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.
My heart soared when I heard there would be a meeting of arts “activists” at the White House. This meeting, led by GIA past president Claudine Brown, Nathan Cummings Foundation, brought together over 70 individuals who have been working, writing and living the practice of connecting artists and communities for decades.
The scenario goes like this: a group of funders come together out of concern for their grantees who are having financial troubles. One of the funders has decided one organization would be best served by merging with another organization which is also having budgetary deficits. Funders strategize about how that would work and how to go about it. Funders agree to support the costs of possible merging and will offer that “carrot” to the institution as a lifeline. The artistic directors of the institutions being discussed are in the dark about this discussion.
I spent the morning of May 4th at the Council on Foundation’s conference in Atlanta meeting with other folks who run affinity groups and regional organizations. According to the Council on Foundations, there are 37 interest-based organizations (like GIA) and 37 geographically-based networks, like Northern California Grantmakers or Delaware Valley Grantmakers. Not everyone was there but there were enough organizations present to have a great discussion.
“Supporting a Creative America” is the new bi-line for GIA. We have a new look that the world will see on our blogs, letterhead, business cards, the Reader and eventually, the new website. When looking for a definition of what Grantmakers in the Arts really does, this seemed the elevator message with which everyone agreed. It fits with what we’ve always done… a community of funders making grants to artists and arts organizations because we believe that the work they do benefits everyone. But today, I think this sends a new message of hope for America.
I was in California last week where I met with groups of arts funders in San Francisco and Los Angeles. When we were talking about changes within their organizations, two program managers reported that the arts had been moved in their foundations from stand-alone programs into “community” programs. One entity made this move as a reaction to the economy. The other organization had done this prior to the economic downturn. Regardless, it means the arts are part of a bigger picture of community issues.
It feels that there isn’t a lot that one can do these days to plug the dike. Organizations are hurting, foundations are cutting back and public arts agency budgets are prime targets for invasion by elected officials. What’s pretty obvious is that there is no bailout for the nonprofit arts sector. Private foundations cannot replace public dollars and governmental agencies don’t have the resources to substitute for private philanthropy. If we are all in this together…how are we strategizing together to maintain a level of support for the arts in our communities?
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.
Some cities have funder networks that meet regularly. These groups are becoming more important and are developing joint programming, if they weren’t doing it already. Studies, loan funds, pooled funds are only a few ideas that are becoming realities. As funders, sometimes your work can seem isolated. GIA encourages grantmakers in the arts to meet regularly with their peers, from all sectors of giving. We are in a time where collective thought and collaboration will bring about new ideas and restored optimism.