Grantees Lead the Way to New Models

Read on the Kenneth Rainin Foundation website.

By the Kenneth Rainin Foundation Communications team | Sep 28, 2018 | Arts Blog

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation is partnering with a group of our Arts grantees to work toward creating optimal conditions for making art and supporting artists’ capacity to sustain their creative practices. We’re calling this workgroup and process the New Models Cohort.

We are more than halfway through our nine-month journey together and felt the time was right to share what we’re doing and hope to learn. We posed questions to Ted Russell, the Rainin Foundation’s Associate Director of Arts Strategy and Ventures, and consultant Marc Vogl. Both are working closely with the New Models Cohort. Following is their conversation.

Why explore alternatives to how artists set up their organizations or practices?

Consultant Marc Vogl at a Rainin Foundation grantee convening. Photo credit: Pamela Palma

Marc: The short answer is because the current models aren’t working so well.

Ted: I agree. Artists are passionate about their art forms and art-making but they rarely dream of running a 501(c)(3), with all of the administrative and financial aspects that come with leading an organization. Many artists who founded their own companies lack the experience of running a nonprofit or may not have had exposure to a well-run organization. Instead, they became “accidental administrators.” As they master that role, they see the requirements of the nonprofit structure as burdensome and hope to find ways to increase their impact by creating something more sustainable.

How did you select grantees for the New Models Cohort?

Ted: We looked within the Foundation’s Impact Program cohort and identified grantees that were in a position to look more deeply at how they work. We thought about who’s ready and has the aspiration to consider shifts?

Marc: We also asked them, can you make this time commitment? And would it be fruitful for you to be in the room with peers on a regular basis to talk about organizational model shifts?

Why use a learning community to get answers?

Marc: Research from different sectors and communities around the world shows that real breakthroughs and learning happen when people with similar challenges come together to solve them.

“Research from different sectors and communities around the world shows that real breakthroughs and learning happen when people with similar challenges come together to solve them.”– Marc Vogl, Consultant

The New Models Cohort acknowledges that there’s already an interconnected group of dance and theater organizations with similar budgets, sizes and overlapping geographies. In many cases, they’re using the same performance and rehearsal venues and bookkeepers, even sharing dancers and playwrights. We invited leaders from six groups and created a space with coaching support for them to meet regularly as peers and talk about how they contend with the challenges of supporting their work and moving their organizations forward.

How is the New Models Cohort different from the Impact Program Cohort?

Marc: In the Foundation’s Impact Program, each grantee planned for how to build capacity over the multi-year grant period. By contrast, the New Models Cohort enables participants to determine what types of shifts they might want to make prior to enacting change. They’re looking at not only their business model or organizational structure, but the mix of staff versus contractors, sharing resources, and how and where they co-create work.

Ted Russell, Kenneth Rainin Foundation Associate Director of Arts Strategy and Ventures. Photo credit: Pamela Palma

We designed the New Models Cohort to be small and build trust, so it’s much more intimate than the Impact Program Cohort, which grew to be 21 organizations. We want participants to feel confident in sharing their insights and questions, as well as their fears and concerns about where their work is going and any challenges.

Ted: We’re also aware of the pitfalls when a funder brings its grantees together and drives the agenda—getting a false consensus from people who feel compelled to say yes because of the funding involved. Marc, your role is essential to having grantees set their own agendas. You have experience working with many of these groups as a coach through our Impact Program, which means you can be open to their issues, how they’d want to pursue them and might engage with each other around the issues.

What is the Cohort exploring?

Marc:  The aim of the New Models Cohort is to imagine and evaluate the pros and cons of different operating models for organizations. We’re asking where organizational energies go, how to mitigate against burnout, where money is spent and where it comes from, and how time is used. We’re also giving attention to the psychological end of it—what’s hard about letting go of the model you have? What would it take to make the case to your supporters and even say to yourself, “I’m ready to try something new.” We’re talking about why change is hard.

Why is the Foundation supporting this New Models Cohort?

Ted: The Foundation’s Arts strategic plan has two goals: 1) that artists are thriving in the Bay Area, and 2) that the Foundation and artists are leading systemic change together. Ultimately, it’s about unleashing creativity. One of the criticisms of philanthropy is that it’s too prescriptive. Through the New Models Cohort, grantees are leading the exploration and defining what success means and how to best support the art they’re making.

“Through the New Models Cohort, grantees are leading the exploration and defining what success means and how to best support the art they’re making.”– Ted Russell, Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Marc: The Rainin Foundation’s objective is for the artists to define success on their own terms and to name what will help them thrive. What’s emerging from this Cohort is a recognition that success isn’t just about more material support or grant funding. I’m optimistic that exciting ideas will come out of this group that will lead the way for others in the years ahead. This process truly is about research, discovery and experimentation.

Ted: I’m fascinated by the ideas that are on the table now. We look forward to sharing more about what emerges from this process—and what gets incubated to support artist practices in ways that better suit rapidly changing times.