Vibrancy - is it only an "age" thing?
November 17th, 2009Deep breath Diana! Okay - I'm 58 years old, I'm darn cute, I'm full of energy and I've got myself fooled that I am still 35 years old! Why does this matter? Well, it may not but I started something on Facebook today and I want to take a moment to provide more detail. My original post was:
"Does a vibrant core city only include efforts/programs that focus on people under the age of 40? Seems as if so much is made of this and yet I know we need to attract younger people to West MI and help them stay! However, it feels like we may be alienating so many other people."
The genesis of this comment comes from about 24 months of reading, listening and trying to understand what makes a city and the surrounding region attractive to many people! In fact what makes it so attractive that people want to stay and put down roots in a great place to live, work and play! The vision statement of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in fact is: "We envision a magnetic, interconnected West Michigan community." That was written and adopted 4 years ago so this has been an issue for GRCF for quite some time.
Consultants, CEOs for Cities, business leaders, Chambers of Commerce, economic development organizations, West Michigan Strategic Alliance and many others have been pressed into action to zero in on what makes a community an attractive place for many people and specifically what make GR the place to be.
I have issues with some of the activity above because frankly some of the efforts are literally climbing over each other and not much attention is being paid to duplicative efforts. I hope that all this activity will help build and keep metro GR vibrant and alive.
AND I love reading tweets and Facebook entries from the local Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and other young professional groups. The Next Gen movement in philanthropy is one that I embrace and appreciate because the talent is simply phenomenal! Amanda St. Pierre on our staff is one of these exceptional leaders and has the wisdom of someone much more experienced. She creates many of our communication messages in such a unique and readable manner. She is something else! Amanda and our VP for PR/Marketing, Roberta King, are a dynamic team! So this isn't about complaining about the young professionals making their way because we should be paving the way each and everyday!
It is the emphasis being placed on all things for all people UNDER 40 years of age! I'm certainly feeling it! Is the only way Grand Rapids can be determined a "cool city" if it is populated by all people much, much younger than me? At a recent business luncheon I was struck by the encouragement from the podium that persons under the age of 40 should be encouraged to join up! I looked around the table where I was seated and stared at six business women who were perhaps a bit over 40 though not that much. I joked and said well how welcome do you feel now?
I embrace all age groups, all backgrounds, all differences - all of it! That is WHAT makes a "hip happening" city. Yes we need to keep the younger generations enthused about their city and yet we need to keep our "experienced adults" excited about staying here as well! This is a complex issue and I'll keep writing about this in future posts. We need jobs to keep all ages here - we need acceptance of differences - we need new industries - we need to stop the state and local governments from bleeding!
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!
Can't win for losing!
September 21st, 2009
I received a pretty angry voicemail message this morning. I haven't received a call like that in quite some time. The message was from a man who was not at all pleased about a postcard he received from us at GRCF about the two artists we are hosting at our building. He stated that he owns several businesses and that his wife is an artist also part of the competition of ArtPrize. He said that we would likely not receive any gifts from the other artists, their family and friends because of the fact that we are hosting two artists at our venue. Okay . . . got that. But the part that was nasty had to do with his comment that whoever came up with the idea regarding the postcard and the artists should no longer have their job. Well then fire us all! My heavens - why so angry? He said to NOT call him back and that he didn't want any association with us in the future. So to all of the artists who are competing in ArtPrize - to all the families and friends of the artists who are a part of ArtPrize, remember this: we are voters too and that we are all celebrating the importance of the arts and the attraction this competition will have promoting how great Grand Rapids truly is! AND if the piece of art you are entering in ArtPrize receives the number one vote, then congratulations! 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! Here's to a grand competition!
Everyone is entitled to my opinion . . .
September 13th, 2009Okay maybe not! That actually was a saying on a desk plate that I received as a gift a couple of decades ago so you can see that my expression of opinion isn't a new phenomena! Recently I saw a Facebook entry and a tweet on Twitter posted by friend and amazing photographer/artist Brian Kelly that read: "Is it too much to ask to just have everyone share my perspective on everything?" I laughed knowing Brian's wonderful sense of humor but I've been thinking about that question ever since.
So if the world was perfect according to me I would like to see the following:
* That the leadership of the state Department of Human Services would value prevention services and not view them as a luxury. And yes I am more than aware that the state budget - whenever it is passed - is severely limited due to the economy and ever dwindling revenue.
* That the not-so-savory references that identify that we in Kent County are "privateers" relating to the manner in which child welfare services have been delivered for the past 30+ years through our nonprofit organizations be more enlightened and that children and families were seen by the policy makers as the critical focus.
* That there will be effective collaboration around the stimulus funds known as funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The County is organizing a meeting to stimulate this collaboration and coordination.
* That the private sources of funding coordinate effectively with our public partners and consider strategic and smart ways to funnel these scarce funds. While philanthropy can never match governmental funding, it is the leveraging that makes all the difference.
As I have written a number of times in past blog entries, leading a foundation is not just about raising resources, making grant decisions, attending community events and the like. It is taking hold of real issues and making things happen in a positive fashion in our great community. It is digging deep and actually THINKING! This isn't the time to operate in a surface/veneer fashion.