The Big Job of being the Big Tent

About six years ago, Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) opened its membership to public agencies and became the only national association for all organizational grantmakers in the arts. The “big tent” analogy is a good one. Our members include private and community foundations, corporate funders, national, state and local government arts agencies and any nonprofit organization that supports artists and arts organizations through a grant process.

GIA was founded twenty years ago as an association for independent and community foundations. It was established to give arts program directors a “home of their own” to share solutions and challenges, network and get support from one another. It was the first affinity group to separate from the Council on Foundations. There are now thirty-seven affinity groups, according to the Council. But we arts people were the first to create an organization that specifically addressed the needs of its founding group.

Ten years ago, GIA hired its first executive director and began to institutionalize as an organization with staff, offices, board of directors and programs. In the scheme of things, it is a young maturing organization that has grown from an all-volunteer organization to an established institution. I am only GIA’s second executive director. Thanks to the leadership of first executive director Anne Focke, GIA has created programs with a standard of excellence such as the national conference and our publication, the Reader.

So in its third decade, GIA focuses on being the “big tent” for arts philanthropy. I’ve been in this job now for five months. My vision, inspired by members and GIA’s board of directors, is to build on the programs GIA has been doing and to swing open our doors to all grantmakers in a bold and aggressive way. As a reflection of the arts community as a whole, I believe arts funders will be more successful working not as silos but as a group with common goals and concerns…like a family. Like most families, sometimes coming together is complicated, messy, fun, provocative and gratifying.

In coming editions of the Reader and at our upcoming conference in Brooklyn, you will see more inclusionary language and articles for public funders, nonprofit grantmakers and smaller foundations. You will see us taking stands on public policy issues and talking about advocacy for the arts internally with your own organizations and externally with decision-makers and the general public. As I travel around the country meeting with members and other funders, this is what I’ve learned… that we need to be more inclusive, thinking bigger and bolder, that the “arts” are in many ways being redefined and re-articulated in our communities and that GIA can be a voice for philanthropic innovation bringing all sectors to the table to share ideas and best practices.

We are the “big tent” of grantmakers in the arts and no matter your size, your legal status of private or public, your grantmaking focus or your geographic location….you are welcome here. We are, as always, better together.