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The Future of Arts Funding
Episode 59

The Future of Arts Funding

CI to Eye with Melissa Cowley Wolf

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Melissa and Erik talk about the findings of a recent survey conducted by the Arts Funders Forum and M+D, including millennial giving behaviors, how the cultural sector can adapt to engage a new donor class, and why collaboration and transparency among arts institutions, funders, artists, and communities, are critical to the success of the arts in the 21st century.

Erik Gensler: Thank you so much for being here today.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Thank you for having me today.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: It’s exciting.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. So, you say that cultural institutions are struggling with an existential crisis to say relevant.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What does that mean?

Erik Gensler: Tell me more. Yeah.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: So, in our work with the Arts Funders Forum, which we’re going to talk about at length, what we heard from funders, what we heard from directors of organizations, and what we heard from artists who worked directly with the organizations is that there is so much one, competition, there’s such a lack of clarity to the general public about what arts organizations do, and competition for dollars is stronger than ever and also you have a generational shift that’s happening with funders and the new generation being specifically focused on ideas of social justice. And so, how does the organization serve as a conduit to the cause? How does the organization have an impact in the community? And really, what’s their role with that? And organizations are thinking through this in a significant way and having various degrees of success in their funding as a result of it. I think, also, what’s on the minds of a lot of people, based on what we heard, is that there’s a lack of understanding, as I said, in the population at large of what art is and its importance in society. So, unless we can really make that clear as an industry, we’re going to have a really difficult time staying relevant.

Erik Gensler: Hmm. You say that we’re undergoing the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in human history. What are you seeing as the implications of that?

Melissa Cowley Wolf: We have this incredible opportunity and with it comes incredible challenges. So, the generation that’s inheriting all of this wealth gives in a completely different way. So, it’s really, I think, incumbent on the arts industry, as I just said before, to bring that next generation into how are they giving, how to continue this legacy that we have for great institutions in the United States and to make them stronger. But through our research at the Art Funder’s Forum, we found that this next gen gives differently, wants to give in a different way, exhibits very, very different giving patterns than the current philanthropic class, large donor class, and there’s really a great opportunity to have a discussion and guide their giving patterns to share the knowledge from one generation to the other. They both have a lot to learn from each other. You have one generation that sees giving as transactional and one generation that sees giving as strategic, so we want to create a space where these two generations can talk and we can create even stronger giving habits and stronger philanthropic legacy. But there is a vast difference in how they give. Through our research, we found that 78% of our participants are concerned or somewhat concerned about the future of cultural funding in the United States and they see the generational transfer of wealth as a big part of that concern.

Erik Gensler: Hmm. So, let’s talk about the research. I’m a data nerd, so I sort of want to dig into the methodology and understand who responded. So, I understand you conducted a large survey of leading arts funders and cultural philanthropists. Can you tell us about who participated and more about the methodology of the study?

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Sure. We built a database of over 2,500 significant cultural benefactors in the US. It was really important to us from the start that this be … even though it’s called the Arts Funders Forum, that this be a representative database of all parts of the arts ecosystem: cultural leaders, development leaders, artists, influencers, academics, journalists, curators, gallerists, everybody from our whole ecosystem to have a part in this because everything is interrelated. So, we built that primarily by studying the trustees of cultural institutions, looking at cultural institutions nationally. We really … it was also important as to have a national profile. So, a lot of the times when you talk about “big philanthropy” in the United States, traditionally, people will talk about the coasts, but what’s happening throughout the country as fascinating and what we saw was variations nationally on different types of practices. So, it was important to us to get a completely national viewpoint of this. We interviewed via survey. We sent the survey out to over 2,500 folks. We had 475 folks respond to the survey and then we did in person or phone interviews with significant leaders in the field—from museum directors, heads of foundations, philanthropists, academics—so that we could really get that qualitative data on top of quantitative data. We asked them about new frameworks for giving, new ways to measure impact, topics that care about, what they’ve seen work, what isn’t working, and to give us details from those experiences and then we analyzed all of that data to build a roadmap for a new platform so we can drive knowledge sharing, collaboration, and ideas that’ll increase private support for the arts. Those in-depth interviews we had were absolutely wonderful and people were so willing to talk. They wanted to talk. They were excited about this idea. They were excited about this platform. They were thrilled that there was something that was addressing all areas of the cultural ecosystem-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Melissa Cowley Wolf: … and there’s so much knowledge in our community that is not necessarily being shared and was really galvanizing for us as a team to know that we were onto something and actually, people kept saying, “You’re onto something. Keep going. Keep us posted. This is an important thing to have.”

Erik Gensler: That’s great. And you mentioned museums and visual arts. You also spoke with performing arts organization leaders, yes?

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Correct. We followed the NEA’s categories for artistic expression and we included arts education, dance, design, folk and traditional arts, literature, media arts, opera, musical theater, visual arts, the whole gamut. So, it was really important to us that this not be exclusively for the visual arts, but really encompass the cultural sector of the US.

Erik Gensler: Amazing. I’d like to dig into some of what you learned. And I guess the first thing to talk about that was really interesting is the change across generations and how younger philanthropists really look at all aspects of giving differently and the first takeaway was that younger philanthropists want the arts to drive social change.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: We found that and we see that in studies. Cultural organizations see it. Young philanthropists are very clear about talking about it and we see it in research from across different institutes and organizations that are serving in philanthropy throughout the year. What I said before, I think, rings true, is that younger donors, millennials in particular, want to see how the organization—the cultural organization, whether it’s an opera company or a museum, whether it’s a large or a small organization— how are they impacting the community? What is their imprint on the world? They’re particularly interested in the sort of difficult racial legacy involved in arts funding, the difficulties with gender equality. These are top issues for them and so, they’re asking very, very hard questions and they have very particular ways that they evaluate where they give their funding and as a result of that, they fund in a very different way. But the needs of drive, social change and how they see the philanthropy through a social justice lens is the biggest difference between the older generations of philanthropists, the traditional philanthropist model, and the younger philanthropists.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. You also said there’s growing tension between their funding perspectives, where younger philanthropists view giving as more process-driven than transaction-driven in contrast with the current donor class.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Correct. We heard from younger next-gen philanthropists that they want to be a part of the process. They want to have a seat at the table, not just in particular programs within institutions, but really in the ethos of the organization. There’s some similarity with that with older generations that have wanted to be involved. You have this amazing class of philanthropists in the United States who are still strong leaders on the boards of organizations, that have built organizations, that have galvanized the community, that have created the different cultural centers around the US, who have a seat at the table, whose ideas have been groundbreaking. The difference is, the younger generation describes their desire to be involved, really, from programming through outreach. They want to volunteer. They want to see the impact. They want to galvanize community. And it’s all through this social justice Lens. So, one, the younger philanthropists, we saw, view giving as more process-driven than transactional and the older generation sees younger philanthropists’ giving as less strategic and that’s an interesting tension point that we want to explore in that the platform we’re developing.

Erik Gensler: Younger philanthropists want to focus more on technology. What did you learn about that? I think philanthropy, particularly arts philanthropy, is very 20th-century. There’s not been a ton of technical innovation there, so I’m curious what you learned.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: It’s interesting. With regards to technology, there were a lot of different interpretations of what we meant by technology when we asked the question on our survey, when we asked this in our in-person or phone interviews. On the one hand, we had a wonderful response from some of our participants on the academic side who brought up instantly the crisis and data privacy that we’re experiencing in the United States and what is the role of the cultural institution as a data broker? Having worked in development, I know firsthand as your listeners do who work in development or are leaders of institutions, really what we have at our fingertips, the type of research that we do on our prospects and our donors and what we have and getting cultural institutions to see themselves as those data brokers and how are we handling that? What are the rules around that? That came up in conversation. People also interpreted this as a question on, of course, social media tools. How do artists leverage social media? And by artists, I mean designers, creatives of any type, leverage social media for themselves? How has that taken out some of the brokers on the for-profit side of the cultural sector? How do organizations utilize their social media? We had one respondent, who’s a leader of a national organization, talk about marketing and communications as program, not just something that they do to advertise, but that that should be part of the programmatic budget of the organization.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Melissa Cowley Wolf: So, this question about technology went in a lot of different ways and we were surprised and pleasantly surprised to see how people responded. And so, in building out the platform around this topic of technology for the Arts Funders Forum, I think we can go on a lot of different directions and it’s things that I think are just going to surprise the community at large and that need to be aired and we need to have discussion over.

Erik Gensler: I want to sidetrack this conversation and talk about the “marketing as programming.” I won’t do that.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: But I think, yes, your marketing needs to feel as artistic as your programming (laughs), but that’s for another podcast.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: So, the next topic I want to turn to is this idea of that cultural institutions need to do a better job of expressing their value. I thought this was really, really powerful.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: When we spoke in our in-person and phone interviews, our qualitative section of the research, almost every single person that I spoke with and I know that my partners spoke with, brought up the philosophical aspect of the future of cultural philanthropy in the US. Every conversation I had ended there, whether it was with the president of an arts school, whether it was with a private philanthropist, whether it was with an organizational leader, they all said that at the end of the day, if we can’t properly communicate the importance of arts and culture in our society, then we’re not going to be able to do anything else and that that impacts how cultural institutions stay relevant, that impacts how artists work, and that impacts the entire funding model. So, at the end of the day, it’s a philosophical question is, “Do we want art and culture to be a priority to humanity, to our society?” and if we say “Yes,” then we as a community need to educate the general public and educate ourselves in a much better way about that. Why is it important? Why do we need it for the future? And some would argue that at this particular moment, socially, politically, and economically in the United States, if not the world, it’s more important than ever. And if that’s the case and artists and designers and creatives are at the forefront of responding to and commenting on where we are in our world, then we need to support them. And I thought it was very interesting that everyone said that and if they can advocate in our community to each other about that, then how do we turn this community of funders and leaders into advocates and ambassadors at large? And that’s something we really want to do with the Forum, is talk with each other, educate ourselves more on future practices, possible practices for new funding and new funding models, but really serve as ambassadors because I think that the cultural sector, and specifically the visual arts, is very opaque to those that are not involved. We’re a community that walks around in our black-clad clothes and it’s very hard to penetrate and it’s very hard to understand really what makes up the cultural sector and the art sector in this country. We need to open that up and it was really impactful to hear these leaders of philanthropy and these leaders of cultural organizations say that, that we need to do a better job. How do we engage the country at large? How do we position our artists, designers, and creatives as these thought leaders? Why are we not at all the TED talks? Why are we not on Jimmy Fallon? Why are we not having these conversations the way celebrities and representatives do from other fields? And so, there was a real consensus on that and this expression of need that we need to do that.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. We used to do it. Like, Beverly Sills, the head of the New York City Opera, used to be on the tonight show. Leonard Bernstein was on the late night shows. It was-

Melissa Cowley Wolf: What happened?

Erik Gensler: There was a crossover. I think the 20th century the art was very … I always go back to the model of Lincoln Center. It was built on a pavilion. It’s like a temple. You have to step up to it. There is traditional language. It was very top-down. You learned about shows through brochures and with the institution told you. Well, that doesn’t work anymore and we have to fundamentally rethink how we’re inviting people in and how, you know, what we say matters much less than what other people say about us and how we’re positioning and welcoming and opening our institutions and making them places for thought leadership and community and civic engagement. It has to be completely rethought. It’s not about a small programming department dictating to what’s good. The world has changed. Everyone’s one click away from everybody else. It needs to be much more inclusive. It needs to be much more collaborative. It needs to be much more inviting. It needs to be much more cross-cultural. And I think we’ve been slow to make a lot of those changes.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: And I bet if you ask our interviewee pool and our community why that’s happened, they’ll point to social media. They’ll point to-

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: … the increase in arts and cultural activities, but that means that your attention is spread more thin. They’ll point to organizations being so focused on “Where is the next dollar going to come from?” that they haven’t been able to do a lot of the audience-engagement work and recruiting the next generation of donors. They’ve been so focused on what they need to do to survive. And so, that’s another reason why we wanted to develop this forum is, “How can we get away from that mentality? How can we start planning and creating systems so that we rethink how we fund and we fund in a better, more sustainable way?”

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I want to talk about the Forum in a bit, but I want to get back to a couple more of these findings becauseI think they’re so interesting. One of the takeaways was that cultural philanthropists see a need for more robust partnerships. Can you talk a bit about that?

Melissa Cowley Wolf: We learned a lot of different things. I think this also came up in every conversation, the word “partnerships,” the word “collaboration.” It’s very much on the mind of some of the leading philanthropists in the country and also organizations, on the organizational side. We had a leader of an organization who used to be a leader at a foundation who’s also a significant philanthropist—so they really know this world from a lot of different angles—talk about, “Why isn’t there more collaboration between organizations? Why is every cultural organization have the same department doing the same thing? Why can’t they leverage the expertise of the other?”

Erik Gensler: Totally.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: So, not just in a programmatic way. How can organizations come together to do joint programming, to leverage the community and leverage their talents in a better way, but why aren’t they sharing resources such as accounting or marketing knowledge or marketing firms or consultants? That everyone’s doing their own thing instead of leveraging the brain trust that they have. Now, on the private funders side, funders are looking at new models and new funds that they can develop with the community to fund an organization or to fund direct artist support. So, this is particularly interesting to younger philanthropists and came up in interviews as a way for traditional philanthropists, older philanthropists, to connect with the next generation and for them to learn from other, is to create an investment fund together outside of an organization that they can then give out directly to artists, creatives, and designers or to organizations. You’re seeing a lot more of this across the United States. And when we heard this, we asked the question, “Well, by creating these funds, does it mean you’re not funding the organization now? Is there a competition for dollars and are these new funds taking dollars away from organizations?” and all of these philanthropists said, “No, there is enough money to go around. There’s enough money in this country to go everywhere. There’s no reason you can’t create a fund, an independent fund, and also give to your local institution,” but it’s just this variety of funding models that’s really appealing to folks and also, they like the idea of partnering, of collaborating, of leveraging. Those are three things and three words that came from a lot of our interviews.

Erik Gensler: That’s really cool. I love a lot of those things you said, particularly around organizations having a lot of duplication. I went to a city recently and I sat down in a room with the marketing teams from the ballet company, the opera, performing arts center, and the symphony, and none of them have ever sat in the same room together. And they’re all, presumably, speaking to a very similar audience, but first of all, just A) having the collaboration to, like, learn from each other, but 2) sharing audience lists or really thinking about at the very basic level—and a lot of cities do that really well—but how do you take that to the next level? I’m thinking big and busting open the system and combining organizations, so their scale and also the organizations that are sitting on the old assets with the fixed cost and that depreciation is what’s killing so many of them. So, if you combined, you can have more performances in a space which can help efficiencies. I don’t know. My head’s exploding with a lot of things you’re saying.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: So, as one of our interviewees said, “It’s almost like these organizations choose not to collaborate because it’s so obvious that they should.”

Erik Gensler: Hmm. Another learning was around measurement and a need for more tools to measure outcomes. So, I want to hear what you’ve learned about impact measurement.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Many of our interview respondents expressed concern or excitement about this need for impact measurement, but less than half said they currently use a systemic approach to measure the impact of their funding and many do not measure their funding at all. From the funder side, we heard that there is a strong need for more transparency from institutions and from the institutional side, the counterpoint to that is, so much of the need for funding is for unrestricted support. So, you have this tension. You have this tension that needs to be resolved and so, how do organizations cover their costs for, let’s say, the unsexy things that they need to survive and show that impact? Now, there’s definitely a way to do that, but this gets into a larger conversation between that qualitative impact and quantitative impact and we heard this a lot, as well, is how do you quantify a change in public opinion? How do you quantify moving the needle on different attitudes in communities? How do you quantify changes of views based on an exhibition that a museum does or a performance that a ballet company gives that dive into issues of diversity that dive into issues of globalization, sustainability, the environment? That can be incredibly hard to quantify. And so, we had both cultural leaders and we had both foundation representatives talk about that, the constant need for this quantitative measurement and this impact and to express impact. But so much of the result of artistic expression can’t be quantified. And so you do have this tension that needs to be resolved and maybe it’s a different form of measurement that as a community, the arts and cultural sector comes up with that can then also be expressed to the general public in a different way that will help us galvanize the general public support for the arts. We heard that across all respondents is, how challenging it is to really show the impact of the arts. You can show it with the number of people that come into a museum, the number of tickets sold for the opera. You can show it in social media impact and imprints. You can show it an advertising, but it’s incredibly hard to measure how you change someone’s mind, how you impact someone’s heart, how you really change the dynamics and the viewpoints of society and it was really heartening for us to hear that from across the board because if everyone’s feeling it, then there has to be a way for us to figure it out as a community.

Erik Gensler: 22:48 And that’s what’s the secret sauce of the arts is the ability to do that, the ability to make you feel something. And why do I keep going to shows when lots of times they make me feel nothing, but I’ll keep going and going and going because when you do feel something, it’s life changing.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Erik Gensler: That’s what we offer. Yeah. Finally, you learned there is a need to focus on underserved communities. I’d love you to talk a little bit about that.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: What we found is that there’s really an urgency to develop new methods of listening and learning in historically divested and marginalized communities. We spoke … as I said, we spoke with a national group and we were really interested in having conversations about arts funding in rural America, so there’s a different way that they are going to talk about their programming and their funding techniques than a organization in New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, and we’re seeing on the other side that institutional funders want to become more impact-driven and this is uncovering some of these systemic issues in arts funding. For example, the tension comes up as nonprofits are trying to become more focused on social justice as the next generation, millennials particularly, want to see organizations address these issues. But this creates some administrative burdens for the organization because when you’re … let’s take a museum, for instance, your mission is, in a lot of organizations, the exhibition, the preservation of a certain type of artwork, you start taking on in response to what funders want to fund and what millennials want to see, an entirely different type of program that dives into issues of equity and what is the organization’s role in that? How do they get funding for that? And then, how do they create additional administrative work around that? Because that’s a completely different type of funding. So, all of this brings up, who is really responsible in our communities for addressing issues of equity, for addressing issues of how do we engage underserved communities within the arts? So, we heard from folks across our surveying portfolio that this is something that we need to talk about as a community, not just in terms of big city on the coast and emerging cultural capitals across the US, but in terms of equity in all of its forms. Really, what is the role of the cultural institution in that and what is the role of the funder in that? And this is, I think, a new frontier that’s being uncovered and something that we have to wrap our brains around as a community so that we make it easy for cultural organizations who are these town halls, who are these places where you should have these discussions, be allowed to do that, be allowed to bring in and host these conversations from different members of the community, but that they’re not having to develop it as a separate budget.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: You know, that this is part of the organization’s ethos-

Erik Gensler: The ethos, yeah

Melissa Cowley Wolf: … and mission and so, how are funders responding to that?

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I’ve had a number of relevant podcast conversations, most recently with Deborah Cullinan of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, that has made this their mission, where their goal is to spur social change and then invite people in to have really complex conversations about society. She’s so progressive. That podcast just came out really recently. Also, I’ve talked to a number of people, including Karen Brooks Hopkins, who is the former Executive Director of Bam, and John Shoemaker [sic], who is the Executive Director at NJPAC around the idea of the cultural institution adopting an anchor mission to think of their institution as the community anchors the way in some communities we think of, like, a hospital or a university as a real cultural piece where important conversations happen, where people that are coming in not only to see performances but to, you know, have big, important conversations about the future of society and community. So, I recommend those podcast interviews for those topics.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: We had a lot of leaders of cultural organizations address those very topics and say that there’s a misalignment, there’s a miscommunication, there’s a misunderstanding between the organization and the funding community that one model is trying to forge ahead and understands how to do this, but another model might be outdated. So, how do we create a mutual understanding of what we’re trying to do and a way where nobody is … organizations aren’t burdened with taking on the cost themselves to do this important work.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. So, what’s next? Tell us about what the Arts Funders Forum is. When is the forum,? What’s the forum? Where do you … what is the next step that you’re going to do with all this amazing data you’ve collected?

Melissa Cowley Wolf: The Arts Funders Forum is a project that is run by M+D, which is a global consulting company and support from the Knight Foundation, who’s been our extraordinary partner in this process. So, phase one of this project was really that research phase, to uncover these trends in private arts giving, explore areas that inspire the next gen, identify the most effective strategies, partnerships, and platforms for giving, really to guide the future of private cultural philanthropy in the United States. So, we spent this past year working on that research project, the qualitative and the quantitative. What’s next is building out the physical platform for this and through our research phase and our interviews, as I mentioned, we had great responses from across the cultural ecosystem that this is something that’s new, that while there is unbelievable work going on in serving our community, understanding trends, what the Arts Funders Forum is doing is bringing together all parts of this ecosystem under one roof and really bringing all the funders together in one roof and galvanizing that community to think through what this next phase what this next frontier of private cultural philanthropy can be. And this is all happening as we see this explosion in global philanthropy. There’s never been more giving, but that the cultural sector, the arts sector, has really remained stagnant and is only $20 billion out of a $410 billion industry. It should be more. We have the people, we have the interest, we have the community to make it more, so now, it’s bringing all of those entities together under one roof. So, we’re looking at this … the most prominent arts event that happens in the United States and the visual arts, which is Art Basel Miami Beach, that has become a center for arts across the spectrum. You have performances happening, you have film, video, and new media. You have everything happening during that week in America. So, we’re looking to host a moment, an event, during this year’s Art Basel to bring this community together to start this conversation. What will eventually be designed is a large platform, a large conference, that will really dive deep into all of these areas that we’ve discussed. So, to do large discussions and then to break up into small focus groups. And really, what we’re trying to do is build this community of ambassadors, bring this community together, do a knowledge share. What can the organization learned from the donor? What can the next gen learned from the traditional philanthropists? Having an artist in the room, having a foundation in the room, having the conversation amongst all of these different players to develop these new ideas and new models and potentially have conversations they’ve never had, very direct and result-driven conversations as to where we can go. So, that’s the next phase of this. We’re excited to continue to work with the Knight Foundation on this and looking to open up the research and share the research because I think the research is … can be very impactful and the conversations that we were lucky enough to have with some of the leaders in all of these different sides of the arts ecosystem made us sure that this was a topic to be that people wanted to discuss.

Erik Gensler: Awesome. Yeah. If people want to sign up to learn more about it or get copies of the research, is there a place we can direct them?

Melissa Cowley Wolf: Absolutely. Our website is That has all the information. That has how we conducted our study, what our study was, links to articles, and also email sign-up where you can stay involved. Once we have more details and we’ll be releasing those to the public for subsequent events, those will be going out, as well, but the website is really the best hub and because we’ve built a great database of interested participants, funders, organizations, we are communicating with that network now and we hope that network will grow. We really want everyone at the table.

Erik Gensler: Amazing. You mentioned other sectors. You also mentioned the global philanthropic market. I’m curious—I know you spent the last six months traveling the world—curious what you’ve learned about funding either from non-arts sectors or from some of the other countries you visited.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: It’s interesting. The US is still the model. We’re really seen … because of our system of funding, we’re really seen as the leader with our model. People are incredibly impressed with how we dedicate our funds to the arts and cultural sector and want to learn our secrets, which are not secret, but want to learn how to do it. We have an incredibly robust development and fundraising community. We have programs, we have Masters programs, in fundraising and development for nonprofit management. These are exploding around the globe, but we’re one of the forefront of that. We’re the leader in that, so they look at us as the model. They also, because of the way that the systems are set up in countries in Africa and countries in Europe for their organizations, they have the fundraising arm in the United States and they’ve had this for a while. You know, Friends of The Louvre, organizations for nonprofits, for universities abroad. They’re looking at how to grow these organizations in the United States and they’re also looking for how they can take that model in a global way and scale it globally. But we are really seen as the leader in this and I think this is a good moment to reevaluate how we do it because we have the ability to break new ground here and the arts and culture on philanthropic sector and the other parts of the world are really looking at us to do that. We were lucky that we’re set up in a way where there’s … traditionally, we have not had a fear about institutions. That exists in a lot of other parts in the world, which keeps people from giving to cultural organizations, to projects. This suspicion of institutions is something that, you know, for the last 40 years, we have not had. We can do a whole podcast about where we’re at with that now, but we have traditionally believed in institutions in this country and those who can and even those who can’t that much have stepped up to support them. That has not been the case traditionally in other parts of the world. So, they are very much in need of new models of funding cultural organizations and the contemporary art world is more alive than ever. It’s more interesting than ever. It hits all different parts of the globe. In the for-profit side of this whole thing, we’re seeing something that we’ve never seen before and everyone wants to be a part of it and they need dollars, they need money, to be a part of it. So,, they are really looking to us and that’s a huge opportunity for us, as well.

Erik Gensler: Amazing.

Melissa Cowley Wolf: And that’s also an opportunity for collaboration and partnership, thinking outside of our own borders and how we can collaborate with organizations in other parts of the world. That is an opportunity for a lot of funders and a lot of next-gen funders who are interested in global causes, not just matters and issues and topics in the United States. So, there’s a lot of opportunity there, but we really are seeing in the model in this field.

Erik Gensler: So, this is your final question. It’s your “CI to Eye moment,” and the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff and board of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to help them improve their businesses?

Melissa Cowley Wolf: You are a leader in our society and you’re an ambassador for the cultural organization. We need to own that. We need to speak incredibly well about our partners in this, about other institutions, what they’re doing. Be ambassadors for your institution down the road because rising tides lift all boats. If there’s more money coming in to the arts, it’s going to help everybody. This is hard work. It’s exhausting. Every day, you go to work incredibly optimistic and you want to walk out as optimistic as you walked in and I think the way to do that, the thing that keeps you energetic as a cultural worker in this country, I think it’s when you are outside and you’re talking about the importance of art in society and you’re talking about the importance of your institution. It provides an energy because people respond to it. We need to be proud of what we do. We need to own it. We need to have a good mission, articulate it, be proud of it, and we’re gonna continue to be a very, very impactful, successful sector.

Erik Gensler: Thank you so much.

About Our Guests
Melissa Cowley Wolf
Melissa Cowley Wolf
Director, Arts Funders Forum

Melissa Cowley Wolf is the director the Arts Funders Forum (AFF), a new initiative from advisory firm M+D, with support from the Knight Foundation, that is designed to increase private support for arts and culture in the United States. Melissa is also the founder of MCW Projects, dedicated to expanding the next generation of philanthropists and cultural audiences around the world.

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