Oh, if only if it were a real $800 million arts foundation! Instead, I refer to the Ortiz Foundation for the Arts, a project for my excellent Philanthropic Foundations class that just wrapped up last week. As anyone who’s read my Thoughts on Effective Philanthropy series knows, I’ve been interested in foundation strategy as it pertains to the arts for a while now. This assignment offered me a chance to think about those ideas and recommendations in an integrated context instead of as separate ideas. My team’s task was to develop a comprehensive programmatic and operational framework for the following foundation as described in the handout we each received the third week of class:

A family in New York that has long been involved with the arts wishes to establish a foundation that will provide funding for visual arts, music, theater, and dance. Although they have a particular interest in the support of New York institutions, they are also consider a foundation program that funds the arts nationally. The donor’s family will hold many, but not all of the seats on the board, and together they will donate approximately $400 million to the foundation in the first year and then add another $400 million over the next five years.

This week, in a series of posts, I’ll go through some of the decisions that my partners, Shiri Friedman, Daniel Reid, Michael Shay, and Michelle Zhao, and I made in approaching this project. It was a fun experience that, among other things, resulted in my learning what “terpsichorean” means. I welcome comments and reactions.

Generally speaking, we wanted our foundation to be as creative as the work that it was supporting, and it was very important to us to find the gaps in the current infrastructure so as to make our work more effective. We thus conducted extensive review of peer institutions, the results of which I’ll discuss in more detail tomorrow. We were also anxious to experiment with integrating some aspects of “new philanthropy” models like those of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation or New Profit into the arts world, which has seen less of this type of innovation.

Today, we’ll begin with the “Values and Philosophies” section of our report. It goes like this:

  • Our grantees are critical to our success. The Ortiz Foundation deeply respects the vibrant work of the New York City arts organizations it supports. The Foundation will ensure that its processes are transparent, timely, and streamlined so as to promote a healthy and productive relationship between grantor and grantee. The Foundation recognizes that it has much to learn from its grantees as well as much to teach them.
  • Knowledge is power. The Ortiz Foundation for the Arts will attempt at every turn to justify its policy decisions, program priorities, and individual grant decisions with objective evidence. In doing so, the Foundation recognizes that an honest accounting of what is known and what is unknown is more valuable than a blind trust in statistics.
  • The best opportunities are not always the obvious ones. The Ortiz Foundation believes that competition for grants is healthy and desirable, and that the most interesting and diverse pool of proposals is generally yielded by an open-call process rather than application by invitation only. Recognizing that a purely reactive stance is less likely to reach artists and communities outside of traditional institutional networks, the Ortiz Foundation will take the initiative to ensure the visibility of its programs in a variety of contexts.
  • Grantmaking is both a privilege and a responsibility. The decisions made by any funding organization have a real and significant impact on the lives of individuals and organizations alike. Yet the consequences of missteps are all too often borne by a funder’s constituents, rather than the funder itself. Accordingly, the Ortiz Foundation for the Arts will hold its staff and Board to the highest standards of performance. Foundation personnel will maintain a deep dedication to and respect for the Foundation’s mission and the hard work that is necessary to serve it.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the role of OFA within the New York City arts funding world and describe ways in which the Foundation seeks to differentiate itself.