What We're Reading: Philanthropy in Almost Every Sector Is Moving Toward Unrestricted Funding—Except in the Arts. Why Is It So Hard to Trust Artists?

"Both in the arts and beyond, money is fundamentally based on trust. Our economic system functions due to society’s trust in it, enabling cooperation and exchange. However, if we trust in money itself, why is it that in arts philanthropy, trust in artists is largely absent?" said Ted Russell, former GIA board member and Director of Arts Strategy & Ventures for the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. "The restricted nature of many forms of grantmaking—such as project-based support—imply that we lack confidence in an artist’s ability to themselves determine how to allocate funds in support of their practice."

"Enter trust-based philanthropy—a type of support defined by mutuality, transparency, and unrestricted funding. This is a model that has gained popularity across the philanthropic sector, but it has yet to take hold in the arts. However, it provides a promising solution for trusting artists, offering a model for deeper, more meaningful support."

"This question of trust is one that artists have been asking funders for years, a dialogue which heavily informed the development of the Rainin Fellowship—an annual program we launched with United States Artists to award four anchor artists in the San Francisco Bay Area with unrestricted grants of $100,000 and supplemental support. Fellows are empowered to spend the money on whatever they see fit. This approach recognizes that artists’ individual needs are varied and they are the best experts on how to uplift their practices. Whether they decide to spend the money on housing, healthcare, or future projects, our approach foregrounds autonomy and true impact, values that are aligned with the trust-based philanthropy model."

"The Rainin Fellowship embodies trust-based philanthropy and is rooted in the work of the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, a five-year, peer-to-peer funder initiative and platform that addresses the inherent power imbalances between foundations and nonprofits. Central to this model is the act of listening, and learning. In creating the Rainin Fellowship in the Bay Area, we collaborated with both national and local partners to better understand the needs of the artists in our communities."

"Trusting artists’ unique processes, chosen methodologies, and the longevity of their collaborations is a central pillar of the Rainin Fellowship. Through unrestricted funding and supplemental support, we recognize that their impact lies not only within the individual projects they exhibit and execute, but in the lasting legacy of their pioneering creative frameworks."

"The very architecture of our grantmaking process is deeply rooted in that which we’ve learned from artists and the cultural field at large—lessons of emotional intelligence, empathy, and the tremendous impact that holistic support can have on artists’ lives. We believe that the fellowship’s trust-based model might act as a blueprint for other funders in the cultural space, uncovering how meaningful support of individual artists can strengthen our local and regional arts networks as a whole."

"If society’s relationship to money is that of trust, it’s integral for us as arts funders to ground our support of artists in trust as well. We call upon other funders in the field to reexamine how through trusting artists—not only with unrestricted funding, but also in allowing them to tell us how best we can support them—we can propel creative innovation and allow artists to truly thrive."

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