Profiles of Arts Grantmakers

The Rhode Island Foundation

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 13, No 2 (Summer 2002)

Karen Masaki

The Rhode Island Foundation, founded in 1916, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the United States. It is also one of a small number of statewide community foundations. In 2000, the Foundation's assets exceeded $400 million. RIF's grantmaking areas are children & families, economic/community development, education, and arts. The arts grantmaking area has several program foci.

Arts in Education: Toward a goal of making the arts an integral part of the school curriculum, support is provided for projects that use several arts-in-education models. These include arts and literacy, a whole-school approach that embraces all arts disciplines, and a pilot approach aimed specifically at adjudicated youth. The program seeks out partnerships among schools, community-based arts organizations, and artists that both ensure a healthy learning environment for children and professional development for teachers and artists. According to RIF's arts program officer, Claude Elliott, priority projects "engage students with new ideas and provide opportunities for creative expressions on a daily basis." Claude further notes challenges facing the Foundation as it "continues to struggle with issues around level of support for projects from schools and assessment of the impact of arts in education programs on students."

Community and Public Art: The goal of this program is "to provide a variety of culturally diverse art and cultural programs throughout the state." Funding is focused on programs that provide direct experiences between artist and public, increase the public's knowledge about the connection between arts and a civil society, and promote enlightened public policy around support for the arts. Support per project is generally limited to one year, such as was provided for the Langston Hughes Centennial Celebration.

Capacity Building: RIF believes that strong arts organizations are better able to deliver a high quality "product" to the public. Last year, a range of arts disciplines were supported by this program, including dance, literature, music, theater, and performance art. Support was provided for staffing (development, managing director, program director), marketing, ticketing, strategic planning, and audience development.

Support for New Work: This program provides small grants to organizations working with artists to develop and create new work. The aim of the program is both to support new work and to connect arts organizations with artists doing this work. Projects funded have the potential to "bring art experiences to new audiences in non-traditional venues."

Expansion Arts: This program is currently being revised to connect it to RIF's overall arts grantmaking. Its focus is on small, emerging, multi-cultural arts groups with budgets under $75,000. Grants of up to $5,000 will be provided for program support. In addition, groups will be required to commit a three-person team to participate in workshops designed to strengthen organizational capacity in areas such as marketing, proposal writing, and program development. Besides increasing capacity, groups participating in this program will improve their competitiveness in applications for grants from other sources.

In addition to its arts grantmaking program, RIF provides exhibition space for local and national artists. RIF gallery director Anne Rocheleau has developed a program of community outreach and education that connects gallery activities to overall funding for the arts.

Claude Elliott joined RIF in 2000 as the program officer in charge of managing the arts docket. (At RIF, all program officers are generalists and are involved with all the grants, though there is a docket manager for each grant cycle.) Prior to joining the foundation, Claude was assistant curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. He has three masters degrees: in social work from Clark-Atlanta University, in human services management from Brandeis University, and in art history from the University of Mississippi.

Karen Masaki is program officer, Hawai'i Community Foundation.