Thirty Years in the Making

Crafting the GIA Reader

As we come to the final issue of the Reader in this thirtieth year of publication, Frances, Carmen, and I have been reflecting upon the question of impact. Presenting this to the field of arts and culture funders is perhaps something obvious, however an important part of this exploration for us was to really understand, from multiple perspectives, how the Reader evolved into its current iteration and what influences helped shape these evolutions. The first GIA Reader was Volume 11, No. 1, in the summer of 2000, a new millennium thing. Prior to that, the publication took form as the GIA Newsletter. It was a deeply collaborative effort and a humble yet significant step out into the arts funders ecosystem with commissioned articles, news from members, and reflections on philanthropic practice. As formal editors joined the GIA team to shape the direction, the publication became a pillar of GIA programming that the members and the field rely upon for shared learning, on-the-ground insights, field-wide research, and valuable peer perspectives and expertise on emerging practices, such as capitalization and racial equity.

As the team grew, so too did the Reader. Regular reports on foundation and corporate arts funding began in 1993 from the Foundation Center, eventually to include a public arts funding snapshot from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. And opportunities to include artwork became standard, as well. Reprinted and original poetry have featured strongly as cornerstones in each issue, providing the opportunity to support artists directly while giving them an avenue to communicate with a funder audience. The front cover also became real estate to feature and directly support visual artists, following inspiration from the at-the-time novel full art cover for the Taos conference issue. In 2008, GIA featured a piece by Iraqi artist Hassan Massoudy titled, La générosité est de donner plus qu’on ne peut (Khalil Gibran), which began a great tradition.

To dive into this history properly, we knew we needed to talk to the behind-the-scenes experts. To our great pleasure, everyone hopped on board! In the following pages, Carmen Graciela Díaz interviews Sarah Lutman, who we can really thank for the vision of a GIA publication, and former coeditors, Anne Focke, Tommer Peterson, and Jim McDonald, who share their stories and experiences from the past three decades. Along with my coeditor, Frances Phillips, we are eager to celebrate this milestone together with all of our readers, to reflect upon how the Reader has helped shape the field of arts and culture funding, and to think about what is next.

With gratitude, Nadia Elokdah

Carmen Graciela Díaz How did the Reader come about, and what was the intent of the publication?

Sarah Lutman When we started the GIA Newsletter, as it was then called, we wanted to create a vehicle for substantive discussion around arts and culture policy, funding, and practice. In the context of GIA’s founding, we found that arts and culture were at the periphery of philanthropy, and we wanted to establish the depth, range, and seriousness of artistic and cultural policy and practice while lifting up the arts within professional philanthropic conversations. We thought a publication that allowed people to write about and discuss ideas and that reviewed the field’s literature was a way to do so. The first editors were Wendy Bennett, then at the Bush Foundation, and me, then at the Fleishhacker Foundation. And the first edition was a modest six pages, with a cover story by David Speedie, of the W. Alton Jones Foundation, titled, “Caveat Author: Are We Sacrificing Plays to Play Development?” and with a news and reports section that looks a lot like the Reader today. Jim Paul was our consultant.

Anne Focke The GIA Reader began life as the GIA Newsletter, the brainchild of Sarah Lutman. In 1987, she had just joined the Grantmakers in the Arts coordinating committee, which would become the board of directors when GIA incorporated in 1989. After joining the committee in 1987, Sarah wondered what she could bring to the organization. Her answer was to create a newsletter … Through the advocacy and publishing smarts of board member Neal Cuthbert, the publication was given an overhaul in 2001. It got a new name — the GIA Reader — a new format, and the first introduction of small graphics along with the text on the front page. Frances Phillips, who had joined us as a coeditor in 1999, has been a steady force for the Reader since then, and I continued in a coeditor role until early 2009, one issue beyond my ten years as GIA’s executive director. Over my nineteen years with the publication, I coedited forty-seven issues, a number that amazes me when I tally it up — each issue full of smart and insightful writers and contributing members.

A pivotal decision that Sarah made right at the start, which speaks to her sense of the publication’s intent, is captured in a seemingly unremarkable tagline: “Ideas and Items of Interest for Arts Grantmakers.” This wasn’t going to be just a “house organ” with organizational news for members. It would carry inspiring ideas and provocative essays by artists, scholars, researchers, and grantmakers in and out of the arts. Yes, it would carry news about GIA but also news otherwise relevant to arts funders, artists, nonprofits, and multifocus grantmakers. It was published for arts grantmakers but available to anyone interested in the same topics or who simply wanted to know what arts grantmakers were reading.

Díaz Can you describe the early days of the Reader, in which there was an effort to include reports and pieces by GIA members and readers? What were some challenges and successes you recall?

Focke As context for the Newsletter’s early days, my first eight years as coeditor, GIA was a board and member-run organization … Except for a few part-time consultants for financial record keeping, editing, and short-term conference help, GIA had no staff. At the same time, GIA aspired to be national, to serve grantmakers across the country.

Lutman The main challenge in the beginning was to generate and identify content that set the tone and breadth of the topics we thought worth discussion. Also, on a lighter note, desktop publishing was nowhere near as easy then as it was now, so we needed help making the Newsletter look good. We wanted it to have some gravitas. At that time the arts were considered fluffy. It’s great to think back on those times and realize that we have made significant progress! In terms of successes, we were able to commission articles from leading artists, arts funders, and arts academics, and we were able to get permission to reprint articles from other publications that we thought merited a wider audience.

Focke Right from the start Sarah involved others and worked with a committee of members. By the time I was brought in, the intent was that it be a publication not just for and about arts grantmakers and their work, but by them. Both Sarah and I, and then Frances too, wanted to be sure that funders all across the country knew GIA was for them, not just for funders in the few largest and most arts-identified cities. The best way to do that was to invite them to write, to let them see themselves and their region in the publication.

The aim of engaging members sounds good in theory; the practice of achieving it, however, was challenging. As much as they may have been pleased to be asked and eager to participate, their own schedules made meeting deadlines difficult. The process required first reaching out to them, … followed by many phone calls, catching them at meetings, regular reminders, and back and forth editing … At the same time, all those calls and connections and conversations about what mattered to them was helping to build a cross-country community.

Díaz What do you think is the role of the Reader in the field?

Jim McDonald The Reader is a vehicle for members to have a voice and share thoughts, interests, concerns, and expertise. It is an opportunity to explore issues that may be nascent and not on the minds of many but worth exploring, as well as revisit issues that are at the heart of grantmaking in the arts, for example, support for individual artists. A major role, given that the Reader (and the GIA Newsletter that proceeded it) is in its thirtieth year, is that of an archive — a collection of what is now a generation of ideas and research.

Lutman The Reader gives people a place to publish their ideas and report on their activities and learnings … And it provides people a platform for writing — something to stretch toward and something they can feel really good about being part of. The tone and history of the Reader is most decidedly on the serious side, and writers and editors work hard to create articles of lasting value. Having the opportunity to write for a respected publication is a form of professional development that advances the field. For grantmakers, publishing in the Reader is validation of their perspectives and experiences that they may or may not be getting inside their workplaces.

Focke From today’s vantage point, I see both the Newsletter and the Reader as vehicles to tie together the field of arts grantmaking, to help it see itself. It also serves to increase understanding of the wider web of intersecting fields that it lives in — the larger philanthropic field, the nonprofit sector, and the even bigger cultural world in all its philosophical, organizational, and individual variety …

Another important role has been offering practical information. In the fall of 2005, for example, Cindy Gehrig gave readers a “tool box” of ways to support individual artists, and in 2001 we began to publish annual “snapshots” of arts funding by foundations and public agencies, using key findings from the Foundation Center (now, with GuideStar, called Candid) and from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Tommer Peterson As we shaped the Reader, we have consistently valued the concept of the “long read,” based on the idea that there are topics and inquiries that can only be thoughtfully examined in depth and require appropriate time and space to tell the full story. The publication has embodied a continued intellectual rigor and high expectations both of its readers and contributors. Within GIA’s toolbox of communication programs, the Reader has occupied this critical space.

The role of the Reader has evolved in response to the ways the arts are defined and created, as well as the array of frameworks, models, strategies, and initiatives that funders have developed to support them. As I see it, among others, the role of the Reader has been

  • to define and promote best practices in arts and cultural philanthropy,
  • to provide a forum for arts funders to share stories and information that can improve their funding practices,
  • to exercise leadership in identifying and investigating emerging and perennial topics relevant to the arts funding field,
  • to search out and publish content that is expansive and broadly inclusive in its definition of what arts and culture is and can be,
  • to encourage racial and cultural equity by actively bringing the voices of African, Latine, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) artists, funders, and practitioners to its constituents,
  • to bring the voices of artists into the conversations of art and cultural philanthropy,
  • to promote and interpret research and data gathering as a tool for equitable decision making by funders, and
  • to encourage and foster a community of learning among funders.

Focke Importantly, the Reader also shows the field’s values and its diversity, it doesn’t just tell about them. It presents artists’ work — their essays, poems, and images as well as graphic stories and cartoons … Some of the poems and artist essays we published are still favorites that I pull out to read to myself or for others.

Díaz Do you believe the Reader has set a path or some guidelines for arts and cultural funding in terms of support for individual artists or racial equity, among other focus areas? How so?

Focke I doubt that, by itself, the Newsletter or the Reader set any guidelines for funding. I have no doubt, though, that in tandem with other GIA activities, they influenced grantmakers’ perspectives and decisions, sometimes by offering pragmatic tools and examples. The impact of the publications could hardly be disentangled from GIA’s other programs.

Lutman When I worked on the Reader with Anne, we were much more interested in the quality of the inquiry, the depth of the conversations, and whether dialogue was informed or not than we were in trying to guide people’s decisions. It’s fair to say we were trying to guide people’s attention, and sometimes that was toward contrarian views … In today’s environment that seems rather quaint, doesn’t it. But we really were trying to understand, to explore, and to discuss, not to convince. We wanted to give voice to people with interesting ideas.

There have been definite themes over the course of the Reader’s history; these reflect the themes in the work itself and how these themes have evolved and been refracted over time. Good writing has helped grantmakers explore ideas like freedom of expression, what constitutes culture and is therefore considered eligible for grants support, racial and cultural equity, approaches to support for individual artists, relationships to place, capacity building and operating support, and other ideas, critiques, and frameworks that inform philanthropy.

McDonald For the GIA community, the Reader has been an invaluable resource to have a dialogue. Has it set a path or guidelines? I’m not sure, but it has allowed for deeper discussion of focus areas. It also has been a place to share the learning that has occurred at GIA conferences, workshops, and gatherings — key in that only limited people can attend any of these in person. Also, to reiterate, it is key that GIA articles are archived and available online — to anyone. It is a great resource that GIA shares with the greater community.

Peterson GIA has taken a leadership role on the topic of racial equity in philanthropy, and its reach has extended beyond arts funders. The Reader, along with other GIA program areas, has been a major tool in this work. There is content on racial and cultural equity in almost every issue from 2005 to present.

Focke Specific focus areas began to develop as GIA grew, and they emerged through members’ interests, expressed in Newsletter and Reader articles, for sure, but also through annual conference programming, resources on GIA’s website, special publications, and member participation in other programs. (My time with GIA was too early for webinars and podcasts.) I greatly appreciate the big tent that GIA has created under which many interests can come together, bumping into each other, making their cases, and learning from each other. The Reader, annual conference, and website together created a kind of civic square for organizations and individuals who find a wide range of ways to support the arts and artists. While not visible in grant guidelines, this exchange is a kind of compost enriching and inspiring the funding programs.

Díaz Every publication has to rethink itself in order to stay current for its readers. What can you tell us about the Reader’s editorial direction and its evolution during the years you served at GIA?

Peterson Since its inception, the Reader has strived both to reflect the evolving challenges facing the field, and to serve as a thought leader, advancing the intellectual commons in cultural philanthropy. These goals have been realized in different ways over GIA’s history.

During GIA’s early years, the board imagined the organization as a kind of “brain trust” for the arts funding field, and the content of the Reader reflected this.

Lutman My board membership was really separate from my relationship with the Reader. I was the coeditor of the Reader for many more years, and with much greater intensity than what being a board member required. Rarely a day passed when Anne and I didn’t communicate about one or another Reader projects! In terms of evolution, we tried different approaches such as regional reports, guest editorships, and other ways to get GIA members engaged, with greater or lesser success … Over the years we also were able to add poetry and visual art and even some cartoons to the Reader, which gave new dimensions to the publication.

Focke In the beginning, we were making it up as we went. During my years as coeditor, the publication evolved from a twelve-page, twice-a-year newsletter to a more than forty-page, three-times-a-year journal. Its format changed, and its circulation increased. Through these changes, the guiding editorial values were fairly consistent to envisioning a broad commitment that encompasses the field’s variety. From various interests, geographies, scales, challenges, passions, authors, and the commitment to both the theoretical and the practical, the dreams and on-the-ground facts, I like to think that because its editors held to these commitments and listened to and engaged GIA’s membership, the Reader’s editorial direction evolved as the field did, both following and challenging it.

McDonald Beginning my time as coeditor, working with the staff at GIA, I looked at the Reader as an integral component of a larger learning and communication platform and strategy. We thought holistically about the content we were providing to the members and strategically how we could reinforce the material. For example, the discussion and material from a session at the conference could be amplified with an article in the Reader, a webinar, or a podcast.

A Path to Centering Racial Equity in Arts Funding

In quick summary, Tommer Peterson offers some milestones on Grantmakers in the Art’s path in centering racial equity in arts funding, including:

A New Will to Confront Homogeneity in American Orchestras” Jesse Rosen Volume 28, No. 1, Winter 2017

I Hate Classical Music” Justin Laing and Jessie Laing Volume 25, No. 2, Summer 2014

Advancing Equity in Arts and Cultural Grantmaking” F. Javier Torres, John McGuirk, Edwin Torres, Carlton Turner, Consuella Brown Volume 23, No. 1, Winter 2012

An Interview with Carrie Mae Weems” Dawoud Bey Volume 21. No. 2, Summer 2010

Keeping It Right” DJ Cool Herc Volume 18, No. 1, Spring 2007

Every Dress Has Its Own Song” Tia Oros Peters Volume 16, No. 2, Summer 2005

and, importantly,

Power Imbalance and the Program Work of Philanthropy” Craig McGarvey Volume 17, No. 3, Winter 2006

in which McGarvey posits that the imbalance of power in the grantmaker-applicant relationship is inescapable and systemic, and that acknowledgment and reflection on this imbalance can empower program officers to overcome the inequities in the relationship and effect positive change. It could be valuable to revisit this analysis and his arguments, written in 2005, with the additional lens of racial equity.

I do believe the Reader has been, and is, a place for overall important conversations. Of course, the writing around racial equity in arts philanthropy — including the earlier work from GIA’s Indigenous Resource Network going back to 2004 — has been critical to GIA’s work in this area.

Arts and social justice was a topic first introduced by Claudine Brown in the nineties. Over the years it grew in prominence and breadth and evolved into GIA’s initiatives on racial and cultural equity. It has been a consistent line of inquiry for decades.

Peterson More recently, GIA has taken on a more activist role focusing on racial equity, support for individual artists, capitalization of nonprofits, and the intersection of arts funding and other philanthropic areas. Content of the Reader shifted accordingly, without abandoning the value of the “long read.”

One of the challenges over this arc of time has been the diversity of experience among GIA’s growing number of constituents. In the early years, members were primarily foundation executives and senior staff. As participation grew among public agencies, smaller new foundations, and particularly local and regional public funders, the range of professional experience widened. The Reader was serving both people with decades of funding experience as well and those fairly new to their role as a funder.

Díaz As we reflect on these thirty years, what is your wish for the future of the Reader in terms of its influence upon and resourcefulness to GIA members and the field?

McDonald I wish that it continues, and that it continues to be printed — I know many members that love having their “library” of the printed editions. I would still like it to be a mix between pieces by members and those by knowledge experts.

Lutman So much writing today is glib, off the cuff, dismissive, or poorly crafted. I hope the Reader continues to stand for the benefit of taking the long view and publishing the deeply considered. I hope the Reader continues to seek out new voices in the field that bring fresh thinking into the national dialogue. I hope the print version continues to be published. It’s nice to read longer pieces from paper, not from screens. Perhaps some disagree!

Focke My wish for the Reader is that it continues to be a “big tent” where arts and philanthropy can come together, allowing strong voices and powerful ideas to surface from many corners of both worlds and from the society at large. My wish assumes that the Reader’s themes and topics will change and adapt as the worlds it lives in evolve and that it will sometimes follow and sometimes lead.

Peterson I quote from my coeditors’ letter introducing the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of the Reader (Fall 2014), “The Next Twenty-Five Years”: “Who knows what’s next? I often channel an idea put forth by my friend and colleague Marian Godfrey, who once noted (and I paraphrase), ‘Arts funding as we practice it is a fairly new field. We’ve only been at it for twenty-five to thirty years. Maybe we’re doing it all wrong. We need to keep our minds open to new possibilities.’”

Díaz What do you consider to have been some of the most valuable conversations the Reader has drawn attention to?

Focke What a difficult question! Among the most valuable for me are found in collections of essays that were tied to GIA conferences, published either before or after. The 2002 conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, revolved around a series of commissioned essays and conversations with their authors. The essays were published in the winter 2003. “Creative Connections” aimed to build alliances with other fields: education, community building, the environment, and smart growth. One essay in particular has continued to be a guidepost for me, “Integrating Nature: The Role of Poetry in Reorienting Environmental Politics,” by Patricia Nelson Limerick. Not only did she tell us why to turn to poetry — or music or visual art — in this cause, she showed how the movement would gain strength and new insight by expanding beyond its founding reliance on white male writers. She argues that we should take inspiration from women and poets of color like Joy Harjo, Langston Hughes, Lawson Fusao Inada, and others. An excerpt from a memoir by poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, for example, fundamentally changed the way I understand the environment — it’s not “out there,” in pristine landscapes, it’s right here, under our feet, or at the foot of a utility pole.

Peterson Art and social justice; racial and cultural equity. Art and social justice was a topic first introduced in a conference roundtable discussion by Claudine Brown in the nineties. Over the years it grew in prominence and breadth and evolved into GIA’s multiple initiatives on racial and cultural equity. These topics have been addressed by numerous Reader articles, poems, book reviews, and reports from members. This topic has been a consistent line of inquiry for decades.

McDonald It would be difficult for me to select all-time favorite articles. I do believe the Reader has been, and is, a place for overall important conversations. Of course, the writing around racial equity in arts philanthropy — including the earlier work from GIA’s Indigenous Resource Network going back to 2004 — has been critical to GIA’s work in this area. Also, the annual funding snapshot has been a must read, extremely important research and documentation. A highlight for me was working with Steven Lawrence for his special report in 2018 “Arts Funding at Twenty-Five: What Data and Analysis Continue to Tell Funders about the Field.”

Peterson Why arts? The need to continually make the case for the arts is unfortunately always with us.

A discussion of the importance of the arts after the attack of September 11 took place at the GIA conference in November of that year. Excerpts from that discussion were published in volume 13, no. 1, spring 2002. Over time, this grew into an ongoing feature, sometimes expressed in feature articles, most notably “Why Art,” volume 16, no. 2, summer 2005, that examined the seminal 2005 RAND corporation report “Gifts of the Muse,” and featured multiple perspectives on the value and meaning of the report. In the following years, “Why Art?” became a regular feature, often less than a full page, providing new and diverse ideas on the importance of the arts.

Focke A thread that ran through quite a few issues: “Why arts? Why arts!” is perhaps also meaningful to others. This feature aimed to help members and others make strong arguments for the support of arts and culture by sharing examples of arguments, case statements, insights, and stories that convey the multifaceted role that culture, arts, and artists play in our society, neighborhoods, and individual lives. The question/exclamation filled the spring 2009 issue with both short statements and several full essays. Claudine Brown kicked off this focus with her essay, “2009: The Role of the Arts in a Nation That Has Called for CHANGE.” Frances introduced it by saying that Claudine “wants us to shore ourselves up with knowledge and examples of how much arts and culture are linked to everything we do. With this in mind, she offers us her own kit bag of reasons for sustaining arts and culture programs — and it’s a big bag.”

Peterson And, of course, capitalization. GIA’s National Capitalization Project was introduced at the 2010 conference in Chicago and, to put it bluntly, was not well received. The subject was complex. It introduced a new vocabulary unfamiliar to many funders. Probably most importantly, it presumed a familiarity with the discipline of organizational development — specifically the financial aspects — that many funders did not possess.

As a result, GIA regrouped on the communication strategy for this work, and the Reader figured prominently on these efforts. Volume 22, no. 1, spring 2011 featured a graphic novel approach, designed to provide a simple overview of capitalization concepts and dispel misunderstandings. In addition, that issue offered more in-depth articles defining capitalization principles and a nuts-and-bolts approach to understanding balance sheets. The subject was featured several times in the next few years.

GIA Reader Vol. 12, No. 3 Cover

Cover image from the Fall 2001 issue of the GIA Reader, the ensho (circle painting) is as challenging as it is ambiguous. Rendered with delicate balance of control and spontaneity, it is said at once to represent complete emptiness as well as encompass the entire universe — nothing and everything. Others have described it as a representation of the moment of transformation, when samsara, the world of suffering, becomes nirvana, the world of enlightenment. Art by Tommer Peterson.

Focke In the fall 2001, the Reader press date fell shortly after September 11. The tragedy could not be ignored. Frances and I struggled with how to respond. Ultimately, we revised and reorganized the issue, postponed a few pieces, and added an eight-page section at the front. We gathered poems and reflections, including among others Eve Ensler’s anguished cry “I Have Been Thinking”; Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness”; reflections from Juilliard School student William Harvey, “Playing for the Fighting 69th”; and “Artists’ Words in Time of Trouble,” by Marian Godfrey, GIA’s board president at the time. We also decided that the cover image would be an ensho, a calligraphic exercise often done as Zen meditation. Tommer Peterson, who painted it, told us of the tradition. This circle painting, “rendered with a delicate balance of control and spontaneity, is said at once to represent complete emptiness as well as encompass the entire universe — nothing and everything.” I return to both the painting and pieces in this section when I feel at a loss for how to move forward.

Díaz Anniversaries tend to bring a retrospective conversation in which one can put into perspective what has been achieved and what needs to be better. As the Reader turns thirty this year, what does this milestone mean for the philanthropic field and public funding?

Lutman The reasons the Reader was founded are as important today as they were then. There is still tremendous pressure on arts funders due to the untenable disparities and glaring injustices in contemporary society. Grantmakers still need space and time to think about the approaches that can be successfully argued even as imperatives in equity, climate, economic and social justice, and other philanthropic focus areas demand urgent responses. How do the arts participate and contribute to solving the problems that grantmakers must tackle?

The Reader can help with this conversation. If you don’t believe that’s true, go back and read “Three Artists Consider Borders and Immigration” (1995), in which Leslie Marmon Silko, Andrei Codrescu, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña offered their thoughts. Their commentaries and personal histories — charged, nuanced, poetic, and searing — remain relevant twenty-five years later.

McDonald I think GIA and the Reader are unique in capturing thirty years of ideas and trends related to the specific field. Following GIA’s commitment to equity in arts philanthropy and bringing an equity lens to all of the organization’s work, the Reader should continue to bring the broadest of voices — including those outside the sector.

Focke I’d like to acknowledge some of the invaluable but often invisible work behind the scenes. An editor’s work itself is often invisible, and it’s wonderful that we’re being acknowledged here. But it takes more than an editor to get a publication out the door. In the first years of my time as coeditor, the Newsletter was designed and prepared for the printer by Tommer Peterson, at that point known in Seattle primarily as an artist and graphic designer. Using the basic layout created by Sarah and Jim Paul for the first two issues, Tommer continued in that role even after he joined the staff in 2000. As his job grew in complexity, though, he needed to pass it along. The first replacement designer wasn’t a good match, but for the fall 2006 issue, we contracted with Warren Wilkins. He was such a good match that he outlasted both Tommer and me and has continued to design the Reader to the present day. With Warren, we got more than a designer but gained the added bonus of someone who loves words and paid close attention to the content of publication.

Big, round anniversaries like this one offer us a chance to reconnect with the past. Looking back can give fuel for moving forward … Perhaps this thirtieth anniversary can remind us of the strength we can gain by reflecting on our past and using it as a foundation while we keep building a better future.