Jack, Maguire Fellow in Los Angeles

Jack is a graduate student in the MA/MBA dual-degree program in the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business. He was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship for summer 2014 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. He is interning at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the arts agency serving the largest county in the country. Jack is passionate about the arts and education, and hopes to ultimately work in executive leadership of an arts nonprofit.

Working together to solve inequities in education

Unfortunately, my summer at Arts for All has come to an end. I am so grateful to everyone at the LA County Arts Commission, and the generosity of the Maguire Center and Irby Family Foundation, for making this experience possible. The aims of the internship, as described by the Maguire Center, are that “students gain concrete information about others’ needs, as well as differing perspectives on how to resolve them. In the process, they draw on their university education and personal talent, honing skills as leaders and gaining both humility and self-confidence.”

I can safely say that Arts for All provided me with these opportunities and experiences. Here are some of the topics that have been rattling around my brain the last few weeks and months, as I was able to immerse myself in arts education work in both Dallas and LA.

Measuring impact

There is no doubt that serious issues exist in our country surrounding equitable education opportunities. Countless organizations and initiatives designed to address these disparities have been formed, yet we are no closer to solving the problem. Many funders and donors are placing an increased emphasis on measurability of impact, while many organizations are reluctant and even resentful of this new emphasis. While I can certainly appreciate that there are organizations doing meaningful work that cannot (or do not have the resources to be) measured, I think it is paramount for both funders and organizations themselves to quantify the impact they have on educational inequities. I feel lucky to have worked with two organizations — Big Thought and Arts for All — that place a high emphasis on collecting data tracking the impact of their programs, and this has certainly informed my own opinions.

The responsibility of organizations to collaborate

More importantly, I would love to see an increased level of collaboration among education organizations working toward the same goals. This summer, I was introduced to the work of John Kania, specifically his article Collective Impact, which appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review. Kania discusses the need for nonprofits, funders, and community leaders to abandon individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to solving societal issues.

I’d recommend this article to anyone passionate about social change. It articulates many of the issues I’ve been considering in recent months. Mostly, I have been frustrated by arts and education organizations’ hesitancy to collaborate. There are so many cooks in the kitchen, theoretically working toward the same goal, but these organizations too often treat each other as competitors and not collaborators.

Kania turns this assumption on its head — if nonprofits are formed to address a societal need, then forming connections with similar organizations should take priority over any one organization’s individual agenda. He calls this “collective impact.” I like to think of it as making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. If organizations and leaders look more for mission alignment among disparate community stakeholders, the collective impact of these organizations will be greater than if they each work in a vacuum. These ideas have rung particularly true because of my recent experiences: Arts for All was founded on the idea of collective impact, and Big Thought is one of the more successful examples of a collective impact initiative in creative education.

The role of funders in solving education inequities

As my main project focused on the arts education funding universe of LA County, I became very familiar with the scope and role of foundations in supporting arts education. Kania suggests a transition to a scenario in which funders also collaborate in their own collective impact initiative. As Kania describes, “Collective impact requires instead that funders support a long-term process of social change without identifying any particular solution in advance. They must be willing to let grantees steer the work and have the patience to stay with an initiative for years, recognizing that social change can come from the gradual improvement of an entire system over time, not just from a single breakthrough by an individual organization.” This philosophy speaks to me as a solution for societal issues. If funders begin to collaborate and prioritize collective impact initiatives, then organizations and providers will inevitably place a higher emphasis on it as well.

This is my last blog post of the summer. I appreciate your reading this far, and I hope you were able to learn a little about the arts, government agencies, and educational issues.

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Diving into the data on arts education supporters

My primary project this summer has been to research and analyze the arts education funder universe in Los Angeles County. That wasn’t necessarily a self-explanatory assignment when my supervisor first told me about it, so let me explain what that means, why it matters, and what the research will be used for.

Most arts organizations that you can think of — symphonies, museums, theaters — are run as nonprofit organizations. Most of them make their money through some combination of earned revenue (usually this means ticket sales, but it could also include things like merchandise and CD sales) and contributed revenue (charitable donations). Contributed revenue tends to come from one of four sources: individuals, foundations, corporations, and government. My project hones in on foundations, and the big question we’re looking to answer is: how much funding goes from foundations to arts education in Los Angeles County each year?

Arts for All, with whom I am interning, is interested in this information because of the Arts for All Pooled Fund, a convening of funders who support arts education. The Pooled Fund meets quarterly, when representatives from major foundations and corporate philanthropy initiatives discuss issues in arts education funding. Members have an opportunity to hear what other folks in the field are hearing and thinking, and Arts for All serves as a convener, intermediary, and sounding board. Each member of the Pooled Fund also directly supports Arts for All financially, making it an example of a successful public-private initiative. Arts for All wants to bring more funders on to the Pooled Fund, which is where my project comes in.

My research will result — within the next couple of weeks — in knowing whom we consider to be the most significant arts education funders in Los Angeles. “Significant” is a loaded word, though: the measurement of significance will ultimately be based on a combination of factors, including how much a funder gives in total, how high a percentage of its giving goes to Los Angeles County, and how many Los Angeles County arts education initiatives it supports at high dollar amounts. To get to this point, I have scoured funders’ 990s on the Foundation Directory and Guidestar for hours and hours (I realize it sounds boring, but I enjoy it more than humans probably should), contacted many arts organizations to find out who has funded them in the last three years, and organized all of these data into a massive spreadsheet. Now, it’s time to analyze all of it and write up reports!

A tricky component of this project is that we have three audiences: ourselves, current members of the Pooled Fund, and “the field” (i.e. organizations that work in arts education in Los Angeles County). So, analysis will include three different reports. Arts for All wants to know who should join the Pooled Fund and why. The current members of the Pooled Fund want to know how significant their financial impact on arts education is as a slice of the total funder pie. Finally, Arts for All hopes to provide a modified and beautified version of my current spreadsheet to the field. Effectively, we’re hoping to make it easier for these organizations to do prospect research. So, by combing through the sortable spreadsheet, development officers will discover foundations that fund arts education in Los Angeles County generally, but have never funded that specific organization.

I hope (maybe naïvely) that all of this research, and the ensuing reports, will be very valuable not just to Arts for All, but also to the communities of arts organizations and funders in Los Angeles County. This summer, I’ve learned that this is a key role of a government arts agency: Arts for All aims to do work that benefits not only the students of Los Angeles County (which is its primary stated goal), but also the entire arts ecosystem. My work will certainly benefit Arts for All itself, as it seeks to add members to the Pooled Fund and have an increased understanding of who is giving money to arts education, and what organizations are receiving that money. I hope that it will also benefit the givers and receivers themselves, to begin to develop a more informed arts education universe in Los Angeles County.

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Supporting arts education on a large scale

Hi all! I’ll be blogging here a few times this summer. I’m currently halfway through my graduate program at SMU, which will result in me receiving an MBA from the Cox School of Business and an MA in Arts Management from the Meadows School of the Arts next May.

My internship this summer, which fulfills requirements of both my academic program and the Maguire/Irby Fellowship, is with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the arts entity serving the largest county in the United States (by more than double!). Specifically, I’m working with the Commission’s education arm, called Arts for All, which works to restore arts education to students in all LA County school districts. It’s been a fascinating experience already, and a great way for me to get a feel for the Los Angeles cultural and education landscape. Here are some noteworthy observations that distinguish my experience so far at Arts for All.

1. City vs. county vs. school district
Dallas and Los Angeles both refer to a city, a county, and a school district. In Dallas, the three are largely overlapping; 14 school districts are in Dallas County, including Dallas ISD. But LA County is unfathomably big, serving 81 school districts.

How does Arts for All fit into that? Its goal is to develop and implement policies and plans for each of these 81 school districts (not just Los Angeles Unified School District). The initiative is 10 years old, and so far, the work of Arts for All supports 56 of these districts. My most recent prior experience was at Big Thought in Dallas, an organization with a staff of 50 that concentrates all of its efforts on Dallas ISD. By contrast, Arts for All works with the 56 districts it serves, with a staff of just seven.

2. Government vs. nonprofit
Coming into this internship, I knew that one of the most interesting aspects would be working for a government entity, since most of my experience has been with nonprofits. It’s proven to be eye-opening already—though not in all the ways I expected. I came in worried that we would be working in our own cubicle silos, rarely interacting with other employees, clocking in at exactly 9 a.m. and clocking out at 5 p.m. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The Arts for All staff regularly stays well into the evening, and there’s plenty of opportunity to work in teams and ask each other questions. The Arts for All team has a ton of experience, both in their current positions and at nonprofits they’ve worked for previously. I’m really excited to take advantage of this breadth of expertise in the coming weeks.

3. Funder vs. grantee
In my previous experience with Big Thought, I wrote grant proposals, requesting funding from various foundations and corporations. As a funder, Arts for All is on the other side of the funding equation. Although I’m ultimately more interested in working for nonprofits, it’s really fascinating and informative to see how funders make decisions.

My first week at Arts for All coincided with the deadline for its newest grant program, which will provide school districts with funding for residencies, professional development, supplies, strategic planning, instruments, or some combination of the above for next school year. I will be able to see the entire application review process, which can sometimes seem very mysterious to grantees.

I also have been able to talk to staff members about the organization’s emphasis on data tracking — something that’s still taboo in many nonprofit circles (particularly arts nonprofits), but is an area of emphasis at SMU, especially the National Center for Arts Research run by the head of the MA/MBA program. It’s been valuable to hear arguments for why program evaluation and tracking is so important from a funder perspective, and I know this experience will benefit me as I move forward in nonprofit fundraising.

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