National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman addresses foundation leaders at the annual Foundations on the Hill gathering in Washington, DC
(On March 22, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman addressed a group of foundations about how the idea of creative placemaking evolved into ArtPlace, a new, national initiative to revitalize communities through the arts. Rasmuson Foundation was an inaugural investor. In January, ArtPlace announced that seven Alaska organizations were among the finalists for $15 million in creative placemaking grants. We share Landesman’s remarks here.)
The last chairman of the NEA was a poet, and he made great advances in the agency’s work with poetry, literature, and Shakespeare. When my appointment was announced, I think the theater community puffed up a bit and said, “Great! Now it’s our turn.”
Sadly for them, that has not turned out to be the case. I think my tenure at the NEA will be remembered for two things, our focus on creative placemaking and our partnerships with other federal agencies and all of you in the private sector.
Let me start with creative placemaking, which is simply the ways in which communities use the arts to help shape their social, physical, and economic characters. Or to put it another way, cities and towns literally change when you bring artists to the center of them. I witnessed this first hand during my time in New York City as I watched the transformations of everything from Times Square to the South Bronx. And now that I am at the NEA, I have seen this happen from Sitka, Alaska, to Opa-Locka, Florida. In each of these towns, I saw the same three critical ingredients for success:
A history and tradition of the arts. You can’t just parachute into the desert and make something happen…I mean, not unless you’re in Marfa, Texas, or at Burning Man.
A committed philanthropic sector: 87% of the support for the arts in this country comes from non-governmental funds.
Local political leaders that “get it.” And almost all of the mayors I have met in the past three years do.
I had the privilege this week to join my first Council on Foundations Family Philanthropy Conference. It was a remarkable gathering of some 600 philanthropic leaders and advisers from across the U.S. and international Foundations. The program and various highlights are detailed on the conference website.
As a newcomer to the Council on Foundations, I was pleased to see a deliberate emphasis on peer-to-peer learning. Sessions were designed to share knowledge and experience at multiple levels – newcomers to philanthropy were as equally engaged as those with decades of experience. In my past experience with science conferences and other forms of knowledge exchange, such “learning elasticity” is relatively uncommon. There are many valuable clues in the conference program that organizers of diverse conferences could borrow from, including creating forums for different types of participants to meet.
Because Elmer Rasmuson believed that communities that invest in themselves are healthy communities, Rasmuson Foundation has funded numerous strategies to encourage individual charitable giving in Alaska (e.g. The Alaska Community Foundation’s Community Asset Building Initiative and the Pick. Click. Give. PFD Charitable Contributions Program). The Foundation’s long-term goal is to strengthen the state’s nonprofit sector – recognizing that broad collaboration among Alaskans is needed to secure sufficient resources to do so.
Our message is this: every Alaskan has the prerogative to take a stand on a social issue or cause by donating their dollars to a nonprofit they care about.
The Foundation also monitors public policy developments that could discourage individual charitable giving. Today, as debate continues in Washington, D.C. over how to reduce the nation’s deficit and whether to raise the debt ceiling, one plan for raising new revenue – limiting the value of the charitable deduction on personal federal income taxes – could have the unintended consequence of weakening the nonprofit sector and discouraging individual philanthropy.
It wasn’t so long ago a person could talk about their web page and sound, well, contemporary. Nowadays, thanks to the invention of ever more advanced communications and networking tools, a person’s home page, however useful, looks more and more like an online info epicenter rather than a final destination. A web page has become the tip of a tetherball pole. The action – the interpersonal networking and sharing – is the ball, following a course determined by the people playing the game. Spin up. Spin down. Around and back at you! That’s what tweeting, blogging, chatting and IMing is all about. It’s a dynamic interplay between interested parties around a point of common interest.
This is not to say the web site has gone the way of the dinosaur. Rasmuson Foundation aims daily to keep the web site relevant, interesting and useful. But we’ve also expanded our social orbit. In fact, our tetherball is spinning right now. Jeff Clarke, our vice president, is in Atlanta attending the 60th Annual Council on Foundations conference. And while he’s gathering information on best practices in philanthropy, he’s also tweeting the top line take-away messages from some of the world’s thought leaders in philanthropy and social investment from his handheld phone.
It often appears to be one of the best jobs in the world, Philanthropy Northwest learning manager Sue Bennett told a crowd of grantmakers at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel in mid-November. And it is. But grantmaking can also be rife with challenges-particularly for those new to the field.
With community philanthropy growing in communities like Chugiak – Eagle River, Haines, Juneau, Kenai, Petersburg, Seward and Talkeetna and new foundations such as the Mat-Su Health Foundation ramping up, it is important that those working in the field have opportunities for professional growth. One of the most helpful places to begin is to understand how other other practitioners around the country undertake their grantmaking and what lessons they’ve learned so they can be adapted and applied here in Alaska.