A Sense of Place

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 28, No 3 (Fall 2017)

Janet Brown

The city of Detroit holds a special place in my heart. I began my job as president and CEO of GIA the same year that my son began the master’s degree program at the Hilberry Theatre at Wayne State in Detroit. He was there for three years, and now I have been at GIA for nine. But for those first three years, every time I flew east, I would route myself through Detroit. As I was redefining my life, Detroit became a metaphor for me — a city with a long and proud past, a strong cultural identity, and complicated challenges that it was facing head-on.

If you attend our annual conference this fall in Detroit, you will see a city redefining itself for the twenty-first century with a resurgence of creative energy and the determination of people who have a clear understanding of their sense of place. Detroit is a place with artists whose families have been there for generations, proud organizations that have survived financial crises, and an infusion of newcomers seeking opportunities to build for the future.

Detroit continues to be an inspiration to me as I move forward with my own transition, which includes a major change for GIA. Last year, I informed the GIA board I would be stepping down as CEO as of December 31, 2017. The board embarked on a national search, which has resulted in Edwin Torres accepting the position and the board making the bold decision to move the offices to New York City. I am thrilled with the selection of Eddie, whom I have admired for years, and proud of the GIA board’s vision for the organization and its future, which will be shaped, in some ways, by a new place.

In New York City, GIA will have greater opportunity to develop programs and plan their implementation with national arts service and policy organizations and sister philanthropic affinity groups. I believe proximity to partners is important. GIA will have that opportunity in New York City to a greater extent than in the past, being within commuting distance to agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and Americans for the Arts, to name just three. The service to members throughout the country, both in leading philanthropic thought and following philanthropic practice, will continue under Eddie’s leadership.

My personal transition takes me back to my place, where my family has a long history and “everybody knows my name.” I am going home to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I will continue to work with funders, artists, and nonprofits, regionally and nationally. A fifth-generation South Dakotan, I understand it is not a perfect place, but it is my place, and the people are my people. This is the same sense I get from those who have lived in Detroit for generations and those who might be moving back to reclaim their past and build a future. It is a sense of place. GIA will find its new sense of place in 2018 under Edwin Torres’s leadership.

It is with great humility and gratefulness that I leave GIA. I am grateful for the leadership of the five chairs of the board with whom I have worked closely: Vickie Benson, Regina Smith, Rose Ann Cleveland, Bob Booker, and Angelique Power; and for all the members who have served on the GIA board, representing our membership in every aspect. I am forever grateful to our growing membership, who have guided us, supported us, and encouraged us to push new ideas and to change the field. Last, but definitely not least, I am grateful to the GIA staff, who have led me and followed my lead over the past nine years. All of these folks have given of their time and resources to support GIA’s goals of improving arts philanthropy and benefiting artists and arts organizations and the communities they serve.

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