Where are the Arts?


Philanthropy411, in partnership with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Lee Draper, Chair of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers and CEO of the Draper Consulting Group.

By:  Lee Draper

The Council on Foundations chose three critical themes to shape its annual conference in Denver:  Social Innovation, Social Change, and Social Justice.  Powerful topics in any period, but most central in this era of growing disparity of resources and opportunity and global threats.  It was an exceptional conference.

But I couldn’t help thinking how the arts could have contributed to the depth of content, inspiration, and out-of-the-box thinking.  Let us embrace the arts as more than expendable entertainment or a program area that some grantmakers focus on.  I am not talking about having a children’s choir sing over breakfast.  I am suggesting that we integrate the professional musician, writer, choreographer, and conceptual artist into the core of the annual conference agenda, especially because we are discussing these three themes.

Artists dedicate their life’s work to the frontier, discovery, deep understanding, and transformation.   We can learn a lot from them about innovation, change, and social justice.  Imagine the possibilities of these conference additions:

  • A panel of artists who have pushed the envelop in theater, dance, photography, and visual art.  They would have a lot to share about personal and professional courage to explore uncomfortable truths and how they grapple with new ways to awaken awareness and mobilize people in public spaces.
  • A plenary dialogue with a poet who manages the intensity of deconstruction of old forms at the same time as trying to arrive at new insight into current dichotomies in American civilization.  What are they thinking about in these challenging times?
  • The addition of a conceptual or environmental artist in a session about social change to share their process of community engagement and navigating bureaucracies and political forces.
  • A recital of jazz artists jamming on a traditional theme and bringing to it a very contemporary interpretation of urban challenges.

Artists dare to face the blank canvas, the empty screen or piece of paper, and the wide open rehearsal hall at the center of their process.  But artists don’t just give us translatable skills.  They tackle the issues of injustice, economic disparity, racism and diversity, global degradation and unsustainable consumption in their work.  They strive for fresh ways to explore profound issues that stimulate people to feel as well as think and to be moved to reflect and act.  They are navigators of a view of the abyss as well as the stars.  They are sources of solace and spiritual renewal when the going gets tough.

I wish the arts and artists were at the table with us during the past three days.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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