Imagine Together (Janet's Blog)

(09-21-10) Grantmakers in the arts will gather in Chicago, October 17-20 for their annual conference. This is actually the organization’s 25th conference. It is my second. The first eleven or so were put together solely by members (in the grass roots tradition) without staff. Anne Focke, my predecessor and GIA staff managed the next ten years.

Since it’s beginning, GIA conferences have been for and about its members. GIA members have organized three-quarters of the sessions that will be presented in Chicago. These members have questions, answers, successes and challenges they wanted to share with others. All in the name of learning and improving our work as grantmakers. This year, I got involved in session organizing a bit more than I should have. It’s hard for me not to be talking to members about their issues and successes without saying, “that would make a great session at the conference.” So, I said that often and now I’m up to my ears in sessions for which I feel somewhat responsible. But they are member inspired and produced.

We are “Navigating the Art of Change 2.0.” Moving to the next step after the economic turmoil of 2008 and 2009. The next step in changing audiences and technology. We are still passing though it. Nothing is solid yet. Nothing is settled. So we are still in change. What funders will share at the conference is how they have coped, improved, transitioned and inspired and been inspired over the past year. Minnesota funders were involved in passing a referendum that will bring millions of dollars into the arts mix for the state. Funders in Portland got together to address the undercapitalized nature of their major institutions and worked with them to create a new pathway for sustainability. Funders moved from project support to general operating in response to the needs of their grantees. Collaborations in art education funding in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago work within the system to minimize funding cuts and make the arts a higher priority for public schools.

And the list goes on and on. Plus we have internet guru Joi Ito, arts education inspiration Aaron Dworkin, the Sphinx Organization, NEA chairman Rocco Landesman and artist, activist and funder Buffy Sainte-Marie. In between those folks, is lots of time to be together and learn from one another. As people might imagine, I spend some of my time recruiting members. One non-member said to me this year, “we don’t need to belong to a national association because we’ve never changed our grantmaking and we never will. So learning from my peers isn’t a priority.” What???

This is like saying “I’ve experienced everything in my life that I can imagine so please, no more experiences for me.” The key to that sentence is “imagine.” We are only really limited to what we can imagine. And guess what? Our minds are expanded, challenged and inspired by the imagination of others. We simply can’t imagine everything ourselves. So we imagine together, in Chicago, October 17-20. If your organization’s primary activity is making grants, I hope to see you there.