So, yesterday we took a look at the $800 million Ortiz Foundation for the Arts (OFA), a hypothetical new organization focusing on promoting cultural vitality in New York City. After some discussion, we settled on a mission statement as follows:

The Ortiz Foundation for the Arts (OFA) works to foster the visual, musical, theatrical, and terpsichorean arts in the five boroughs of New York City. In doing so, we aim to stimulate a highly creative environment that brings the community of artists and the city-wide community of New Yorkers together, strengthening each. Our grants are designed to enhance the vitality of both communities through diverse support for participation in the arts by artists and audiences, professional and nonprofessionals, and experts and amateurs.

In the course of our research, we found that the NYC arts community currently enjoys strong support from a trio of private and public funders, all in the $30 million range (stats for the city only). These are the Mellon Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. (Technically, the New York City DCA has a [much] larger budget, but for the purposes of this discussion we’ll consider its competitive program funding pool only.) The Ford and Peter Jay Sharp Foundations follow at $22 million and $20 million respectively, while the National Endowment for the Arts provided just over $14 million in 2008. The most significant corporate giver is the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, with $6 million in NYC arts funding.

At $41 million, then, the Ortiz Foundation would be the largest arts funder in the city by 2015. How to set ourselves apart? We identified five key areas of differentiation:

  • Emphasis on smaller players. Although we recognize the indispensable role of large and institutional organizations like the Metropolitan Museum, the Public Theater, the Metropolitan Opera, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, we believe that the Ortiz foundation’s resources would be better spent fostering creativity among less-established artists and organizations. Although this emphasis means that many grants will not end up producing art that turns out to be popular, this is an important gap in the current structure of arts funding. Supporting organizations early in their careers—and later in their careers, if they do not wish to scale up to the size of a large institution—will have tremendous benefits to a large number of artists, and a corresponding large and disparate potential audience.
  • Attention to non-professional artists. Primary and secondary arts education receives a good deal of attention from existing foundations. Citi’s arts funding is entirely devoted to education, a portion of Starr, JP Morgan Chase, and Hewlett’s giving is earmarked for it, and the Wallace Foundation, an education foundation, gives a small amount to arts education. However, the existing foundations mostly treat adults who are not (aspiring) professional artists as primarily potential audience members. This is a mistake. The benefits of the arts are many. Some of them accrue primarily to the artist; others are enjoyed by the audience, but would be enhanced if the audience has some experience with the art themselves. Part of the Ortiz Foundation’s mission is to support amateur or informal artists, contributing to the vitality of artistic life and the overall creativity of the city.
  • Encouragement to experiment. The tendency to support established, professional artists and large institutions presumably arises because of the lack of objective standards in judging art. Arts funders are wary of saying, “We support the production of 100 new paintings,” without the imprimatur of a major museum or artist’s name to indicate the quality of the work. While this motivates a great deal of valuable arts funding, it reflects an erroneous belief about the arts: namely, that the only art worth supporting is the kind approved by one or another external force. In fact, the arts thrive on unrestrained experimentation and innovation. Supporting this by supporting start-up organizations and below-the-radar community groups is central to Ortiz’s mission, and is another factor that makes it distinctive as a grantmaker.
  • Building community. The watchword at OFA is “community,” by which we mean not just the artistic community by the New York community, and all the communities within it. The arts have an indispensable role to play in tying and uniting us as New Yorkers. In a city as delightfully multitudinous as ours, the arts serve the important civic function of helping us understand one another’s beliefs, backgrounds, and cultures. The arts also bring together people of entirely different walks of life, and allow them to exchange ideas and experiences. While many foundations seem to classify their programs into those that serve communities and those that serve the arts, we believe that we serve New York as a whole by serving the arts, professional and otherwise.
  • Supporting the field holistically. Many foundations and arts funders tend to treat each grant as a separate project, too often ignoring its interactions with other arts organizations and its implications for the field as a whole. With its strong emphasis on infrastructure and research, the Ortiz Foundation for the Arts seeks to achieve superior leverage for its funds by ensuring that many more stakeholders will benefit from the work supported by the grant than just the initial recipients. In this way, OFA supports the city’s arts ecosystem holistically rather than haphazardly.

(above section mostly written by my colleague Daniel Reid, with minor editing from me)

Tomorrow, a look at the specific program areas we developed, as well as our evaluation procedures.

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  • tonyjwang

    Hey Ian,

    Could you share your research methodology of how you identified arts funders in NY and recognized that the challenges you’d like to address with Ortiz aren’t currently being addressed? Thanks!

  • Ian David Moss

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks for the comment. The data came from the Foundation Directory Online (using their new maps and graphs capabilities) and the grantmakers’ own websites. For example, for the NEA numbers I literally went to nea.gov, looked in the section for NY state for 2008, and counted all of the grants that didn’t go to organizations in the five boroughs and subtracted them from the total. (There weren’t very many of them.) The areas of differentiation came from a combination of preexisting knowledge of funder patterns and and an analysis of recent grants (or sometimes a sample of grants) from the Foundation Center’s database for specific funders.