Creating the Conversation
August 24th, 2009Striving for transparency in all that we do is a discussion we have at the Foundation often. What are the factors involved when grant decisions are made? Who is making those decisions? How do we decide what issues to pursue? What role does the Board of Trustees play?
At first I was going to write about a conversation I had this past Saturday on Facebook regarding the decision to help Rob Bliss in the financing of his latest event* to take place in late September. The person with whom I was conversing questioned that decision. This is not a problem frankly as this comes with the territory as a leader of a major Foundation. My question back to the individual had more to do with being transparent as to why the question was being posed than discussing the background on the decision. But that passed and while the decision still may not set well with that person, creating the opportunity to have the conversation was good! Transparency is two-way.
Then I received a message that referenced negative blog entries and commentary about the planned event and our funding. The message bearer was stating that in truth more people were supportive than not and was passing along his support. I went back to local media sites and references to the announcement of the September event. The reaction was mostly positive. However some comments did get personal in terms of me and in terms of the Foundation. Again this comes with the position so I don't really get exercised about it.
In fact, I was heartened by the fact that Roberta King our VP for PR and Marketing told me that when The Rapidian, our Neighborhood News Bureau partnership with the Community Media Center, is launched on Tuesday, September 15th that all who comment on stories will not be given the choice to hide behind a moniker. I believe if you are going to express an opinion then stand behind your opinion with your true identity so a conversation can occur if necessary like I was able to on Facebook.
*The decision re: the aforementioned event is a small part of a bigger effort that is coming up in a few weeks.
Where's Ira Glass when you need him?
August 19th, 2009
The arrival of Daan Hoekstra on Monday, August 10th driving in from his home in northern Mexico got me thinking about the great stories that ArtPrize will provide! It is about the art - yes! It is about showing the world our wonderful city - yes! BUT what didn't dawn on me until Daan's arrival and learning a bit about his life, was the richness of the stories that each artist will be bringing to Grand Rapids! Daan is a gifted artist and we are fortunate to be connected with him offering up the east facing exterior wall on the Grand Rapids Community Foundation's building for his beautiful mural. His story is very interesting and I'm sure that more will be learned as the weeks pass. His website shows a bit of his story. This would make for a good entry in This American Life on NPR! And then The Man in the Van Project is rolling this way! The other artist we are hosting is Aaron Heideman who is working on an inspirational project that is quite unique. In fact, his journey is attracting a great deal of interest on the part of people participating in his effort providing their thoughts on the impact that the recession has had on their lives as well as Aaron's own journey. He is traveling across the country in a van that he purchased in his home state of Oregon for $350 and is collecting compelling and heartbreaking stories of how people are coping or NOT coping well in this economic climate. His website provides a glimpse in his life and when he rolls in to Grand Rapids, I'm sure his story will be quite intriguing! So while ArtPrize is about so many things, I am also interested in the stories. What is the motivation behind the artists' decisions to participate in addition to the prize money? How is it that the artists decided to make their creations here? More to be uncovered! What an opportunity!
Ideas that SOAR!
August 11th, 2009Remember Malcolm Gladwell's oft-quoted book The Tipping Point? He discusses how some ideas, trends, products, and the like just take off while others just fizzle away. He describes these "things" as social epidemics. Frankly there is much more in the book than that but the point is that we really don't know what the spark is that make ideas soar.
Gladwell's book is what I thought of when I read a profile in the Sunday, July 26th edition of The Grand Rapids Press on Rob Bliss who is a 20 year old Grand Rapids Community College student who has landed (or soared!) on ideas that have brought thousands to downtown Grand Rapids. From pillow fights, chalk fests, to zombie walks, he has helped downtown GR become the happening place for the twentysomethings to people my age and then some!
Rob Bliss did this without hiring anyone to test his ideas and without hiring a national organization that promotes cities and how to design them for a growing population. Not an "expert" hired to help! It is also a testimony to the power of social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. I have been bombarded by plans in the last few months that promise to find the "it" factor to make Grand Rapids and West Michigan a "happening" place. I guess I am getting a bit tired of the hype and promise. It is going to take patience, vision and bold leadership.
While the ideas that Rob Bliss creates and acts on may or may not be short-lived, it is great to enjoy the moment. I am eager to see what develops in the future!