Sunday, October 9, 2011

GIA Conference in San Francisco

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................................"

Grantmakers in the Arts Conference - Embracing the Velocity of Change:

I had a great time at GIA's Chicago gathering last year, and I have been waiting in eager anticipation for this conference all year.  Having been a major funder at one point in California when I was at the helm of the California Arts Council, and having had the pleasure to know and work with a lot of arts program officers at foundations of all sizes and stripes over a decade or more now - AND as this conference is in my own back yard - it is been on my radar screen as something I have been looking forward to covering. 

So Welcome to San Francisco to all the delegates from around the country.  The weather promises to be pretty good this week, and there are lots of things going on.  Monday is Columbus Day, Fleet Week ends Tuesday and the Blue Angels Navy pilots are performing over the next day or two.  Looking at the schedule, the conference organizers recognize that people want to get out and see the city (and don't want to spend three solid days in windowless conference rooms), and there are off site sessions, dine around hosted dinners in every section of the city from Chinatown and the Mission to the Wharf to the Castro's gay ghetto, and a dinner at the fantastic Oakland Museum across the bay.   Downtown is northern California's Museum corridor, theater is alive and well throughout the Bay Area, and art abounds in every neighborhood in the City.  I hope some of you can stay over -- the extraordinary Napa Valley Vineyards are an hour and half away, Carmel, the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur two hours away, Stanford and Berkeley's beautiful campuses close by, Sausalito and Tiburon waterfronts a quick ferry ride and more restaurants and shops than you could possibly seek out in a month.

As revenue from public funding sources gets harder to come by, as audiences trend downward, as the arts struggle to gain market share of all philanthropic dollars, and as the economy refuses to track better, the arts funding community becomes increasingly more important in terms of allocation of the remaining scarce resources, and because of that reality, those decisions have greater policy impact for the future of the sector.  Today there were Pre-Conferences in SF and down in San Jose.  This IS San Francisco, and so the choice of Pre-Conference themes are, not surprisingly - Social Justice and Technology -- two threads in which the Velocity of Change (the conference title) is unquestionably at warp speed.  It may be enough to try to get a handle on that change, even if impossible to fully embrace.

I will be blogging on this conference for the next three days and hope to hit the highlights of the plenary sessions, attend and report on several of the key presentations and salon discussions (alas, one can't attend but a taste of what is scheduled), and try to relay some of the dialogue going on about a host of issues, as well as some of the trends in thinking, picked up in conversations around the hotel - both public and private. 

One of the most important developments - to my mind anyway - in the arts funder community in the last couple of years is that velocity of change as applied to foundations' increasing willingness to both work in collaboration with each other on mutual goals that benefit the entire 'sector' (if only in a given area sometimes), and the willingness of those collaborations to intersect and interact more directly with the grantees at all stages of the process -- pre-application to post grant reporting.  There has been a trend towards that kind of connection that even five years ago was far less frequent and apparent.  To be sure, this kind of thinking is new to many foundation boards of directors and, as such, a kind of paradigm shift in the culture of thinking as to the role of philanthropy in the arts.  Moreover, the direct relationship of foundations and public funders in some of the earliest of these approaches to cooperation and collaboration is new to everyone, and still embryonic in what it might become.  We talk frequently about thinking outside the box, about taking risks, about facilitating collaboration -- and I think that that advice is being heeded by this subsector of our community.  That kind of thinking is going on, risks are being discussed, and real collaboration is on every one's agenda.  Remember, the funding community has been, by its legacy and nature, relatively conservative and even somewhat risk and innovation averse.  That seems to be changing.  I will be on the lookout this week to try to get some sense of the velocity of that change.

That is, I think, exciting and portends a range of possible positive outcomes as the field itself continues to contend with dire and draconian circumstances that have changed dramatically the landscape of arts provision in America over the past half decade.  So it will be interesting to try to suss out what the thinking is among the arts funders as to where things are going, what the biggest issues are, where there might be solutions and where the obstacles seem even more daunting. 

First report on Day 1 tomorrow (Monday) - to post Tuesday morning.

Don't Quit.