After Stepping Down from GIA, Janet Brown Reflects on Arts Philanthropy

Janet Brown, recently retired president & CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts, discusses her work leading GIA for nearly a decade and the need for more racial equity in arts philanthropy in an interview with Barry Hessenius, author of the nonprofit arts Barry’s Blog.

“Our racial equity work is an on-going educational initiative. The systemic issues of inequities in arts funding will not be changed in a few years, just like racism won’t be solved in American society in the near future. But there is hope because the dialogue is different. GIA has taken a large step in using direct language and serving as a role model for our members regarding the systemic practices facing arts funding,” says Brown, reflecting on how GIA has made racial equity a core principle.

In conversation with Hessenius, Brown talks about the importance of capitalization within arts philanthropy. “Good capitalization principles don’t have to do with ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ but rather on how nonprofit organizations are managing the money they have and how funders need to change their behaviors to encourage healthier financial practices,” argues Brown, under whose leadership GIA launched its National Capitalization Project.

Regarding the leadership transition that led to the hiring of Eddie Torres as GIA’s new president & CEO, and the new staff, Brown acknowledged how key it is to work together and establish a transition plan: “When someone asked me the most important element to a smooth transition, my answer was ‘a strong cash reserve.’”

“GIA’s cash reserve enabled us to have a transition that has been extraordinary,” Brown continued. “Successful transitions are planned, thoughtful of all individual stakeholders and of the on-going mission of the organization. They can also be expensive but having cash reserves designated for ‘leadership transition’ make the difference between leaving an organization set up for success or leaving a board and new leadership wondering what the future will bring.”

Brown also details the extensive support from past and current GIA Board Chairs and the Seattle staff throughout the transition planning.

“In this transition, they have an idea about the future even though, in reality, it will be a new organization that will build on the past to shape a new, even more impactful association for the arts grantmaking community of practice,” adds Brown.

Read the full interview.

Related news: Grantmakers in the Arts Selects Edwin Torres as New CEO