Experience as Research

Holly Sidford and Alexis Frasz, Helicon Collaborative

In the fall 2012 GIA Reader, we revived five “old” research pieces and asked philanthropic leaders from different generations to reflect on the current value and relevance of these works. This got us thinking about other sources of “hidden” knowledge that might benefit those working in the field today. For the fall 2013 edition of the Reader, we sought to learn from the experiences and insights of leaders who have been working in the cultural field for decades.

GIA selected an assortment of former grantmakers with deep experience at the national, regional, and local levels, as well as a few others with broad perspectives on the cultural sector. Helicon interviewed them about their professional trajectories, and asked them to reflect on the experiences, people, artworks, and other influences that have shaped their thinking and their work. The interview structure was intentionally loose and the questions intentionally broad — we wanted to capture each person’s unique voice and give space for participants to share what is most important to them.

In addition to asking people about the influences on their work, Helicon asked them what lessons they could draw from their experiences to inform the practice of those working in the field today. Though they had quite different trajectories, they all emphasized one thing: the need for funders to remain alert to the dangers associated with privilege and to remember their responsibility to serve.