Other Ways Foundations Can Help

Traditionally, foundations have played the role of funders to nonprofits almost exclusively. Lately, in the spirit of “give a man a fish…,” a number of forward-thinking foundations have looked at other ways to support individuals and community-based groups.for the longer term.

One group I have a lot of respect for is the Rhode Island Foundation. Rhode Island is a small place with perhaps a disproportionate number of artists (RISD is located in Providence) that is headquarters of the Alliance of Artists Communities, a group I became familiar with while I was working with La Reunion TX. The two groups are collaborating this year to present the annual Robert and Margaret MacColl Johnson Fellowships, which are grants of $25,000 awarded to individual Rhode Island artists. The Foundation provides the funding and the AAC folks, who know the artists, administer the program. That’s refreshing: many foundations, in part because of tax laws, will not support individual artists. This collaboration supports both artists and a significant arts group.

The Foundation’s other individual-oriented program is a fellowship for mid-career nonprofit executives designed to give EDs the chance to take “productive, short-term sabbaticals from their organizations.” What a great idea, and in many ways of greater value to a nonprofit than a simple program grant. A gift that keeps on giving.

Good ideas for foundations across the country.

The Giants at City Hall

We had a reunion of sorts this week at City Hall: the artists, community groups, Bridge-o-Rama volunteers and La Reunion TX folks all together again, this time at City Hall to open the new exhibit of ten of the Giants who paraded onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in March. It was gratifying to see so many of the descendants of the giants, who had helped us build. We all came to know one another through that process, and somehow we still have ties. Also gratifying to hear the City Manager talk about how she “fell in love” with the giants when she saw them.

Artists and communities. Together, they can do amazing things.

The Parade of Giants

Have to say that the Parade of Giants was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been associated with. To celebrate the opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in March, 14 community groups worked with 15 La Reunion TX artists to design and create giant puppets representing figures they chose as important to the evolution of West Dallas.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in the giant building over the course of just over a month: multiple generations, multiple ethnicities, West Dallasites and folks with no connection who just wanted to be part of it. Children helped paint, seniors sewed costumes, engineers created support systems. Dickey’s Barbecue fed everyone.

When all was said and done, the very best moment was the parade onto the bridge: the community groups and artists carrying the giants together wearing their organization’s t-shirts, thousands of Dallasites cheering the giants and asking questions about who they were, what they did, and what the groups did. Such a wonderful counterpoint to the folks who called the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge the “Bridge to Nowhere.” At the end of that parade, everyone involved understood that West Dallas is Somewhere.

And this shows us the power of artists working together with the community to help it find its voice. It was a real honor to be involved.