Fireball - - - - on our tail!
October 21st, 2009Last Thursday, October 15th marked two momentous occasions. My birthday - I don't count years anymore - and the one year anniversary of moving into our building on the corner of Oakes and Grandville! Of course I'll focus on the anniversary as this past year has gone by so fast that I'd blink and it will be time for my birthday again!
When we set our sights on buying a building, it didn't come without a great deal of scrutiny, strategic planning and just plain soul-searching. Through some comments that I heard and through the ever-present rumor mill I caught the drift that some people thought us ridiculous and that it would be folly for the foundation. But onward we went because we knew that there were many reasons why having a building was important for the community and putting down real roots given our 87 year history!
I still hear that the building demonstrates that we do indeed have deep pockets and don't really need support from the community. Nothing could be further from the truth but perception being what it is I can only keep moving forward and hope that our track record and our care for this community shines through. Our mission is to build and manage our community's permanent endowment and lead the community to strengthen the lives of its people. We intend to follow our mission.
Back in November 2008 I watched news reports that the stock market had plummeted 800 points in one trading day and it felt like the already shifting sands were turning into quicksand and the course was downward! We purposely raised support for the building through planned gifts, New Markets Tax Credits, our own investment, staff, board and campaign committee gifts prior to going more public for a $1.3M campaign which by Grand Rapids standards is a relatively small campaign. We also made sure that we wrapped things up mostly during the summer of 2008.
Thus my analogy. I pictured that the crumbling financial markets resembled a fireball that was steaming our way and I was trying to make sure it didn't set us ablaze! We were fortunate and frankly smart to move swiftly. We bought the building in December 2007, selected an architectural firm and contractor (Design + and Fryling Construction) and finalized the mile high pile of reporting for the New Markets Tax Credits two months later. We were mere weeks ahead of more discernable disintegration of the financial markets though certainly we were feeling the effects of a down economy and market fluctuations throughout 2007.
That fireball was just a few feet behind us but it never caught up with us thank heavens. So what you ask yourself? Well - consider this: we distributed more than $9 million in great grants back out to the community this past fiscal year (7/1/08 to 6/30/09), raised more than $8 million and embraced our community even more strongly than ever before!
In the time period of November 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009, we opened the doors to many of our nonprofit and community partners to use the building for their meetings and seminars. Here are the numbers: 902 meetings and 6,031 people attending these events and activities! This was but one of the many reasons we are in this beautiful and welcoming building. And it has NOT detracted us one minute from keeping our eye on the prize. We are still strong in our funding of needed programs and services. We are part of a unique and effective partnership with 17 other area foundations to finance basic needs through the Essential Needs Task Force Fund! We hold the funds and the collective effort is remarkable and demonstrates the strength of our philanthropic community.
It is definitely great to be home . . . in our own home . . . in the community's home!
Can't win for losing - the 2nd installment!
October 5th, 2009
I for one am glad that ArtPrize is winding down - I'm tired! Yes I realize that this has been great for the city so please don't crawl down my throat thinking this is a negative comment because it is NOT. I am very proud that Grand Rapids did well in showing itself as a hub for the arts. Even that last sentence will raise a cynical eyebrow or two. I participated almost every day and many of our staff volunteered for ArtPrize itself helping to guide people and as registrars. We were very involved and engaged. Hats off to our GRCF crew - they were simply terrific! I have a few "bruises" from the past two weeks due to reactions I received to my thoughts expressed along the way but that is another story for another time as my experiences are still too fresh to really provide an objective, constructive reaction. I do know this - I am going to take a break from the local arts community and the local "experts" for a short period. After commenting about my first impressions of the art, I was resoundingly put in my place by a local artist who didn't understand that I wasn't naive and that I did know that there was some art that really wasn't all that great. I have found that my opinions are still taking shape on the democratization argument though regarding people's choice versus a juried contest. Somehow I'm caught between the boosters of GR and "isn't this great for GR" crowd and the artists whose work was not noticed as much as they could or should have been. To have an opinion on ArtPrize other than "the greatest thing to happen to GR" to "good art or just plain hype", may not sit well with anyone. It is interesting that my last blog entry prior to the official beginning of ArtPrize was titled: "Can't win for losing" detailing how a person reacted negatively to a postcard he received from GRCF noting the two artists we hosted at our building. He thought we should not have been promoting any artist over others. I realized his wife had an entry in ArtPrize which was likely the root of his dissatisfaction. My "can't win for losing" subject in this entry seems more seasoned now that we have experienced ArtPrize than the previous one posted on September 21st. In the midst of all the excitement of the past two weeks, we did manage to host 4 major donor events and one of them was specific to ArtPrize thanking the donors who helped bring artist Daan Hoekstra to Grand Rapids from northern Mexico. His stunning, permanent mural is painted on our east facing wall of our building! What I didn't realize was the level of promotion that was going to be necessary to spark excitement about the artwork and that the location of venues would play such a pivotal role. GRCF is only one block south of The BOB and that venue saw a great deal of action and was always jammed. We sent many, many volunteers - many of whom were our staff, their family members and friends including wonderful friends from a neighboring community foundation - into the crowds distributing flyers to drive traffic down our way. We served cider and cookies over the weekend of the first round of voting to entice people to stop and take a look at the entries at our building which was not too far off the beaten track. It worked up to a point. I am eager to learn of the artist(s) who will win the top prize. I would say good and productive reflection on ArtPrize may take some time as the experience seeps in! In reviewing my comments from the previous post at the beginning of this contest I am not so sure I would agree with my thoughts expressed then! "No amount of promotion - hype - or advertising is going to improve someone's chances if the artwork is not good! Even though the ongoing debate for some (not me!) is whether or not the "general public" has the ability to choose good art. But don't get me started on that one!" Hmmm - well the debate rages on!