Sunday, September 29, 2013

Twenty Major Issues GIA Members Face

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

I’m off to Philadelphia next week to attend, and blog live from, the Grantmakers In the Arts annual conference - joining fellow bloggers Diane Ragsdale and Ian David Moss (and his team).  This is my first visit back to a great city in four years, and I go with the remembrance of Peggy Amsterdam - who led the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance - and who left us far too early back in 2009.  We all continue to try to live up to the bar she set.

I was a funder once.  As Director of the California Arts Council I had a $32 million plus annual grants budget.  More than most public or private arts funders - then, or now.  Very few avocations are as satisfying as giving away money to affect change.  But while it is on many levels the best of all possible jobs, it isn’t nearly as easy as some might imagine.  There are so many variables and issues to take into consideration, that it is often frustratingly disappointing that you can only begin to have the impact you hope to have.  Virtually every decision you make satisfies someone and disappoints or angers someone else.  The pie simply isn’t ever big enough to satisfy the legitimate demand.  You are constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Then there are the internal and external politics of the arena; the ever changing landscape in which the arts operate where goals and objectives are lofty and aspirational, and sometimes, but only sometimes, realistically possible; and finally, the fragile and delicate ecosystem of the sector.  That is the nature of the beast - and where win-win more often than not seems far, far distant.

Cities, regions, states and the country all grapple with how to nurture and support the arts.  Our host city of Philadelphia is no exception.  Here is an article that describes the Philly art scene and its challenges.   The themes will be familiar to most of GIA’s Conference delegates.

As I look forward to the GIA Conference next week, and the speakers and panels and sessions that will attempt to address some of the issues arts funders face, I know that much of the serious discussion will go on outside of those planned activities - in the lobbies and hallways, at the bar, and during the breaks and at breakfasts, lunches, dinners and receptions.  I know that there are scores of issues on the minds of the different attendees - issues they grapple with all year.  I know too that there are no easy answers to most of the challenges funders face; no necessarily right or wrong answers.

Here is a quick and admittedly spartan list of Twenty of the Major Issues an arts funder (public or private) has to have on their plate.  These issues won’t go away, and they impact the entire arts funding mechanisms. Some are more critical to one group of funders, others more important to another group.   I hope to be able to come away from the GIA Conference with some of the thinking that is going on with these challenges:

Philanthropic and Government Arts Funder Issues:

1.  Allocation:  For every funder, the demand is greater than their resources.  The fundamental question for arts funders is: How to allocate limited funds?  Do you give bigger grants to fewer organizations, or less money to more applicants?  Do you fund each applicant on a case by case basis, or do you consider each as part of the health of an entire localized arts ecosystem?

2.  Equity:  Increasingly arts funders are grappling with an offshoot of the Allocation dilemma - the  Equity issue.  What is fair in terms of allocation?  How do you support both large established cultural organizations and nurture smaller, multicultural entities?  How much to the old guard, how much to the new?

3.  Fidelity:  How long should a grantor stay with a grantee?  When should / ought a grantor stop funding a grantee?  What is fair? What works best?  What are the considerations in such a determination?

4.  Due Diligence:  How extensive should / can a grantor vet grantees both before and after the grant? Where are the resources to do a reasonable job?  Are arts funders too cavalier in failing to meet this challenge?  What are the implications?

5.  Capitalization:  How to bring grantees to a point where they achieve adequate capitalization to survive and thrive in ever changing times.  Should adequate capitalization be a requirement for funding?

6.  Focus I:  Where ought the focus be?  Should the grantor invest in organizations, in programs or in people?

7.  Focus II:  Should the grantor invest in organizations or artists? In sector initiatives or individual organizations? In programs or operating expenses?  Restricted or unrestricted?

    Where are the focus balances?

8.  Impact and Measurable Results:  How to best measure and evaluate the impact of funding.  Should achievement of outcomes be important for continued funding? How to get scale in the aggregate ? - meaning how does the funder achieve large goals and objectives as a result of the aggregate of its funding efforts?

9.  Data and Research driven decision making:  What is the role of data, information and research in guiding decision making?  Is the time and cost reasonable to acquire and apply the data and research?

10.  Emphasis / Strategy:  Where ought the strategic emphasis be?  On capacity building, on sustainability, or on engagement?   On all three? Or somewhere else? Should the emphasis be short or long, long term?

11.  Client / Constituent Designation:  Who does the funder ultimately serve - the grantee, the sector or the public? Who are the funders stakeholders, who are their authorizing agents?

12.  Intersections:  Where are the intersections for synergistic collaboration between public, private, corporate, and crowdsourcing funders?  Where are the intersections to work with other sectors? How do you develop that collaboration to identify and work in concert for common goals?  Or do you?

13.  Technology:  How do you first fully understand, then promote the integration of technology into grantee thinking as part of their audience development, marketing, fundraising, professional development, management and other strategies?

14.  The Law of Unintended Consequences:  What are the possible (negative) consequences of the best of intended strategies and actions by the funder.  For example, for a decade or longer funders concentrated on funding programs and projects, but without support for the administration costs of those added programs and projects.  The intention was to expand the reach of programs to the public.  The unintended  consequence was to stretch arts organization operations budgets thin.  How do you anticipate the unintended consequences of any given approach to funding?  What do you do after the fact when unintended consequences come to light?

15.  Relationships:  How does the funder address the fundamental inequality and power imbalance by and between grantors and grantees?  How much can funders reasonably demand of grantees? What are the negative consequences of that imbalance?

16.  Leverage:  How does the funder promote leveraging its funding so the grantee diversifies its revenue stream?

17.  Internal Direction:  Often times an arts (or grants) program officer has to deal with Board / Council established protocols and priorities that tend towards the more conservative.  How does the arts program officer move the Board / Council and Senior Officers and shift priorities, processes and protocols?

18.  Transparency:  How open and public should be the decision making process of a funder?  How different is that question for private v. public funders?

19.  Framework:  All funders have to be concerned with the trends governing the health of arts philanthropic giving, and of public funding to the arts.

20.  Planning:  Compounding the challenges is the need to try to make educated and informed guesses as to what the future may hold - at least in the reasonable short term, so as to "plan".

Each of these issues is complex with layers of sub-issues. Lots of questions, fewer answers.  This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many other issues the arts funder faces.

I look forward to the GIA Conference as it is one of my favorite gatherings - smart people and provocative dialogue and discussion.  Small enough to have a sense of intimacy, but inclusive and large enough to give voice to a full range of thinking.  GIA is a much bigger tent than it once was.  Janet and Tommer and the GIA staff are to be commended.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit