Community foundations consortium establishes a $1 million fund for artists

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 17, No 2 (Summer 2006)

John R. Killacky

The recently formed GIA Community Foundations Working Group has begun to plan a variety of initiatives in response to members' interest in learning more about how community foundations work and the different ways they support the arts. Members who attended the GIA conference in 2003 and heard Lucy Bernholz's plenary remarks could not forget the facts about the remarkable current and projected growth in donor advised funds. Foundation Giving Trends recently reported that foundation dollars granted to the arts is the largest in community foundations, averaging 15.6% of overall giving, exceeding the 12.7% of corporate foundations giving to the arts and 11.9% of independent foundations portfolios giving to the arts.

One way that the Community Foundations Working Group will share its work and discoveries is through a Reader column dedicated to stories, profiles and trends in arts philanthropy in community foundations around the country. We are pleased to launch this effort with this piece by John Killacky of the San Francisco Foundation.

Lisa Cremin, Chair

In spring 2003, the San Francisco Foundation was awarded a planning grant from the newly formed Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) to host a series of real estate readiness workshops for artists and arts organizations, as well as to revisit a 1988 and 1997 survey by Joan Jeffri looking at artists' work-related human and social service needs in the Bay Area. These efforts were augmented by support from the William and Flora Hewlett and David and Lucile Packard Foundations.

Jeffri's updated study showed our artists are stable, well educated, and involved: 69 percent have resided and 59 percent have worked in the same county for more than ten years, close to half volunteer their services, 82 percent have a college or graduate degree, and 84 percent vote. That's the good news.

Unfortunately, the percentage of artists earning money from their art was on the decline (from a high of 86 percent in 1988 to 77 percent in 2003) and only 43 percent had income that covered their art-related expenses. Sixty-three percent earn under $7,000 per year from their art. Consequently, 78 percent work at more than one job and spend less time on their art than they did fifteen years ago.

Lucy Bernholz's keynote address at the fall 2003 GIA conference, in which she observed there are now more donor-advised funds (70,000) at community foundations than there are foundations (66,000) in this country, served as a catalyst for a response. I analyzed data from our more than 400 donor-advised funds. That year our foundation gave away $64.1 million with $43.5 million coming through donors. Surprising to me, $9.1 million or 20 percent of donor-advised funds went to arts groups.

I was heartened by how much donors gave to the arts, but 75 percent of this support went to organizations with budgets of $5 million or more. There was an opportunity to highlight the importance of supporting individual artists; at least I did not have to con-vince them of the importance of the arts.

My colleagues, Jim Flavell from Marin Community Foundation, Frank Lalle from Peninsula Community Foundation, and Diane Sanchez from East Bay Community Foundation, also found their donor advisors quite supportive of the arts. Consequently we developed a partnership whose goals were to: 1) increase donor knowledge and understanding of the role of individual artists and of the particular needs of individual artists seeking to pursue their work; 2) increase philanthropic support for individual artists, especially from donor-advised funds; and 3) establish several locally and/or regionally-based, sustainable mechanisms for philanthropic support for individual artists.

This consortium project was capitalized with $500,000 from three funders: $100,000 from LINC and $200,000 each from the James Irvine and the William and Flora Hewlett foundations. The four community foundations agreed to match on a one-to-one basis through discretionary funds, donor-advised funds, and other grants; thereby creating a $1 million FUND FOR ARTISTS to support commissions, fellowships, and residencies over a three-year period.

We held a series of forums to educate donor-advised-fund holders about the new initiative. The San Francisco Foundation announced the partnership at an event at the San Francisco Opera. Peninsula Community Foundation organized a reading by Tobias Wolf at the home of a board member. East Bay Community Foundation organized a lively panel discussion about theater in the East Bay, and Marin Community Foundation held an informational meeting with its donors prior to a gallery exhibition of visual arts supported through the Marin Arts Council.

During the first year of the program, the four community foundations matched the $500,000 challenge. Further, the Surdna Foundation awarded the partnership $75,000 over three years to extend its Arts Teachers Fellowships as part of FUND FOR ARTISTS.

As the partnership enters its second year, more donor forums are planned and the initial donors to the FUND FOR ARTISTS will be invited to see new works they helped commission in the hope that they will continue supporting the project in the future.

Also thrilling was how this project informed a state-wide initiative by the James Irvine Foundation as it committed $5.5 million over the next three years to support growing arts programs within ten additional California community foundations.

This kind of collaboration took more time than originally anticipated, especially when fund development, marketing, and program staff from all four foundations were taken into account. Nevertheless, the collaborators saw this project as an incredible opportunity to begin a new kind of partnership that goes beyond institutional and geographic boundaries to address major issues that affect the communities each seeks to serve.

John Killacky is program officer, Arts & Culture, the San Francisco Foundation.