By Gary Steuer
The life of a private foundation traditionally does not change much from year to year. Change tends to happen incrementally and at a deliberate pace. But in the world of today, it is happening at an accelerated pace. At Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, the issues our grantees face are far different now than when we were incorporated over fifty years ago and we must be responsive and adaptive in supporting their needs to have the most impact. That process began with the decision of the Trustees several years ago to focus our grantmaking on Arts and Culture in our community. It has accelerated as we honed that focus over the past few years, creating, for example, the Arts in Society grant program to target work at the intersection of the arts and other critical social issues.
So, while 2018 saw us acting as we have for years – making grants, selecting Livingston Fellows, and honoring extraordinary Coloradans, it has also been another year of relatively significant growth and change here at the Foundation. It does seem like change is “the new normal.”
Our grantmaking program awarded 55 grants totaling $3,272,000. Many of these grant partners we have long supported, but we were pleased to add new grantees or special initiatives. Just over one third of the grants were designated as general operating support and of those, several were multi-year grants. This type of grantmaking reflects our expanded commitment to provide the flexible kind of support that is most valuable to cultural organizations.
It’s nice to see our grants come to life in implemented projects. A few examples include:
- If you didn’t get a chance to experience Downtown Denver Event’s Happy City, the six-week citywide art intervention project that broke down personal, emotional and social barriers to nurture individual and collective well-being, you still have time to explore the Happy Alleys installations sprinkled throughout the downtown corridor.
- Two significant groundbreaking events worth a mention are the Denver Art Museum’s North Building expansion project and Rocky Mountain Public Media’s new home, the Buell Public Media Center, nestled between Denver’s BallPark and Arapahoe Square neighborhoods. These exciting projects will enrich our access to an array of artistic programming.
- Back in 2016, the foundation awarded a two-year Innovation Fund Grant to Curious Theatre Company for their The Loyalty Target project, a new vision for patron cultivation, development, and engagement. Over two years the Company noticed marked improvements in patron service experience, patron-driven revenue, diversification across all organizational facets, and increased community outreach and partnerships as evidence in their white paper which can be found here on the Curious Theatre website.
- We were pleased to continue support of the Mexican Cultural Center this year. In addition to its signature programs, the organization incorporated new programming and collaborations. A few examples include a project with Denver Museum of Nature and Science called “El Alebrije: Una Historia en Comun,” a collaboration with Denver Film Society’s CineLatino to provide a workshop for kids and a new partnership with the city of Aurora Office of International and Immigrant Affairs for Global Fest and Day of the Dead.
In addition to our grantmaking, we also convened our grant partners to learn directly from them what issues they face and how we can most effectively support them.
In our leadership programs, we were thrilled to add five extraordinary leaders as Livingston Fellows – Eddie Koen, Chief Impact Officer of Mile High United Way; Angell Pérez, Executive Director of Colorado Circles for Change; Joe Sammen, Executive Director of Center for Health Progress; Deirdre Sullivan, Executive Director of The Family Center/La Familia; and Evan Weissman, Executive Director of Warm Cookies of the Revolution. As part of our commitment to leadership, and equity, we were pleased to present a talk by Rev. Starsky D. Wilson, President & CEO of Deaconess Foundation and co-chair of the 2015 Ferguson Commission. We invite you to learn more about the 2019 Fellows or see Rev. Wilson’s inspiring talk here.
Our “new normal” means getting to the heart of what these leaders need in their ever-evolving organizations to be their most impactful selves. We acknowledge that to become a better leader takes time, dedication, and humility. The latter of those qualities is one Rev. Wilson emphasized in his address to the fellows. He shared, “Leadership today requires a humility in a moment and time in America where it seems ego is what advances those in power. To lead authentically, one needs humility, but you have to know what your community desires.” Although our new class of fellows serve different organizations, they share a common intention: to transform themselves in order to transform the lives they touch.
During the fall All Fellows Retreat in Estes Park, Fellows explored building positive organizational culture through a dynamic keynote panel which included: Laura Love, Founder and Chief Cultural Officer of GroundFloor Media; Carolyn Love, CEO of Kebaya Consulting; Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, Chief Catalyst of The Equity Project (and a Foundation Trustee!), and Andrew Schmidt, Partner of Core Contractors. Fellows also delved into mindfulness practices,led by Rob Kaufold, Director of Hemera Foundation, and finding their joy in everyday situations.
The 33rd Annual Awards Celebration not only honored powerful community leaders, but entertained guests with performances from Mariachi sol de Mi Tierra, Fiesta Colorado, and spoken word artist Suzy Q Smith. Continuing the vision our founder Charles Stanton began in 1984, the Foundation was pleased to welcome four distinguished members to its list of honorees:
Artist Award: Artist and educator, Carlos Frésquez was honored for his impactful arts works that explore social issues of our time while communicating his cultural roots and values.
Community Service in the Arts Award: Denver natives, Arlene and Barry Hirschfeld have a long and unwavering history commitment of supporting arts and culture in Colorado through their extensive leadership and generous philanthropy.
Arts in Society Award: Susan Jenson, Director (since retired) of Downton Aurora Visual Arts was recognized for her passionate dedication to engaging the community and transforming the lives of youth through her commitment to the arts.
It is our hope that the accomplishments of those we honor inspire others to emulate them.
Our Commitment to Equity
Overlaying all this work is a newly articulated commitment to embrace equity in every aspect of our work. Under the effective leadership of Hal Logan as Chair and Elaine Torres as Vice Chair, our Board has transitioned from having no people of color in our 50-year history to now having 1/3 of the Board coming with diverse backgrounds. Equity is incorporated in our Fellowship program from the nomination process to the issues Fellows dig into individually and collectively. And in our grantmaking, the share of our funding distributed to organizations led by and serving ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) and other traditionally marginalized communities has grown dramatically. We also revised our grant application and reporting forms to better reflect our equity values. We also strive to support our grant partners in their efforts to more equitably serve our entire community.
What does 2019 hold in store?
As we continue to advance our equity work, it’s important for us to fully discover Denver’s arts landscape, including smaller organizations serving primarily ALAANA, LGBTQ and Disability communities. Through a set of facilitated listening sessions, it is our hope that we can learn from these smaller organizations to better understand the issues they face and goals they strive to achieve. Our next step will be evaluating what we can offer to most effectively support them and the communities they reach. As we work towards equitable giving, the leap from problem to solution is by no means simple; it will require thoughtful strategy and decision-making, but we’re committed to taking on this complex challenge to better serve a full spectrum of arts organizations, and the full spectrum of our community.
Similarly, we are working with a consultant to help us explore bigger questions:
What change are we trying to effect in the arts and culture sector, in the community as a whole?
Is our current strategy effectively “moving the needle” on that change?
Do we even have the tools to measure the change we are trying to effect?
The goal of this discovery is to develop a clear “theory of change” for our work into the future.
On an exciting closing note, the Foundation is involved in an array of special arts events taking place in Denver that we hope will shine a light on our extraordinary community. In May the Children’s Museum of Denver will be hosting the annual conference of the Association of Children’s Museums, which will examine new ways to push the boundaries of exhibit and program design ensuring accessibility for all families. The Grantmakers in the Arts conference will be in town in October, bringing over 600 arts funders from across the country for conversations and learning around cultural philanthropy, equity, community and individual artists. Collectively, these types of events raise the visibility of Denver and the many innovative and talented artists and arts organizations that call this community home.
We are looking forward to another transformative year, where change is the new normal!