By Gary Steuer, President & CEO, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation (Denver, CO)
The Bonfils-Stanton Foundation’s mission is to foster, through arts and culture, a creative, inspiring and connected community in the Denver region. Our vision is a Denver alive with vibrant, relevant, and compelling arts and culture that is accessible to all, and filled with passionate, collaborative and effective leaders whose efforts improve the lives of the people of the Denver region.
That mission and vision, like much of our community, is now in crisis due to the devastating impact of Colorado’s coronavirus pandemic. The impact on arts and culture has been especially acute, as much of art by its very nature demands a communal experience, from seeing art in a museum or gallery, to enjoying a concert or theatre performance, to taking a dance class. Our artists and arts organizations have done an extraordinary job of finding ways to make art and interact with the public via technology, helping to use the power of art to help us connect with our humanity and compassion in these challenging times. Yet we cannot underestimate the enormous negative financial impact the crisis is having on our arts sector.
The Foundation is dedicated to doing all within our power to help our arts & culture sector get through this crisis and continue to provide its extraordinary value to our community.
Here are the steps we have taken:
Emergency Response Grants – Bonfils-Stanton Foundation was one of the first funders in the country to respond to the Colorado coronavirus crisis with emergency funding by providing roughly $125,000 in immediate grants. These no application and no strings attached grants (45 in total) were given to operating and project support grantees who had received Foundation funding over the past 18 months. Not only did this funding provide immediate and much needed funds, it also sent a powerful message, locally and nationally on the needs of the cultural sector, and the importance of not using the traditional “business as usual” process.
DEI Opportunity Grants – We had recently made a $50,000 commitment to provide ten $5,000 grants to small arts & culture organizations we have not yet supported that are led by and serving people of color or other historically marginalized communities as part of a larger long-term DEI strategy. We received 19 applications for the program and considering the current crisis and the special threat it poses to small, more fragile community-based organizations, we have funded every applicant, nearly doubling the original budgeted amount.
Maximum flexibility for grantees and programs – We are shifting as many grants as possible to three-year commitment of general operating support to provide flexibility and sustainability to our grantees.
Arts in Society – The 2020 grantees were just announced, and we have informed these grantees, and other past grantees whose projects are still in process, that the initiative will be extremely flexible with their project budgets and timelines. We are delighted that grantees are still eager to complete their projects as proposed, though many will have to adjust the timing.
For the 2021 Arts in Society funding year, we have accelerated contributions from all the funding partners and implemented a streamlined process that will allow us to make the grants by mid-July 2020 rather than April 2021. We are expanding the guidelines to also invite proposals that are using the arts to educate, heal, and otherwise respond to the community challenges posed by the COVID crisis. To learn more visit RedLine – Arts in Society.
Community ACTS Fund – The Foundation had previously awarded a $50,000 grant towards capacity building training for grant recipients in this new initiative. The Community ACTS (Arts, Culture, Transformation and Science) Fund, guided by an advisory committee comprised with individuals representing various sectors and counties throughout the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), supports Tier III arts organizations dedicated to serving communities of color and other historically marginalized populations. In response to the current crisis and at request of the Fund’s leadership, we agreed to repurpose the grant towards relief for this grantee cohort.
Seed Funding for the COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund – We are excited to announce that we are making a leadership gift of $1 million towards the launch of a new Arts & Culture Relief Fund focused on provided emergency funding for nonprofit cultural organizations impacted by this crisis. Preliminary rough information, already a couple of weeks old, estimates a COVID-related loss of $11 million to our state’s nonprofit arts organizations. The real number is clearly already much higher. Several funds have been created in the State around crisis relief, but the ones within the arts have largely focused on the enormous challenges facing individual artists and creatives, and we applaud those efforts. This new fund will be modeled on similar funds already created in Minnesota, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, Los Angeles, Detroit and New York City, among others. We will actively solicit support from other funders, including foundations, corporations, government, and individual donors. We are pleased that The Denver Foundation will serve as our partner to receive and administer this fund and that an additional $360,000 has already been committed to the fund before its public launch.
Increased Annual Grantmaking – Our Board understands the struggle ahead to sustain our arts & culture landscape and has agreed to potentially DOUBLE our usual grantmaking budget in the coming fiscal year. This would be a significant commitment, but not so large as to dramatically reduce our ability to respond to needs as they continue to arise and for future grantmaking when we get beyond this crisis. The COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund and Emergency Response Grants were the initial deployment of these additional funds. The remainder will focus on the acute needs among our existing grantees and could also be used to make additional investments in the COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund.
Livingston Fellows Program – We have informed all active Livingston Fellows that they may delay aspects of their plan development and activities, including extending deadlines, given that we realize it will be difficult to complete leadership development work during the crisis and subsequent recovery. We are suspending the 2021 Livingston nomination and selection process. It is clear this is not the time to be launching a new class of Fellows. We will, however, continue to share leadership resources with our Fellows, and strive to create more opportunities for virtual convenings. We hope to return to “normal” programming in 2021, operating the selection process for 2022 Fellows.
Annual Awards Program – In light of the crisis and social distancing restrictions, we have postponed our annual Awards Celebration Luncheon until November, at which time we hope that we will once again be able to gather in this annual celebration of the arts.
Investment and Communication Efforts
Mission-aligned Investing/PRI – The Foundation Board of Trustees approved a Mission Aligned Investing Policy that establishes a framework to utilize up to 8% of our corpus for mission aligned or program related investments as appropriate opportunities arise. We believe it is critical to consider impact investing as both part of our crisis response and as part of our ongoing efforts to use all the tools at our disposal to serve our mission.
Coordinated Messaging – We have been meeting regularly with other regional cultural leaders – Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, Denver Arts & Venues, Colorado Creative Industries, Boulder Office of Arts and Culture, Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, etc. – to share ideas, actions and strategize. This led to the creation of a new messaging campaign called “Arts Through it All” an advocacy campaign designed to educate and inspire arts and culture enthusiasts and the general public on how best to support the creative sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign and related toolkit were developed so it can be personalized by individual arts organizations for their use. A special thanks to Launch Advertising for the pro bono work and to Colorado Business Committee for the Arts for managing the site at artsthroughitall.org.
Communication – We have added a new page to our website that is regularly updated to provide our visitors with current, valuable information on resources available to them related to the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, we are rapidly sharing critical information and resources via social media and e-blasts.
In sum, we believe these are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary actions. The threat to many of our most beloved and important cultural assets is truly existential. When we as a society do come through this – and we will eventually – we must have in our community the things that make life worth living, arts and culture that inspires, educates, moves, transports, entertains. We intend to play a leadership role in ensuring that is the case. We will use our grantmaking capacity, our endowments, and our voice. And we hope to inspire others to join us.