Where Is the Arts Funding Snapshot?

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 26, No 3 (Fall 2015)

Steven Lawrence and Reina Mukai

For many years now, Grantmakers in the Arts has commissioned Foundation Center to prepare an annual update on foundation arts funding for publication in the fall issue of GIA Reader. The “Arts Funding Snapshot” provides GIA members with key indicators on the overall state of foundation support for the arts, culture, and humanities, as well as insights into some of the factors affecting changes in giving.

But this year we asked GIA to postpone publication of the snapshot until the winter Reader (see Foundation Grants to Arts and Culture, 2013), in response to several exciting — and time-consuming — changes taking place at Foundation Center. These changes touch on all aspects of how we create knowledge from grant-level data, including how we classify grants, how we assign actual codes to these grants, and how we store and retrieve this information.

Following is a brief overview of the most salient changes taking place at Foundation Center to better serve the information needs of foundations and nonprofits working in the arts, education, health, and beyond.

Philanthropy Classification System

For roughly a quarter century, Foundation Center made use of its “Grants Classification System” to capture and report on foundations’ grantmaking activity. You are undoubtedly familiar with the categories, ranging from Performing Arts and Historical Activities to General Support and Technical Assistance to Children and Youth and Racial or Ethnic Minorities. But the system was in need of a refresh, and over the past two years we worked with partners across the sector — including GIA — to rethink, revise, and expand this system into something that works better for today and into the future.

For the field of foundation arts funding, the new “Philanthropy Classification System” represents an evolution in the way that giving is captured and represented. For example, specific areas of activity such as public arts, printmaking, and spoken word have been added. At the same time, funding for media and information is being relocated out of the arts and into its own separate area of the new taxonomy — a logical and long overdue reorganization of the system.

Mostly what you will find in making use of the new system is more detail, especially about how foundations are making use of different strategies to support their funding priorities. The Philanthropy Classification System can also be updated, amended, and refined far more easily than the prior system. We will welcome your feedback to continue to improve it.

Editorial Database Management System (EDMS)

To manage the massive influx of information we anticipate in coming years, Foundation Center has embarked on developing a new EDMS for integrating and managing our many current streams of data, along with those that will emerge as we continue to expand our many data partnerships in the United States and globally. This undertaking is especially critical now so that we will be prepared for the release of digital foundation information returns, which the IRS expects to initiate soon.

Auto-coding… with a Human Touch

How will all of these new codes be applied to all of these new streams of data so that the field can have access to much more comprehensive knowledge of foundation giving — and in a timely way? People aided by technology aided by people. Foundation Center staff are working aggressively to program software to code grants. For the vast majority of grants, which include little or no text, this is fairly straightforward. And even for more sophisticated grants, algorithms can often code with a remarkable level of accuracy. But humans still need to be involved in “training the algorithms” (as the app developers like to say) and reviewing what they have done to continue refining those algorithms and apply a “human touch” as needed.

What’s Next?

In an ideal world, all of these transformations would not be taking place simultaneously, and you would already have access to the arts funding snapshot figures you have come to expect. Yet undertaking these transitions all at once is helping the team at Foundation Center to bring new perspective to all of our work; no assumptions are being left unchallenged. And we are very excited about the prospect of giving you access to much more complete and timely data on foundation arts giving in the coming years. We expect that you will be pleased as well.

Thank you for being patient with us during this transition, and please be sure to look for the next Arts Funding Snapshot in the forthcoming winter issue of the Reader.

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