The Timeless Hope of Values and Mission

By Janet Brown, from her blog Better Together

The United States of America has been in transition its entire life. There have been moments when transition was rebellious and violent, and there have been moments when change was covert and nearly unconscious. And there have been times when we felt the American dream was possible for everyone, and times when we have felt it was possible for no one.

We are in a time of transition. History will eventually tell us whether it was a time of great change or just the pendulum swinging a bit one direction in order to prepare to swing back. Without a doubt, as a nonprofit sector and arts community we are nervous about this change. Nervous in transition, nervous about the future. Nervous that we should be doing more or that we have done too much.

We seek advice and direction, but the truest answers come from within. Our response as arts funders, artists, and arts organizations is framed by its connection to your ongoing values and mission. We are here to support artists in our communities and our nation. We are here to provide support through the arts for communities and people who cannot provide for themselves. We are here to make beauty and truth a reality for our constituents.

In this political environment, a consistent message about our values and mission will determine our success. The decisions we make today should not be about today but about how our organizations can dictate action and language that will survive ten years from now.

At Grantmakers in the Arts, we have been encouraged to reach beyond our mission of supporting education and the professionalism of arts grantmakers to take political positions and react to specific events, to take on the role of a human rights organization because of our commitment to racial equity, and to oppose political appointments through our lobbying expertise. Although I personally find many of these battles attractive, my better angels (several of them board members) have reminded me that we have a mission and values that go beyond reacting to events, either real or speculative. We are changing the culture of philanthropy, and we are in that game for the long run.

Our goals are to support artists and arts organizations through informed private philanthropy and government appropriations. Our values are equity, inclusiveness, curiosity, and collaboration. Our practice centers around improving philanthropic practices developed decades ago and morphing them into more relevant practices for people, communities, and nonprofits today.

In times of change and instability, there is also opportunity — opportunity to defend our values and more deeply assess whether those values are being implemented in our practice. A challenge lies in determining how our voices are used and to what end. That challenge can most successfully be met when action is predicated on the values and missions we hold as organizations and individuals.

The arts are human expression. At the heart of any democratic society is the freedom of that expression. Our unique ability to encourage community-wide dialogue through creative experiences is paramount to our success moving forward. Whether as a funder, an arts organization, or an artist, our obligation is to stay the course of our missions and values while refusing to allow either to be corroded and diminished.