Navigating the Art of Change

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 20, No 1 (Spring 2009)

Janet Brown
Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things...they push the human race forward, while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
— Steve Jobs

It is a year of transition and change. You can google “change” and come up with enough material to keep you in bedside reading for years by journalists, economists, politicians, academics, bloggers (those with or without credentials), and everybody else. But, as we are talking and writing about change, we’re also navigating our way through it.

Whether in calm waters waiting for the rapids, or in the rapids waiting for the calm, GIA members—public and private grantmakers, small and large—are trying to figure out what lies ahead. They are determining new priorities based on fewer assets and against a background of ever-changing politics. But one priority that needs to remain constant in every board room and meeting discussion is the commitment to supporting artists and arts organizations. We do this because we all believe that artists play a critical role in our society. Many think of them as the crazy ones. It is our role to promote them as change agents, especially now when a “culture of scarcity” threatens to drive the direction of our private and public resources.

Grantmakers in the Arts, as a national association, is no different. We are taking this year to plan change and institute change at the same time. As the new executive director of GIA, I feel pressure to both preserve our successful past activities and enter the future with new programs that will increase our relevancy to a changing field. Everything is on the table. Your voice, as a reader of the Reader, a member of GIA, or an interested arts advocate is important to us.

We are writing a three-year action plan. Part of the planning process is an evaluation of programs and partnerships. In the area of knowledge exchange and networking, there is discussion of how information can be more efficiently delivered. Our frontline action in this area will be a new open-source Web site launching this summer that will allow for greater interaction by members. A major component will be a “library” that is more easily searchable, allowing you to gain readier access to past Reader articles as well as to research and papers on arts education, social justice, nonprofit management, individual artists, and more. The result will be a very different site from the one we currently have, featuring new Web communication tools.

We are expanding the use of our Member Bulletin to provide up to date information to members and we are developing strategies for our future use of digital communication to present relevant research findings and information about grantmaking practices. For example, in 2010 GIA is planning a series entitled “Informing Our Work” that will be delivered electronically.

The Reader is one of GIA programs that members tell us is most valued. This Reader is slightly different from the past. As we move forward we are looking at ways to more economically provide longer thought-provoking content in the Reader and publish reviews of books, research, and other publications in a more timely and immediate manner. My guess is that we’ll see the Reader evolve to be partly in print and partly online.

The conference in Brooklyn, October 18-21, 2009, Navigating the Art of Change, will be more of a working meeting than you might have seen in the past. Utilizing many resources from the New York philanthropic and arts community, grantmakers will learn from each other in an interactive format. There will be opportunities for “like organizations” to have relevant discussions in small group settings. Innovation and new directions will be the focus of information exchange and keynote addresses.

Through its planning process, GIA’s board of directors has added advocacy and public policy as a major goal area for the new plan. We are not exactly sure how this will manifest itself yet, but we do know it will mean stronger partnerships with the Council on Foundations, Grantmakers for Education and our many other funder network partners, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and Americans for the Arts. Partnerships in the policy arena are critical for the arts to get their message out as a “single voice.” Again, the bottom line...even though we all have slightly different missions, objectives, and methods to get there...is the support of artists and arts organizations that make our communities a better place to live. If we all believe that, then our message is stronger as partners than it is individually.

So are we the crazy ones? I hope so. I’d rather be the troublemaker in the room than sit silently in the back while the arts are overlooked, underestimated, and deemed “unessential” at a time in our country’s history when they are needed most. (Read Claudine Brown’s article for more on that subject.)

Enjoy this issue of the Reader. My sincere gratitude for it goes to editors Anne Focke, Frances Phillips, and GIA Deputy Director Tommer Peterson. We hope to see all of you in Brooklyn, October 18-21, 2009 as we “Navigate the Art of Change” together.