Welcome to the GIA 2016 Conference Blog!

Grantmakers in the Arts is pleased to have a fantastic pair of bloggers covering the 2016 Conference in Saint Paul. Ebony McKinney, program officer with the San Francisco Arts Commission, and Lara Davis, Arts Education Manager for the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture will be posting their comments and reactions beginning Sunday, October 16. We hope you enjoy their observations and that you join this conversation.
We hope you enjoy the 2016 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in Saint Paul!
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It’s been a week since the GIA Conference (GIAcon) ended, and I’m already gearing up for arts conference number three of the season. Next week, I’ll be heading to Chicago for the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Annual Conference.

My barometer for what makes a conference good is informed, in part, by GIAcon. The conference has a strong focus on power and privilege at the intersection of grantmaking. There are a lot of suits, but the dialog and introspection crack the veneer of professionalism, creating space for real talk, and accountability. “A Confluence of People, Cultures, and Ideas” is apt subtitling for this year’s GIAcon.

Idea Labs

One of my favorite things about GIAcon is the idea lab during the morning plenaries, which features local artists and change-makers from the host city. Saint Paul does not disappoint with its caliber of artists who are driving change in community thru art and social justice. Three artists, in particular, have stuck with me post conference: Amanda Lovelee, the city artist for Public Art Saint Paul; Oskar Ly, queer Hmong French American multi-disciplinary artist & organizer; and Rhiana Yazzie, Navajo playwright, actor, and director.

If there’s any doubt that building racial equity and social justice is a creative process, it is immediately dispelled by the presentations of these artists. They use innovative strategies, authentic indigenous practices interwoven with contemporary subject matter, whimsy and imagination to elevate culture and foster creative placemaking, community development, and civic engagement. Please look up these artists, and be inspired to action by their efforts.

“We are in it together. We create it together.”

I was pretty much under the weather during the conference, so when the time came to choose an off-site excursion for the final round, I chose to remain at the hotel and check out the on-site session. And, I’m very glad that I did.

Imagining Philanthropia: Dreaming Out Loud was, hands-down, one of the best experiences I had at GIAcon this year. Organized by GIA board member and all around badass bruja Tatiana Hernandez, members from the collective known as the US Department of Arts and Culture led participants thru a creative and introspective journey. It was the first and only session I attended that was hands-on, where facilitators led activities including: a story circle, mapping the imaginary Philanthropia, and generating postcards from the future – some examples of which I’ve included below:

Greetings from the Imperial Capital…Dear future leader, fear is counter-revolutionary. [Signed,] the worst of all possible worlds.
Dear racialized, genderized, patriarchal, polarized society of 2016. On the 50th anniversary of the great Awakening, we light candles in memorial to those that fought against systems of oppression to free humanity, to realize a fuller potential & claim its birthright of equality, self-expression, and love. Philanthropy, as you knew it then, no longer exists because there is more equitable distribution of wealth & resources, eliminating the need for stewardship of $ on behalf of others.
Dear________, I feel the warmth starting to rise from the small fires burning outside.  People are pouring from structures, bandana’s covering their faces to protect from tear gas as they rise-up to dismantle systems that cannot last. Bloated and teetering Philanthropia is working to atone for the past. It’s science that is giving me the most hope. Knowing that charred remains can foster the growth of my cells to rebuild connections that detoxify the soil. So, the land you inhabit is a wild overgrown field that sustains us all and helps us heal.

As you may have guessed, Philanthropia is essentially the fairytale land of grantmaking. What was cool about this session was the fact that you had a room filled with funders tasked to consider the future of society and philanthropy’s roll in it. It was inspiring to watch the group arrive at a place where their roles became obsolete as they imagined futures complete with a just distribution of resources for all. We then formed a closing circle, and each of us contributed a song to inspire the revolution.

President Obama once said that, “It’s going to take a lot of creativity to solve the ills of our time.” Imagining possibilities, is step one in getting us there.

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Offering Space, Unbound Arts and Dynamic Resources


“How do we ensure equity and inclusion are at the core of our curatorial process and financial models?” was the question at the center of Eyenga Bokamba’s quest to remake Intermedia Arts and it became the core question of the conference for me.

In my final post, I’ll share a few broad themes that stuck with me. We may not have reached the tipping point toward equity quite yet, but I’m encouraged and grateful to be involved in this work with you. Yes YOU!

I can’t let go of the idea of space. It’s lingered with me since artist Barak adé Soleil brought it up at the Building Equity in Support for Individual Artists preconference. His unique perspective, that of a black, queer, cis gendered, disabled choreographer, underscored the layers of Tetris-like maneuvering he undergoes whenever attempting to cross a busy street, or other more philosophically constrained space. “What is the real way of grounding ourselves and opening the space?” he asked while advocating for both an awareness of physical space/hospitality and a “deepening complexity of identity.”

How can I become more aware of physical or language barriers to information or resources? What categories or characterizations limit expressiveness? How can I welcome work that links justice and beauty or tradition and innovation? In what ways, small and large, can I create inclusive platforms, move out of the way and support artists who then thrive?

Lastly, on the subject of space: in my opinion, the first day (which was the preconference) could have used additional space for processing and reflection. Deep dives into equity can be emotionally complex and bring up gaps in perspective and word. Time to breathe and respond can catalyze collective learning.

The arts continue to help galvanize, unify and provoke as we saw in the sessions and plenaries, but what can be done to support an artist’s fruitful, lifetime of work?

“We need to unfetter productivity and citizenry,” commented Angie Kim of the Center for Cultural Innovation at the Artists and the New Economy session. The inequities that exist in the arts mirror those in greater society, therefore greater alignment outside of the arts is called for to tackle challenges around health care, debt, affordable housing, mentioned Jason Schupbach. Technology has the potential to energize and democratize the creation, distribution and consumption of work, but inequities, blockages and divides still exist. Also, in this the sharing economy, some small and mid-sized organizations may be able to achieve greater cultural, artistic and financial buoyancy by engaging shared back office support as demonstrated by a panel organized by The Kenneth Rainin Foundation. How might a broader movement toward sharing strengthen culturally specific, community and experimental arts organizations?

I am fascinated by the idea of creating a flexible work infrastructure for a flexible age. The AZ Art Worker Network, supported by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, helps bring together artists and mentors and facilitates knowledge sharing and access to high quality training. Local artists are enriched, meaningful relationships form and communities are better connected. Though I wasn’t able to attend it seems the next generation of arts leadership – networked, multi-generational, multicultural and collaborative, presented by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation also highlights the pervasive benefits of networks.

When framing conversations around the new economy, several grantmakers and arts organizations adopted a dynamic view of deploying and engaging resources by collaborating on training programs and utilizing a larger tool-box of resources to support entrepreneurship – real capital, start up, bridge, and equity investment. It is a compelling idea that the team at The Kresge Foundation also explored in a well-attended (well reviewed) session on social impact investing. Are we moving into a mindset of greater abundance? I hope so, but as we move closer to these new scenarios Judilee Reed’s caution rings in my ears – “We have to make sure we are creating an environment for those [activist] artists to build creative practice over time and in absence of an extractive economy.”

How can funders bring together complementary resources in a way that is not transactional and develops new ways to assess value that is beautiful, just, healthy, aligned with the environment and/or economically viable?

I left GIA appreciative of my colleagues’ intelligence, curiosity and commitment and eager to glean what I can from Detroit’s resilience next year.

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How can we support artists in the new economy?

Artists and the New Economy

Organized by Angie Kim, President & CEO, Center for Cultural Innovation.

Moderated by Alexis Frasz, Researcher, Helicon Collaborative; and Holly Sidford, President, Helicon Collaborative. Presented by Angie Kim, President and CEO, Center for Cultural Innovation; Judilee Reed, Director, Thriving Cultures Program, Surdna Foundation; and Jason Schupbach, Director of Design Programs, Visual Arts Division Team Leader, National Endowment for the Arts.

Alexis Frasz, of Helicon Collaborative, began by explaining that the research group which included Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) started with a design challenge:

What are the conditions in which artists live and work today and what will it look like for them to live sustainably, create good work and contribute to their communities? Also: Where is our support system now in terms of what we think is ideal? If it’s not there, what would we do to adjust it?

This field-wide temperature check and list of implications resulted in Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting US Artists, released in September 2016, with support from Surdna Foundation and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. This report is somewhat of a refresh of Investing in Creativity, a 2006 paper from the Urban Institute authored by Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson. One of the major innovations of Jackson’s analysis was a framework that contained six structures that artists need to do their work. Validation, Demands and Markets, Material Supports, Training, Communities and Networks, and Information remain a focal point today.

“It’s been 13 years since that report” said Frasz, “so in addition to that framework what else do we need to know about trends that are affecting artists today and how can we update our lens so that we can really support people meaningfully today?”

A few of the findings of Creativity Connects shared in the workshop:

  • The population of artists is growing and diversifying and that’s because our country is growing and diversifying. Once again artists are part of the population, and as we become more diverse as a country the population of artists does too.
  • How artists manifest the kind of work they are doing is shifting. While work is still being stages in galleries and theatres, informal and community settings are also the norm.
  • Technology has disrupted many industries including the arts. Making, distributing, and consuming work consuming has become easier than ever. A good example of widening opportunities, include the film Tangerine. However, equity and accessibility challenges still exist. Overall, structural inequities for artists, technological and otherwise mirror those in society at large.
  • Training, in areas like entrepreneurship and partnership are vital for success in today’s world, but is not keeping pace with the challenges of today.
  • Who are these artists out there you may be asking? Highly specialized workers, with unique needs, experiences and skill sets, whose ability to live and thrive are impacted by conditions that impact much of the population such as health care, debt, affordable housing.

Finally, Frasz shared the implications of this research. Actions that could address the above challenges include:

  • Articulating the societal value of artists and creative work in health, environmental and economic arenas and develop new ways to assess value
  • Addressing income insecurity as part of larger workforce efforts
  • Reducing debt and building assets. (Also creating higher education affordability)
  • Creating 21st century training systems
  • Upgrading systems and structures (technology platforms, copyright issues, etc.)

According to Frasz, one of the ultimate goals of the report is to spur funders, intermediaries and others to make choices and investments that move beyond incremental work and efforts on the fringes to coordinated, broad efforts. Almost every member of the panel emphasized that they felt this was a huge time of change and opportunity.

Next, each panelist shared reflections on the report and its implications.

Judilee Reed of Surdna Foundation laid out a few, concise recommendations for funder stances of the future:

  1. Take an elastic view of discipline and support funding structures with a broader aesthetic expertise and greater cultural competency.
  2. Hold a complex and long view of an artistic career that takes different forms (commercial, nonprofit, community). Artists now cobble together awards that take many different forms and isolating artistic paths or issues like beauty and justice has the potential to create bifurcation and reinforce inequity.
  3. Consider how funders can bring together complementary resources to stack support for artists. Grantmakers were urged to be curious about adopting a more dynamic view of deploying resources and working across lines that embrace training, but also lending that can support entrepreneurship with real capital, start up, bridge, and equity investments – basically a larger tool box of resources.

Jason Schupbach of National Endowment for the Arts was excited about the potential to build partnerships outside of field and highlighted a few areas where the NEA could support collaboration or offer support.

  1. In response to the report the agency has changed guideless to help fund training organizations and hopes to support greater experimentation across sectors in the field. Several non-arts organizations are undertaking projects with artists in areas like community development.
  2. Schupbach also mentioned that State and Regional arts agencies who receive 40% of the NEA’s budget, have reported that they are experiencing an increase in cross-sector partnerships. The NEA has given these agencies extra dollars to host follow up roundtables on the topics in the report to discover what they may be able to do with it.
  3. There are many issues other federal agencies are working on such as student loan debt that also impact the arts field. In 2040 the majority Americans will be doing contract work. This makes labor laws another area of possible collaboration.
  4. The NEA will soon bring together various NEA funded studies on artists together in one place and then promote it as a resource. Once complete, this could help spur work on cross-sector partnerships and dynamic measurement of the value of the arts.

Angie Kim of Center for Cultural Innovation began by saying: “This is a moment when we need to be looking back to the individual. We spent about a generation really bolstering and creating institutions within the non-profit arts system and in this moment of change – generational change, attitudinal differences, cultural and demographic shifts, we can’t help but come back to empowering individuals as changemakers.”

The six domains (training, information, markets, etc) that support artists across time and space were well described in the 2006 Urban Institute report but, says Kim, the report did not describe the environment. Now the world is so dramatically different (then Mark Zuckerberg was in high school and iPhones did not exist) that this became a primary objective.

Kim, the primary force behind the new report, explained why the group of researchers and funders embarked on the new research. Markets and demands. The environment for artists has changed and in many ways expanded. “Technology” she noted “allows artists to go straight to consumer. In LA the number of galleries may be down, but sales of art are up. Artists and arts cooperatives can connect directly to their consumer base.” Intermediaries, she continued – not always bricks and mortar, but other kinds need to build.

She is considering how CCI can be a broker, convenor and conduit for funding, while visioning a shift from project support and the patronage model to investing in artists and helping artists “build sustainable assets – skills based, knowledge-based and hard assets, to own production of a sustainable career.”

One of the most compelling questions of the morning was on equity. Justin Laing of The Heinz Endowments, asked if the research study, with its broad perspective may have replicated dominant structures by leaving out the unique challenges of African American artists. He also noted that these artists, many of whom have not gone to art school, are not impacted as much by school loans – mentioned several times by panelists.

While the report does have a strong section on structural inequities, Frasz did mention it is intentionally broad to encourage wide scale change. Schupbach, suggested that Laing may be pointing out an area of future research.

Kim, also responded later in regards to Laing and a question from Eleanor Savage from Jerome Foundation about caring for activist artists that, “Debt fundamentally alters behavior. We are not investing in artists to be voices of activism. We silence. We need to unfetter productivity and citizenry.”

Reed added: “We run the risk of mimicking the perpetuation of extractive economies and shareholder value, to the detriment of real production. We have to make sure we are creating an environment for those [activist] artists to build creative practice over time and in absence of an extractive economy.”

I had a question about articulating the societal value of creative work and lessons we can learn from the health, environmental and economic sectors. While no perfect resource exists yet, I was pointed to a few resources:

Quick note:

Ian David Moss (Fractured Atlas, Createquity) gave me a scoop at lunch. Look out in the next few weeks for an article in Createquity that will examine evaluation, impact and value of the arts.

Response from the field:

An important note to take away is that internally we do a lot of research on our grantees and communities that we serve so I started to think of ways to connect it to broader research in the field that’s being done to actually provide tangible impact for things philanthropy is already working on. I was sitting there thinking we’re doing this full-scale evaluation that can highlight within our evaluation, within our communities that makes a point about what they’re trying to leverage.
— Bahia Ramos, Program Director for Arts at John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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Race & Place


The GIA Conference is the best convening you’ve likely never heard of, unless of course, you work in grantmaking – which is a lot of people. I became aware of GIA and the conference when I began working for the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture in 2013. We are an office that in addition to public art programming and arts education, provides public funding for individual artists, community organizations, and cultural institutions. Our cultural partnerships programs – grants and more, have been a catalyst for stewarding racial equity in the office, as both internal practice and community engagement.

Today, I had the opportunity to attend a session highlighting the work of cultural partnership in Montgomery, Alabama entitled, “Creative Placemaking in the Racialized South.” Reading the session description, I was drawn in by two things: one, the focus on Black community; two, the description of geography within the context of race. I wanted to get a sense for what the emphasis on social identity and place is yielding in a region that is as Black as it is White. (I am Black, and live in Seattle where the population of Black people is 8%.)

There’s a line in Ava DuVernay’s newly released documentary, 13th (which puts front and center the devastating intersection of racial inequality and mass incarceration in the United States) that came to mind as I made my way to the session. It goes, “There is really no understanding of our American political culture without race at the center of it.” It follows, that conversations surrounding creative place-making, as it implies neighborhood (re)development, must also provide a context of race, and specifically the impact of racism on communities of color. And, that’s exactly what today’s session did.

Kevin King, artist and Five Points Cultural Commission board member, provided a framework of the racialized south as foundational to understanding the approach to neighborhood revitalization in Montgomery’s Five Points area: “Certain major US periods have drastically shaped and continue to steer the direction of the economic realities of Blacks.” The US economy was rooted in slavery as an institution; post-Civil War emancipation and Reconstruction ushered in a backlash of racial terror, aka Jim Crow laws. That history persists as present-day disinvestment in Black communities in Montgomery, alongside a strong legacy of Civil Rights Movement.

The Commission and key partners, with support from ArtPlace, are leading the development of an arts and cultural district in Five Points. Artists, residents, and community members are key participants, serve as advisory members and implementers of this effort. The desire is to combat racial, economic and cultural displacement (or gentrification) as the area develops. Chase Fisher, the Commission’s president, spoke about this as an opportunity for communities to come together and break down barriers. “In transforming a place, you can transform people.”

A set of core beliefs guide the work, and community development agreements hold tenants accountable:

  1. Low income neighborhoods have the capacity & buying power to support businesses.
  2. Properties in low income neighborhoods can generate competitive returns.
  3. Low income neighborhoods are deserving of investment and good quality of life.
  4. Residents should have a voice. Community development should benefit the community.
  5. Arts & culture are essential component to thriving neighborhoods.

The project is faced with challenges that include a funding dynamic that equates to limited access in the deep south, local municipal resistance, and the historical and present reality of racial barriers. But, what I find hopeful is Kevin and Chase’s candor with one another about the way power moves, their creativity and racial analysis, commitment with community, and authentic collaboration. And they’re not afraid of the mistakes to surely come in such an incredible undertaking.

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Beauty, Justice and Alternate Finance

Towards Beauty or Towards Justice: Must We Choose?

Organized by Elizabeth Méndez Berry, Program Officer, Surdna Foundation; and Risë Wilson, Director of Philanthropy, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Moderated by Elizabeth Méndez Berry, Program Officer, Surdna Foundation. Presented by Paul Rucker, Artist; Alex Rivera, Artist; and Deanna Van Buren, Artist, Designing Justice+Designing Spaces.

For filmmaker Los Angeles Alex Rivera justice and beauty exist in a dynamic exchange and represent his most fulfilling work.

The Sleep Dealer began as a short, is now a feature and is being prepared as a future television series. It frames a time when borders are sealed. The internet transcends. Pure labor crosses the border, while bodies stay out.

The Sixth Section was made in collaboration with immigrant rights groups and day labor organizations who assisted with production and  “inhabited a version of their own story.” It helped radicalize civil disobedience organized within detention centers. Rivera is working on making the film more cinematic and adding a fictionalized treatment of story.

Rivera called out a crisis in Latin filmmaking since those making “risky, audacious work, and connected with community” are rarely able make a 2nd film.

Oakland-based architect DeAnna Van Buren (www.designingjustice.org) examines the role of restorative justice and alternate justice in communities today. “Why not design to restore?” she concluded. This is where the Bayview Hunter’s Point Pop Up Resource Centers began. Resolving that detrimental physical condition could be addressed through design, she sought to address extreme lack of resources. She launched into a masterplan for several sites and micro units. Her process involved deep listening and vetting by the community members she hoped to serve and engage since she didn’t want to assume that what she thought was beautiful would resonate with the community.

In response to a need in education, she designed a school on wheels. In response to safety and support for women leaving jail Van Buren drafted mobile resource centers.

Van Buren presents herself as someone with privilege, but not expertise. Though interviews and discussion potential users help her design a matrix of possible resources. Priorities are caseworkers, cleanliness and security, lockers for storage, and spaces that feel private. Observing that the architecture of justice is often cold and bare, her work for these projects are tactile, beautiful and strive to become more hopeful. They’ve helped design pattern that she has expounded on fabricated at artist residencies. Wood surfaces will be stained.

The described projects will be finishing up this year and there are possible projects in the works in LA.

Art makes the unseen seen in Paul Rucker’s work and helps people become more empathetic. A multidisciplinary artist now living in Baltimore, Mr. Rucker began by showing Proliferation a mesmerizing “animated map” that charts 300 years of prison growth. In a manner similar to Ava DuVernay’s movie 13th he links the breakdown of plantations to rise penitentiaries and mass incarceration. He broke down prisons as factories “paying” prisoners $33 to 1.25/hr to farm fish, calm wild fires, pick cotton, and the list goes on.

He presented the photo of a wood sculpture that whistles for Emmett Till. The notes symbolize Rucker’s instrument, the cello, as well as black bodies. There were also clan robes in Kente cloth to highlight Dutch colonization and African slave trade. He is clear that the work has to mean something to him and that he doesn’t make artwork to sell. A self-trained artist, Rucker calls Creative Capital retreats the biggest turning points in his life and practice. He built strong artist relationships and collaborations there and at each of the residencies he’s participated in. (www.rewindexhibition.com) Rucker called out relationship building as key, and long term.

Rivera often begins by asking “what can I do to help?” He often begins relationship building by sharing expertise, such as video making.

Van Buren has refined her practice with trauma informed training and by creating an emotionally safe space to do creative work. Rivera and Van Buren agreed that the scale of their work, film and architecture, can be cost prohibitive. Van Buren has secured funds from Google, Twitter, the City of San Francisco, the Public Utilities Commission and through Community benefits.

Ideally, Rucker remarked, these kind of projects which call for prolonged relationship building, call for 3-5 or 5-7 years of funding and some kind of flexibility. While Van Buren is often able to secure concept funding, she looks to a future where philanthropy takes the first loss on the project and social impact investors fill in the gap. Rivera lamented that the US doesn’t have a structure akin to the to Canada and UK film boards.

“Wow, Paul’s cello. Incredibly moving to know this is where we are. Every element with so much nuance and such depth!”
— Tamara Alvarado, Executive Director, School of Arts and Culture, San Jose

Alternative Finance and Artists

Organized and moderated by Judilee Reed, Director, Surdna Foundation.

Presented by Penelope Douglas, Artist in Residence, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; and Laura Zabel, Executive Director, Springboard for the Arts.

Judilee Reed, of Surdna Foundation, started those of us in attendance off with a little context that highlighted significant disparities in funding.

Findings from a new report to be released in next few months with Helicon Collaborative, updated from a 2011 report from the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy’s funding equity report charts the following data points:

  • Total giving by the top 1000 foundations show (in aggregate) approximately $2B given for non profit arts and cultural activities.
  • Of those allocations, the largest 2% of arts and cultural orgs in US (those with budgets over 5M) see nearly 60% of all grants, gifts and contributions. That’s a drearier future than we saw in 2011.
  • Groups with annual expenditures of under $1M saw their share of all gifts, grants and contributions drop by 5 points.
  • That group (37,000 organizations) represents the fastest growing cohort in total of arts organizations.
  • They represent 90% of all groups and are the organizations serving communities of color, LGBTQ populations and disabled populations.

Creativity Connects, a report recently released by Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) summarize current trends that play a role in artists ability to have healthy creative practices and features systems that support or fall short in supporting artist endeavors. Among those fundings, Reed brought focus to:

  • Artists moving from conventional discipline based systems of creation and presenting such as gallery presentations and dance performances to hybrid contexts that utilize their training in new ways and to reflect larger community concerns like social justice, urban planning, public architecture, health and human services
  • Further suggestions that economic conditions for artists imitate challenges in other segments of the work force really related to the gig economy. For example, high cost of housing, insufficient protections and limited access to capital to push forward enterprises

While I think everyone in the room understood that contributed income is important, other types of financial support have to be considered and included. In this scenario the resources, beyond the $2B described above, could potentially be expanded to include other resource systems. This could have transformational and lasting effects for arts and culture and for the last few years, Surdna, Kresge and others have been looking to alternative finance – “financial channels and instruments that lie outside of traditional finance systems such as commercial lending or banks” according to Reed.

The main question of the session as I understand it was: How do we begin to figuring out how to knit together the cultural sector with a system of finance that yields product lends itself well to arts and culture?

While case studies and examples were discussed, it was a great afternoon of sharing thought provoking ideas invoking systems connecting social, cultural and economic benefit.

Penelope Douglas has a long list of credentials. Former executive at Odwalla, a social responsible business. Artist in residence Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). Strategic advisor to RSF Social Finance. Strategic Advisor to the Opportunity Finance Network. Fellow, SF Federal Reserve Bank. Serial social entrepreneur. Artist.

Though a successful executive early in her career, she eventually left and founded Pacific Community Ventures to figure out financial tools that made sense to social finance and entrepreneurship. Douglas raised many millions in investment and philanthropic capital, but still failed to see deep and long lasting change in low income and underserved communities. Eventually, she hit upon the idea of Culture Bank. The concept’s hypothesis – reduce risk and make artists highly investable because artists move culture and if you don’t have culture you have no hope of creating a lasting social and economic future for us all.

This jibes with the notion that unfettered economic growth is an outdated concept (where is my copy of Small is Beautiful?! ;-)) and that culture at the center of investment will spur a world that is quite different.

How would investment work? The aim would be to raise several $100M in capital, philanthropic in intention in first iteration. This could galvanize established art collectors to pledge their art to the fund in order to secure the credit from those with whom we invest. On the other side of the investment is the artist themselves. Returns would be financial and not financial – art and money. Outcomes would attract products still in development – a kind of pay for success model. Artists have the ability to shift culture through their work, and could have impact on larger health outcomes for example.

Laura Zabel, Executive Director at Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis, has put forth countless innovations related to financial products and mechanisms that increase equitable opportunities for artists. Keep power and agency with artists, she says. Once upon a time, Springboard had it’s own micro-lending programs but had difficulty scaling in a meaningful them way.

However, they see a great deal of potential in KIVA – expanded opportunities or artists and artisans in US which inverts the usual crowd funding paradigm which helps artists to raise 20% from existing network (friends and family) and 80% from others. The fact that campaigns are up $10,000, 3 years to pay back and 0% interest makes the deal even sweeter in Zabel’s estimation. Also, individual artist or small business owners are then in a strong position to connect to new markets and develop regular clients.

She also let those in attendance know that after Great Depression only top 3% were allowed to make venture capital investments, while this was designed to help regular working Joe (or Jan) from going broke it continued to help concentrate wealth at top. Currently, and this different often by state, investment can be crowdsourced for larger ($200,000-$1M) investment.

A long-term issue highlighted by Zabel and Lori Pourier form First Peoples Fund is after several years how does one keep the capital pool for artists’ products and services strong? This discussion is to be continued…

“One thought that stuck with me is the idea of investing in artists because they change culture — something that is so needed because a financial system based on constant growth is unsustainable.”
— Renee Hayes, Grants for the Arts, SF

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We must build together – the knowing

We must build together – the knowing.
Barak adé Soleil

Building Equity in Support for Individual Artists (Preconference)

Carlton Turner of Alternate ROOTS, and our host for the day, welcomed us into the space and kept the day moving with the right amount of earnestness and seriousness. He let us know we’d be asked to think in terms of transforming self, institutions and systems and asked “Where are you in the process of developing equity?” Then we were off…


Melissa Dibble from EmcArts started off with an explanation of their Innovation Lab process, conceived to help organizations handle complex challenges and dislodge entrenched ways of being. The thrust is not to create space for incremental improvement, she explained, but “hard left turns” — the kind of change that results in new value and impact. The process is grounded in author/Professor Ron Heifetz’s principles of adaptive leadership and Dibble laid out a few of the fundamental principles including getting on the balcony to see patterns and identify complex challenges, regulating stress and using generative conflict and making space for leadership voices from below or outside.

Eyenga Bokamba described the Innovation Lab as a tool that allowed Intermedia Arts to surface and address the inequity buried within the organization. Her big questions: “How do we ensure equity and inclusion are at the core of our curatorial process and financial models?” This questioning process ultimately led to a new position within the organization. Director of Equity and Public Programs replaced the more traditional role of Artistic Director and was charged with piloting new ways of sharing power and accessing resources with the artists and communities the organization serves.

Caitlin Strokosch of National Performance Network stepped in for an ill Esther Grisham Grimm and began by urging attendees to look outside of the arts for examples of inclusivity and how to modify the systems artists with disabilities encounter. She stressed the importance of building a lens that is holistic and pervasive. Newly named 2016 3Arts Fellow Barak adé Soleil asked funders in the room to consider, “What is the real way of grounding ourselves and opening the space?”

adé Soleil explained that making work as a choreographer and being a person who uses different devices to get around has bestowed a deep sense of space. He also encouraged us to consider the “deepening complexity of identity” (he identifies as a black, queer, disabled and cis gendered) and to strive to understand the unique needs of each artist with disabilities since he believes it will give us the opportunity to open and expand.

As part of a new initiative, AZ Art Worker is also funded by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation throughout Arizona. Jenea Sanchez has become a partner helping to design convenings, workshops and the occasional coffee and pan dulce conversation. National and international artists and scholars connect to and mentor emerging artists, artists of color, those working in rural communities and community members interested in arts based strategies. Ana Teresa Fernandez has taught site specific and interactive artworks and Dr. Maribel Alvarez has taught asset mapping as a tool for empowerment. The knowledge sharing and access to high quality training are meant to enrich local artists, form networks and connect communities.


Lori Pourier of The First Peoples Fund spoke of supporting the work of culture keepers and tradition bearers by investing in individuals, families and communities. The Fund created Native American Financial Institutions modeled on Muhammed Yanus’ Grameen Bank and the Native Arts Economy Rebuilding Project has spurred access to markets, supplies and technical assistance for Native entrepreneurs.

David Nicholson of Headwaters Foundation for Justice spoke of advancing equity by keeping community at the center of grantmaking. The Foundation recruits and trains community members to become panelists and a high level of trust develops when awardees feel they are seen, heard and supported by members of their community. Transparency and accountability are essential.

This year the new Intercultural Institute received 335 applications for 25-35 fellowship positions, María López De León of Nation Association of Latino Arts and Culture told the preconference group.

The goals of the Institute, a collaborative program of Alternate ROOTS, First Peoples Fund, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) and Pa’I Foundation are to surface common values, new knowledge of socio-political and economic structures and a new understanding of each other.

The program advances social justice and equity and emphasizes how we move in our communities and our shared memories. Funding is in place for the next 3 years. By then they expect to have 90-100 new leaders working in the field.


It was a wonderful dense day, and I along with several participants lamented how little time was left for reflection.

Ideas about cultivating new modes of adaptive leadership, surfacing covert and overt inequities in organizations, making difficult left turns, creating space for artists with disabilities and networks, finance tools and leadership pathways to support creative lives swirled. Much to consider, much to do, but really at the end of the day I’m left with a feeling of steely optimism, intention and the mural/poem on the back wall of Intermedia Arts.


In this moment of Urgency,
We come together answering a call for
In this time of global and local emergency,
We acknowledge the temptation to stay at Anger.
Amidst a barely recognizable Uptown,
With ongoing police violence,
And feeling upheaval and uncertainty of our world at large,
We choose Creation, Courage and Connection.
We turn poison to medicine.
Like bees working together to create honeycomb,
We bring forth ourselves and our art,
Not separable
In co-creation
In this mural we experience the sweetness of community.
Here, see our honey…

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Arts Education Preconference Reflection


This year, I began my GIA Conference as co-facilitator for the “Access to a Lifetime of Arts Education: Every Child, Every Adult” preconference. My pal and co-conspirator in the work of racial justice, consultant and theatre teaching artist Tina LaPadula, joined me to lead a session on Social Justice Essentials for Arts Funders. We kicked off this day of learning and dialogue centered on arts education, data, and creative aging with an engaged crew of thirty plus grantmakers from across the nation, representing family foundations, government, and corporate giving.

As artists and administrators, Tina and I come from the overlapping cultures of art making, arts education, social justice and creative youth development. At each stage of our respective careers, we’ve intersected with funders — seeking support to realize arts learning opportunities for young people, and to deepen the practice of artists in education. Today, we connected with a diverse representation of grantmakers seeking strategies to promote racial equity in their agencies, and prioritize said criteria for organizations in which they invest. This was a first step for some, a sharpening of skills for others, and an affirmation for many.

The context for an anti-racist approach rests in the now:  putting front and center the issues of our time, connecting to what is both relevant and paramount to the lives of young people, especially as they engage in the arts. In that, we highlighted images of politics, protests, and movements — from the US presidential election and Standing Rock Sioux.

Participants focused on work that we do with teaching artists and educators by exploring culture, identity, power, privilege, and oppression. First, reflecting on an individual level, then institutionally (i.e., org policies and practices), and finally, structurally (across institutions). We shared a racial justice organizational assessment tool to assist in identifying how power is held and moved within one’s organization. Because institutions, like individuals, must begin by looking in the mirror.

We heard great feedback from those who attended, which I’ll share below for your reading pleasure.  I will state first, however, that my favorite comment came from GIA’s own Janet Brown, aka powerhouse of the century. In acknowledging that er’body (that’s my colloquialism) must do the work, “white folks in organizations would do well to seek training and support for themselves because we’re not acculturated to think of this as our work.” True that.

And now, a few participant reflections…

“Grantmakers are uniquely positioned to integrate [the interrogation of] power, privilege, and access. It’s great for us to take time to reflect and share our personal truths and consider how they impact or should impact our work.” — Arianna Paz Chávez, New York, NY

“As funders, we need an assessment tool that helps us honestly examine our own grants, programs, practices, and staffing structures with a racial equity lens.” — Jessica Mele, San Francisco, CA

“We have to have these conversations regardless of where we think people or organizations are in terms of a starting place. If we don’t begin to speak the invisible, we will never tackle the real issues we face.” — Marinell Rousmaniere, Boston, MA

“This conversation’s not only necessary for survival for the arts, but survival for humanity itself.” — Rebecca Davis, St. Paul, MN

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Meet the bloggers: Ebony McKinney

Ebony McKinneyEbony McKinney is a program officer with the San Francisco Arts Commission. She previously held positions with The BRITDOC Foundation in London, Intersection for the Arts, and the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. She has participated in grant review panels for the California College for the Arts Center for Art & Public Life, the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Jose Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Oakland Cultural Affairs Commission. McKinney was a part of the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts, where she co-chaired the engagement committee and the Emerging Ideas committee. She currently serves on the citizens advisory committee of Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund. McKinney holds an MA in cultural entrepreneurship and an MA in visual anthropology from Goldsmiths, University of London.

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Meet the bloggers: Lara Davis

Lara DavisLara Davis has been active in youth development and community arts education for more than a decade. She has served as a Seattle arts commissioner and as program director for Arts Corps, a youth arts organization. At the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, Lara manages Creative Advantage, a public/private partnership to ensure equitable access to high quality arts learning for all Seattle students. Lara serves on the National Advisory Committee for the Teaching Artists Guild and facilitates equity and racial justice trainings. As a person of color, Lara understands the value of cross-cultural, multi-sector efforts to dismantle racism and other oppressions, and to promote justice. As an artist and arts administrator, she knows firsthand the power of creativity necessary to build access, foster engagement, transform communities, and inspire systemic change.

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