not tonight
tonight i want you to think about your life right here
not here, the Hotel ZaZa in Houston,
but here… this world… planet Earth
here… this galaxy… this universe
we are not cavemen anymore
there are no saber tooth tigers lurking in the shadows
yet most of us cling to our fears like the animals we evolved from
what are we so afraid of?
we’ve been etching the same patterns in the same predictable places for years
why do we live the way that they tell us to?
and who the fuck are they, anyway?
it’s about time we start doing what’s in our hearts because that’s all we’ve really got
i want you to think about all the things you wish you could do
and tonight, i want you to do one of them
and tomorrow, another
our lives are temporary art pieces…
we are works in progress…
so i say paint your ass off…
use florescent yellows and reds in the places where there aren’t any color
dance for the moment
sculpt your life out of soil and make the universe smile
be the expressive process that is humanity

tonight, i want you to think about your life
and tomorrow, i want you to live it

© 2009 Kealoha


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Doing it Right

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

Day Two was long and full of sessions and content worth reporting on.  I have a very early flight, want to be thoughtful, and so I will be posting several blogs beginning tomorrow and through the weekend.  It was a very good conference and I feel fortunate to have been able to share it with so many smart people.

Safe journeys home.

Don’t Quit



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