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.