By Gary Steuer, President and CEO, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
As many of you know, about four years ago the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation decided to shift all of our grantmaking to the arts, a transition completed last year. However, we still care about all aspects of this community, and in fact, we have had a long history of funding in human services, health and medicine, and education. We see the arts as being a critical component of a healthy thriving community, and made the shift to the arts because we saw arts and culture being under-funded relative to its importance, especially after the recession of 2008/2009. We even added a “Why Arts” area of our website that explicitly talks about the impact the arts can have in multiple areas of our civic fabric.
So with this shift, we found ourselves grappling with how to find a way to support the vital intersection of arts and positive social change. We were seeing many of our local arts organizations and artists engaged in this work. We were also seeing many non-arts organizations looking to the arts and artists as a component of how they were pursuing their agenda, whether around poverty, education, healthcare or another civic issue.
Yet this sort of work can all too often fall between the cracks of philanthropy. Arts funders may not see these types of projects as falling within their guidelines. And grantmakers that do not fund the arts, may reject such projects as well. Nationally, funders and arts groups have been addressing this intersection of the arts and social engagement for quite some time, from Creative Time to the Kresge Foundation, from the Citizen Artist effort of Yo Yo Ma and the Aspen Institute to the Guggenheim Museum’s new Social Practice Initiative.
In thinking about how to tackle this issue, we were lucky to be joined by the Hemera Foundation, based in Boulder, that has a specific interest in supporting socially engaged art, and we began planning a joint funding program together. This is what became Arts in Society. This is the first time the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has created an initiative that has its own guidelines, process and uses an advisory panel in the decision-making. We were also excited that after the program was officially launched, the state creative/arts agency, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), decided to join as a partner and contribute funding to both augment the pool and expand it statewide.
We have contracted with RedLine Contemporary Art Center to manage the process and distribute the grant awards. It is squarely within their mission, and through their artist residency program, they already have experience in the panel review and selection process. We are so pleased that RedLine has agreed to work with us to launch and administer this program.
So what are some of the other key elements of Arts in Society? A total of $500,000 is being allocated this year, $200,000 from each of the two foundations and $100,000 from CCI. Each partner is making a two-year commitment to this pilot program, bringing the total of grant funds to $1,000,000 over two years. After that, we will assess and determine whether we will continue, modify or discontinue this program. Grants will range from about $10k to $50k and we expect to award between 15 and 20 grants this year.
The application process is easy. First, Letters of Intent are due September 26. Then those LOIs will be reviewed by the panel where finalists will be selected. In November, finalists will be notified and invited to submit full proposals by January 16, 2017. And finally, grants will be announced in April 2017. We have also built in a learning community component to the program, with all grantees meeting regularly with one another and a facilitator to share accomplishments, challenges and best practices. Outcomes will be widely shared locally and nationally.
We are extremely excited about this new initiative, and its potential to impact Denver, the larger metropolitan region, and the entire state of Colorado. It is a unique partnership between private foundations and a government agency. We hope Arts in Society will serve as a local and national model of how funders can join forces at the local level (as initiatives like ArtPlace have done at the national level) to leverage their capacity for impact.
Arts in Society Information Session 9/11/2016: