Since its founding in 1995, the Small Arts Initiative Giving Program of our client hasn't changed its funding practices, operating procedures, or aims. Given the drastic change in the art ecosystem they serve, the program leads wanted to explore what it would take to attract a broader cross-section of applicants. Specifically, they hoped to support more emerging artists and small to medium organizations.
The Philanthropic Organization came to us to redefine the Initiative's goals and aims and develop a theory of change. To bring this work to life, we also developed a strategic plan and implementation guide.
How We Did It
Key to this work was overcoming resistance to change. Our client had been historically tied to their processes, which made it difficult to get the internal buy-in needed to modify the program. In its own way, COVID saved the day.
The world got turned upside down, but didn’t crumble. This helped leadership overcome some of its own resistance and be more open to re-designing their strategic plan and the Small Arts Initiative more broadly.
As with any human-centered design work, we combined ethnographic interviews with workshops and secondary research. This helped overcome a secondary challenge: ensuring that everyone was on the same page about what the need was. The process revealed that our client needed to reevaluate what the grant-making process looked like. We needed to dig into why BIPOC artists and BIPOC-led organizations were consistently underrepresented in applicant pools. To do so, we created space for BIPOC artists to co-design the process with us.
With the artists’ insights, alongside the other data and evidence we had compiled, we helped our client develop a strategic plan and new theory of change. This human-centered approach ensured that the voices and needs of the artists — the intended beneficiaries of the Initiative — were being recognized and acknowledged.
The work yielded four primary outcomes:
- a new strategic direction,
- a revision to the program’s application process to make it more inclusive of BIPOC and historically underrepresented artists,
- a change to the program’s functioning and a plan to integrate the new strategy and theory of change, and
- the creation of mini funds.
By co-creating and building capabilities in the process, the resulting strategic plan and theory of change won’t just sit on a shelf — they are living, breathing tools that our client can use to deploy funding and level the playing field.