Pacific Northwest

A gathering of arts grantmakers

Anne Focke

A diverse group of grantmakers from Oregon and Western Washington who support arts and culture gathered in Seattle on February 25, hosted by the Pacific Northwest Grantmakers Forum and GIA. Participants represented large and small grantmakers and reflected the giving of families and corporations, as well as nonprofit and public grantmakers.

This first get-together offered the opportunity to talk with colleagues about subjects of interest without a fixed agenda. To begin the session everyone introduced themselves by telling briefly about their own or their organization's interest in the arts and humanities.

A topic that emerged early in the discussion was the value of informal and small arts activities and the various ways that grantmakers have found to support them, from providing inkind services and encouraging employee involvement to consciously making the support of small groups a priority. For others, a fear of being inundated by requests from small groups is exacerbated by the fact that capital campaigns have taken an increasing percentage of the area's charitable funds for the arts. It was also noted that government arts programs are often the first place new arts programs get funding.

Participants referred to the criteria they use in making decisions: the presence of other supporters, critical reviews, site visits, increases in participation, a capacity for risk-taking or for "being brave." Some rely on a peer review process, others invite grantees to engage in self-evaluation. One participant noted, "There are many ways to judge."

The discussion periodically touched on "quality," primarily through questions: "Are we in the business of helping arts organizations enhance the quality of the work they do?" "How is quality defined?" "How do you determine the quality of a beloved arts organization?" "Do we run the danger of giving grants to mediocre work year after year?"

Other topics included:

  • curiosity about the various ways arts grantmaking programs are structured, that is, are they structured around organizational needs, support to artists, or community relationships, among others.
  • indicators of the health of an arts community as a full ecology.
  • social entrepreneurship and profit/nonprofit initiatives in the arts
  • someone suggested that these seem to be more prevalent in health and human services than in the arts.

Although specific plans were not made, future gatherings will be held when interest arises.