September 16, 2015; Bloomberg Philanthropies (via JPUpdates)

Last week, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that 262 small to mid-sized arts groups in six U.S. cities would receive a total of $30 million in general operating support over the next two years. The invitation-only grants program, Arts Innovation and Management (AIM), is intended to strengthen these organizations in several important ways, including fundraising, audience development and board-member engagement. The cities with grantees are Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The foundation’s website has a full list of the organizations receiving 2015–2017 grants, which collectively touch more than 10 million people and account for approximately 1,700 jobs.

At a time when general operating support is increasingly hard to come by—and yet more critical than ever for many smaller arts groups without endowments or with only slim cash reserves—the AIM grants will allow organizations to invest in new or existing programs or to cover other expenses. And while the funding may only last for two years, the impact is likely to last long beyond that, because the grantees will also benefit from management development training for staff leaders and other capacity-building support like access to consultants to help implement new ideas.

The DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, led by Michael Kaiser, will serve as a partner to Bloomberg Philanthropies on the AIM program. Kaiser is former president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a highly regarded arts consultant whose books include The Art of the Turnaround and Curtains?: The Future of the Arts in America. DeVos is developing curricula that will be delivered to arts managers from the grantee organizations in each of the six cities.

Although the AIM funds are unrestricted, grantee organizations are required to meet some challenging criteria:

  • Secure matching funds equal to 20 percent of the annual grant amount
  • Reach 100 percent participation in “give or get” fundraising by board members
  • Participate in the manager training offered through DeVos
  • Maintain up-to-date information in the Cultural Data Project, a national reporting and benchmarking program that tracks important information about the arts sector.

Bloomberg is rolling out the six-city initiative following a successful pilot project that provided similar investments in 245 cultural organizations in New York City from 2011-13. The DeVos Institute was also a partner for the pilot, and earlier this year summarized key trends among the New York grantees:

  • 79 percent reached new audiences through targeted marketing and social media.
  • 95 percent improved board engagement by adding new members and/or increasing board giving.
  • 88 percent leveraged their grants to secure new contributions from donors.

Kaiser, in a statement, addressed the potential impact of the support being offered to Bloomberg grantees through the powerful combination of unrestricted funding and management development: “This unique approach empowers participants to navigate the rapid changes in technology, demographics, and the economy that continue to affect arts organizations across the country.”

The potential to engage a cohort of arts leaders from each city in a focused learning experience is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the AIM initiative. Having a group of arts leaders in any community with that common point of reference and a shared vocabulary is the kind of rising tide that can lift all boats; over time this investment in professional development is likely to benefit other arts organizations in each of the participating cities.—Eileen Cunniffe