Size Matters

by Lisa Cremin (bio), director, The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta

It was not a surprise to learn the findings of the excellent report Fusing Arts, Cultural and Social Change, because I have experienced the phenomena in my work with The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund. The Arts Fund has been funding the stability and capitalization of small and mid-sized arts organizations since 1993. My immediate reaction to the study was that many arts organizations supported by the Arts Fund reflect and embrace much of what the study recommends foundations support.

To dig further, for sport, we looked at the organizations that the Arts Fund supports. We took the categories that Fusing attributes to “underserved” (which, unfortunately, spell check really wants to be “undeserved”) communities or marginalized populations. We found that many of the organizational and programmatic characteristics the study recommends that foundations embrace occur naturally in small and mid-sized organizations. Of the 75 or so organizations the Arts Fund has supported since it was founded, nine include social justice in their mission; fifteen expressly support individual artists; six work deeply in low-income communities; eighteen focus on non-majority race/ethnic populations; eleven are in rural communities; and two focus on GLBT populations.

There is nothing grassroots about our grantmaking methodology but many of our grantees work very close to or in the grassroots. When reviewing organizations, we look at all the characteristics of a strong nonprofit in a rigorous grant review, even though most of the organizations have budgets under $1M, and some only have one full time paid staff person. Our application process encourages and rewards advocacy and diversity.

For funders seeking to get closer to arts organizations whose mission involves social change and reflect the real diversity of our urban, suburban and rural communities, one approach is to focus on smaller arts organizations. The key is scale. Smaller organizations are comfortable with artistic risk and experimentation and naturally reflect their communities. Smaller arts organizations are usually led by artists and their creativity is often fueled by inequities and a drive to make change.