Together — Arts Funders Influence Policy and Equity

Janet Brown

The winter and spring of 2015 have brought an awareness that there are movements building across the country, supported and, often, created by arts funders. Three of these coalescing movements are addressed in this issue: building organizations for arts education advocacy and action; lifelong learning and the use of the arts in wellness and health; and the growing consciousness that meaningful racial equity work is needed to counteract decades of institutional and structural racism in America.

On May 7, GIA held an Arts Education Funders Coalition Forum in Minneapolis, generously hosted by Target. The day focused the need for arts education advocates to organize and to be more engaged with public policy in their communities. Fives cities gave us examples of coalitions created and supported by arts funders that are making a difference in access and participation in the arts for thousands of public school children. Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Seattle shared their stories of policy and programming within school districts and community that are reinforcing a growing movement of public policy involvement for real change.

Daniel Windham, director of arts at The Wallace Foundation, addressed how and why that foundation has encouraged working directly with K–12 school districts to make a difference for all children. Richard Kessler, executive dean for performing arts and dean of the Mannes School of Music at The New School, gave us an analysis at the forum, and also in this publication, of GIA’s private foundation arts education funding report. He made an argument for the great return on investment for funders when supporting successful organizations that can change public policy and unlock government dollars for arts education.

Margery Pabst Steinmetz is a “2-D” lady: delightful and determined. In this Reader, she describes the Creative Caregiving Initiative, a widening interest inside a growing movement that places the arts as a critical component to healthy, active aging and as an effective ingredient to improving the lives of those with life-dimming diseases. This movement is on the verge of organizational breakthroughs. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) held an arts and aging summit and conference in May in Washington, D.C. Timed to complement President Obama’s Conference on Aging activities and the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, the summit brought funders, practitioners, teaching artists, politicians, researchers, and administrators together to identify next steps in this growing area.

Advocacy and public policy change were given high priority. Changing Medicare and private insurance so that they pay for lifestyle activities was just one of the many opportunities for advocacy. Several arts and health funders are building capacity and organizational structures for this burgeoning industry, which will be as robust as our teaching artists in K–12 schools in the near future.

Lastly, readers will see GIA’s statement of purpose for Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy. While this is a new public statement, GIA has had an active group of funders working in this area for years, and their encouragement and leadership has directed GIA’s work. GIA is pleased to be a leader in this philanthropic concern as others are developing their ideas and programs. We are also proud of having identified structural racism and its embeddiness in our society as a primary cause for inequity. This acknowledgment makes clearer some means for effecting change in communities grappling with racial tensions and inequitable access to the arts.

In all three of these areas, there are arts funders on the cutting edge of activism — trends to be embraced and expanded for real change. Congratulations!