To learn about The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida and its Art Ventures program is to learn a great deal about Jacksonville’s philanthropy and art. This year, The Community
Foundation celebrates its 50th anniversary, and for more than half its history it has dedicated part of its grantmaking to small arts organizations and individual artists. The mission of the foundation is this: “Stimulating philanthropy to build a better community.” In this continual build, Art Ventures uses the arts as tools to help achieve the goal.
The nuts and bolts
Here’s a primer on The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida: Founded in 1964, it is the oldest community foundation in Florida; and with assets totaling $297 million in 2013, it is also the largest foundation in the state. They manage four-hundred and thirty-four funds, benefiting areas such as public education, neighborhood revitalization, veterans, and the arts, among others. Community foundations exist in this country as tax exempt public charities that manage the funds given by donors—individuals, families, and corporations—in order to carry out their charitable interests for the benefit of their communities. “Through [our] rich history and in partnership with our donors, we have acquired deep knowledge of critical local issues, and we embrace our ability to help lead positive change in our community,” The Community Foundation states. In short, they plan to “do good work, forever.” Forever is a big word. Especially when talking about funding. But that is the very nature of an endowment— there is a corpus, the capital sum, donated as a seed to take root, growing interest that can be utilized while the initial money is never touched.
Art Ventures is an endowment in perpetuity—it will keep funding the local arts community forever. And this is just one of the special characteristics of this fund. Art Ventures was conceived in 1989, when the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) selected the foundation as one of three in the country to receive a four-year grant to support small and mid-size arts organizations and individual artists. The only catch was that the organization had to match the funds 2:1.
Calling the initiative Art Ventures, The Community Foundation took on the challenge. The late Ann Baker (1937-2011), a foundation trustee who was instrumental in making Art Ventures a reality, shared on a video produced by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville when the foundation received their Special Recognition Award in 2009: “We felt it was an opportunity we should take advantage of because we knew that the Cultural Council was funding larger and midsize nonprofit organizations, but smaller emerging organizations and individual artists really had no opportunity for grants.” Baker and her friend and fellow volunteer Courtenay Wilson, are given much of the credit for Art Ventures’ beginnings. “The corpus exists because of Ann and Courtney,” says Amy Crane, program director for Art Ventures. “Their tireless work is why it exists today as an unrestricted grant.”
But that was a catch—that Art Ventures was to be “unrestricted,” an open grant making program. Unusual at the time, this meant the donors would not determine how their money was spent, the foundation would.
Raising the matching funds required Baker and Wilson to convince prospective donors to give even though Art Ventures would handle grantmaking differently than a traditional fund, where donors offer specific recommendations as to where their grant dollars go. The Community Foundation felt that Art Ventures needed flexible parameters that would allow the funds to “give wings to artists,” says Crane. Art Ventures gifts would be pooled together and the grant selection process would be a community effort. Baker and Wilson succeeded in their mission and the Art Ventures Fund was launched, with the motto “using the arts as tools to build stronger communities.”
Article written by Meredith T. Matthews