Washington DC – Better Together

I spent most of last week in Washington DC. The highlight was the Nancy Hanks Lecture given by Wynton Marsalis and his quintet. “The Ballad of the American Arts” was an incredibly moving piece that interspersed music and poetry to give form to the power of the arts in America to us as a people, collectively and individually. Believe me, it was magic.

The cherry blossoms were magic too and there were about 500 arts people roaming the halls of Congress. Nice combination, actually. Vickie Benson, president of GIA, was with me. Together, we did our own roaming across sectors in the “grantmakers in the arts” world.

We met with the leadership of the Council on Foundations, Association of Small Foundations, National Endowment for the Arts, National Association of State Arts Agencies and Americans for the Arts. We also gathered with the Washington Grantmakers group hosted by Rose Ann Cleveland and Michael Bigley at the Cafritz Foundation. All of these meetings had a similar theme: what can we do better together in this precarious economic climate? GIA is connecting private and public arts funders with lots of vigor these days.

I visited with State Arts Advocacy Network members. These are statewide service and advocacy organizations that provide technical assistance and information services to local organizations from small to large in their states. Most partner closely with state arts agencies in programming and advocacy efforts. They are a viable network with close ties to their constituents and savvy about how the arts need to be defined in a larger arena to compete for dollars on the community and state level.

Highlights from our meetings included discussion on the following:

  • Council on Foundations: the arts represent 12-13% of all foundation giving and is that number reflected in 1/6th of the Council’s efforts in assisting foundations? Their policy alerts and efforts are important to GIA members and we appreciate getting that information.
  • Assn. for Small Foundations: we can partner on a more regular basis to provide arts content at their regional and national conferences. They have 3000 members, representing 50 states. They are active in policy issues and advocacy efforts for those issues. We will be a collaborate with them on the Katrina@5 conference in New Orleans next year.
  • NEA: interim chair, Patrice Powell, is actively seeking input from all sectors from service organizations to foundations. High level policy discussions, research and convenings are connecting points for us.
  • NASAA: strong data about what’s happening at the state and local levels with their members and their members’ constituents. We can jointly be a catalyst for research and training. Greater communication will illuminate opportunities for partnerships particularly around issues like arts education, Recovery Act and professional development.
  • AFTA: has made good inroads with corporate and political leaders. Discussions included partnerships in advocating for the arts within private multi-faceted foundations and corporations to local arts agency research on arts funding at the community level.

Everywhere we went, GIA president Vickie Benson set a tone of openness and collaboration. “Better Together” was her message and I’ve adopted it as the name of my blog. It is a spirit of cooperation that doesn’t diminish the exclusiveness of our mission in philanthropy but opens the doors to partner with organizations whose programs help us to accomplish our work. Confident in our own identity and mission, these partnerships will advance the field of arts philanthropy and the work of GIA. Vickie Benson is, in my opinion, one example of the new face of foundation activism. Next weeks’ blog will give you more details on that.

Be better together.