108 posts categorized "Arts and Culture"

NMAAHC and the Museum of the Future

August 07, 2017

In my previous post, I shared details of a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, during which I had the opportunity to meet with Rhea L. Combs and Jon S. Goff of the museum’s film and photography program. With the help of Combs and Goff, I also was able to connect with a number of staff in related areas and quickly came to appreciate that another important dimension of NMAAHC — really, the key to its identity — is technology and the way, today, it has been integrated into exhibition design, audience engagement, and the extension of a museum's programs beyond its walls.

Nmaahc_separate-but-not-equalThis includes things like interactive exhibits, touch screens, livestreaming of events, and much more. As I visited  various galleries, for example, I encountered an impressive number of items, many of them digitized; the museum is committed to sharing the majority of its collection with the public rather than keeping it in storage. I was also struck by how all the exhibits I saw were beautifully enhanced by digital technology, including one wall of objects that delighted a group of teens as they took turns touching images and uncovering additional information on everything from baseball memorabilia to pop culture couture.

In Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age (78 pages, PDF), former secretary of the Smithsonian G. Wayne Clough notes that the institution has committed to digitizing millions of objects in its collection and anticipates that the initiative will make the collection more accessible in ways we can hardly imagine.

As Clough explained in a 2013 interview on Smithsonian.com: "In the past, the creative activities were entirely behind the walls of museums and collection centers. The public only got access through labels in exhibitions, which told them what we thought. Now, in this new world…, people are going to be engaged with us in a conversation, not a monologue."

Museums established prior to the digital age have had to rethink their collections and reconfigure space to accommodate these developments, but NMAAH's long lead time has been an advantage in this regard. Although Congress voted to establish the museum in 2003, African- American veterans of the Civil War first proposed the idea for a museum devoted to the African-American experience in 1915. Founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III, whose career as a historian and curator includes several previous Smithsonian positions, arrived in 2005 with a staff of two. (The museum employs nearly two hundred people today.) The museum itself didn't open until 2016, but Bunch and his small staff launched its first program in 2007, embracing technology and partnering with other Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of American History (which hosted the photography show I wrote about in my previous post), in 2009.  

In a Smithsonian magazine article marking the museum's opening last fall, Bunch elaborated: "Rather than simply plan for a building that would be a decade away, we felt that it was crucial to curate exhibitions, publish books, craft the virtual museum online — in essence, to demonstrate the quality and creativity of our work to potential donors, collectors, members of Congress, and the Smithsonian."

 "Black Culture and History Matter," an article by folklorist Kirsten Mullen in The American Prospect, emphasizes this point: "The NMAAHC is the first major museum to 'open' on the web before its physical structure is even built."

A PND On the Web profile of the museum earlier this year praises its "standout" website; director Bunch credits early support from IBM for the site. (IBM has contributed more than $1 million to the museum.) The PND profile notes that the site allows visitors to access collections and exhibits, and highlights a section for educators, a mobile app, and the Many Lenses initiative, which features staff at several Smithsonian museums discussing personally selected objects in their respective collections.

With thousands of objects, programs, and exhibitions to manage, the museum has done a marvelous job — and should be credited — for the amount of material  already on display and the many points of access to those materials provided to the public. Even so, as I consulted the website for information on the museum's many areas, projects, resources, and exhibitions, I sometimes found it difficult to navigate the volume of information. (To help readers of this article, I've included links throughout.)   

Even before it opened, NMAAHC could take advantage of the Transcription Center, the Smithsonian-wide project mentioned in my previous post. In his 2013 interview, Clough anticipated a future in which a museum would "crowdsource its research," an experiment the Smithsonian had just launched with the center. Fully operational now, the center has mobilized a corps of nearly nine thousand digital volunteers from all over the world who have transcribed more than two thousand projects using their own computers and broadband connections. The volunteer transcriptions are reviewed by center staff and then posted on the Web, where they can be accessed by researchers and the general public.

Laura Coyle, collection manager and head of cataloging and digitization, tells me that since the museum joined the transcription initiative in 2015, thirty-four collections or items in the NMAAHC project have been transcribed. As an example, the James Baldwin collection, with a hundred and twenty-four pages of material, was completed thanks to the efforts of forty-three volunteers.

Another project is focused on indexing and transcribing the archives of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, which was created by the U.S. government after the Civil War to address the problems of the four million formerly enslaved people and hundreds of thousands of impoverished white people living in the South; there are nearly two million letters, reports, contracts, and other documents related to administration of the bureau. Preserved by the National Archives, the materials are now being made accessible to the public. NMAAHC’s "Freedmen’s Bureau Project" includes a partnership with FamilySearch International, which has indexed the material to capture names and dates, allowing people to search for ancestors. With the assistance of the Transcription Center, the museum also is in the process of transcribing bureau documents.

 "So far, we've made available all thirty thousand records of the Assistant Commissioner for North Carolina," Coyle tells me. "And we're continuing to process and prepare the remaining records for transcription and will eventually make available the entire Freedmen's Bureau collection online and through the Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Center at the museum."

In addition to the transcription work, NMAAHC has created at least a minimal digital record of all thirty-seven thousand items in its collection — photographs, documents, and artifacts. To date, more than eight thousand images are available online via the Collection Search page. And later this year, the museum will expand access to its film and video collection (which at the moment is only available via YouTube), making it viewable directly through the museum's website.

"Because so much is possible through digitization," says Coyle, "it makes all the other things we do possible: our website, our prints and publications, our exhibits, our mobile access. And we were able to do everything right from the start."

I ask Coyle, who has a degree in art history and worked at the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington prior to joining NMAAHC in 2010, if her education and experience prepared her for the opportunities, and challenges, of the digital age.

"This job did not exist when I was in school," she says. "Museums started using digital tools to manage collections when personal computers became widely available in the nineteen-eighties. With the advent of the Web in the nineties, museums realized they could share their collections and stories digitally, but no one was quite sure how to do this. We just couldn't imagine all the ways digitization would be a part of our lives.  Now, of course, actual and virtual visitors expect museums to offer a variety of digital experiences. But we still don't know what the digital museum will be in the future. NMAAHC was committed to digitization from the start and remains committed to the digital museum concept, wherever that takes us."

Coyle tells me that when she came on board, "It was just me working in this area. Everyone was focused on building the collection and building the building."

Today, her staff of nineteen includes specialists in cataloging, record creation, rights and reproductions, digital assets management, and photography. Rounding out the "Digi Team" are the five media digitization and preservation staff working in the Digitization Media Center. All together, the team produces catalog records and images for internal and public platforms; reformats audio-visual materials; manages digital materials and intellectual property rights related to collections; responds to requests for collection information; and oversees publication projects.

"My team is a service organization within the museum," Coyle says. "We work with the curatorial team and participate in the creation of digital content for various platforms. That's essential for online and traditional exhibitions, collection research, and publications." For instance, of the nearly twenty-five thousand photographs in the museum's collection, a digital archive of more than sixty-three hundred photographs is now accessible through the website.

But keeping up is a challenge. "Digitization is time consuming and costly," says Coyle. "At this point, only 25 percent of the museum's collection is well cataloged, imaged, and online to the public — our definition of fully digitized. And we're continuing to collect, so digitization will always be a little behind. Cataloging is also an ongoing process and we can always add more information. People expect a lot in this area, so we want to meet the demand as much as we can."

Meanwhile, demand is growing. In the first three months of this year, for instance, 319,000 people visited the museum's Collection Search page. "We know that people are searching our collection online" says Coyle. "And we'll be collecting more analytics to learn more about what visitors do once they get there."

The Digi Team also manages the Collection Stories feature on the website, where NMAAHC staff are invited to share their response to an item in the permanent exhibits. Coyle chose the dress worn by Carlotta Walls ("Dress for the Occasion") on the historic day in 1957 when Walls helped integrate an Arkansas high school as one of the "Little Rock Nine." An image of the dress, digitized along with related photographs and documents, appears there and is also available through Collection Search.

"That dress made a mighty impression on me," Coyle tells me, "and I was really honored to meet Carlotta Walls LaNier, who donated the dress to the museum."

Collecting the Collection

One of the defining qualities of NMAAHC is its process for acquiring material. Collecting began a decade ago, and director Bunch has described the task of starting a collection before a museum even opens in various interviews. In a 2016 Washington Business Journal article, he shared some of the details of his own family history, what led him to become a historian, and some of the experiences that helped shape his vision for the museum.

"I thought the best thing we could do," Bunch said in that interview, "was to use African-American culture as a lens to understand what it was to be American. This was not a museum for black people by black people. It was a museum for resilience, for optimism."

He then related a story about the first item received by the museum, the result of a serendipitous meeting with an Ecuadoran man, Juan Garcia, who subsequently donated a canoe seat carved a century ago by his great-grandmother, who lived in a community of escaped slaves — an encounter that impressed upon Bunch the presence and history of Africans throughout the Americas.

"That artifact helped me frame the museum as a global museum, not just an American museum," he told the Business Journal. "That was transformative for me."

But not all items came to the museum that serendipitously. In the 2016 Smithsonian.com article mentioned above, Bunch shared the concerns he felt in those early days.

"Maybe it was the curator in me, but what worried me the most was whether we could find the stuff of history, the artifacts that would tell the story of this community," he said. "Some of the early plans for the museum de-emphasized artifacts, partly out of a belief that there were few to be collected and technology could fill any void. But I already knew that even if you have the very best technology, a tech-driven institution would fail. People come to the Smithsonian museums to revel in the authentic."

Bunch reflected on his experiences, over his career, with "community-driven collecting," including reaching out to African-American families and securing gifts "over a cup of tea." And he spoke eloquently of the urgency he feels to find and preserve these artifacts.

"I believed that all of the twentieth century, most of the nineteenth, maybe even a bit of the eighteenth might still be in trunks, basements, and attics around the country. I also knew that as America changed, family homesteads would be broken up and heirlooms would be at risk. We had to start collecting now, because the community's material culture might [not] exist in ten years."

With support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the museum created "Save Our African American Treasures," a program designed to appeal directly to communities and surface those forgotten items stashed away in attics and trunks while at the same time educating people on how to preserve family photos, documents, and artifacts. That approach continues, although as the museum's staff has grown to include professional curators, the approach to curation and the collection has shifted.

At the same time, the stories of Naomi Long Madgett, the poet who donated the films of Rev. Jones to CAAMA (see my earlier post), and Carlotta Walls LaNier, who donated her dress, are echoed over and over in the larger collection. While many items in the NMAAHC collection have been purchased, many more have been donated by people whose fervent desire is to see the preservation of their family history.

According to Michèle Gates Moresi, supervisory curator of collections at NMAAHC, the vast majority of the items in the collection have been donated. "I don't have a current count of the total number of people who have donated artifacts to the museum," she said in an email exchange, "but last summer, when we organized a special event for object donors, we had a list of more than sixteen hundred." An estimate of the value of all the artifacts donated does not exist, but the donated material is quite possibly the museum's most valuable asset. In addition, many individuals have stepped up with monetary donations; as of the end of the first quarter, the museum had a hundred and sixty thousand charter members, some who had given substantial amounts, and many more who had donated what they could.

(The generosity of donors is a consistent theme in studies of African-American philanthropy. A recent PND article points out that "African-American households tend to give more of their discretionary income — as much as 25 percent more — to charitable causes than white Americans; that figure increases as African Americans move into the ranks of the wealthy.")

A Great Convener

In Lonnie Bunch's interview with the late Gwen Ifill shortly before the museum opened, the PBS NewsHour co-anchor, in reference to a series of racial incidents around the country, stated, "We are at a crossroads in our country." Bunch agreed with her characterization and expressed his conviction that NMAAHC could play a positive role in moving forward as a society. 

"Our job is to create a space that, through dialogue and exhibitions, can make America better," he added. "We expect this to be one of the most diversely visited places in the U.S. In surveys, 75 percent of white Americans said this is a story they want to know as well. I hope this museum will continue to evolve, continue to change, because it really has to be a place that is the great convener."

Since I attended my first NMAAHC exhibition (the 2009 photography show I mentioned in my earlier post), I've been looking forward to seeing the finished museum. Even at a time when interest and scholarship about the African-American experience has flourished, it has not always been easy to learn about that history and culture. NMAAHC redresses that gap; its film and media programs in particular are reaching audiences on a deep emotional level, and the integration of technology in almost every aspect of its operations has greatly enhanced its impact. The museum's collection and the way it is presented affirm an African-American identity, as was always the intention. But the museum also succeeds brilliantly in advancing the mission crafted by its founders and articulated by Bunch: "To tell the story of America through an African American lens."

Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Check out her other posts for PhilanTopic here.

Weekend Link Roundup (August 5-6, 2017)

August 06, 2017

Sam-shepard-in-winterOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

We begin with this week's startling statistic. According to the Pew Research Center, one out of four black Americans have faced online harassment because of their race or ethnicity.

Arts and Culture

On the James Irvine Foundation blog, Leslie Payne, a senior program at the foundation, asks: What does it mean to participate in the arts today?

Education

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Jen Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth, reports  on key findings of a survey of more than 55,000 high school students that asked them how prepared they feel for life after high school.

Here on PhilanTopic, Alexis Morin, co-founder and executive director of Students for Education Reform, reports that a survey of first-generation college students conducted by her organization found that the majority of them feel unprepared for college.

And in a post for the Hechinger Report, Nicole Dobo shares key findings from Time to Act 2017: Put Data in the Hands of People, which argues that while the use of data in formulating education policy has evolved for the better, parents and teachers still find it difficult to get access to that data.

Immigration

The last time the federal government tried to slow the legal immigration to the United States by adopting a merit-based system was fifty years ago — and Lyndon Johnson was president. Alana Semuels reports The Atlantic.

Nonprofits

Writing in the MinnPost, Kristi Rendahl, an assistant professor and director of the Nonprofit Leadership Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, argues that repeal of the so-called Johnson Amendment "would mean de facto campaign finance through religious and charitable organizations, but with none of the rules." 

In the New Hampshire Business Review, Jeff Feingold chats with nonprofit activist Robert Eggers about nonprofit stereotypes and whether nonprofits should be more politically engaged.

Philanthropy

"Philanthropy has come a long way since [Andrew Carnegie] took a childhood experience and turned it into a national legacy," writes Courtney Martin on The Development Set website. But too often, Martin adds, "it feels like we’ve lost our core wisdom about how change actually happens." What does that mean? "It means that the only philanthropy worth engaging in — both ethically and strategically speaking — is the kind that honors the wisdom of relationships and the power of money."

According to Rob Reich,  director of the Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University, charitable foundations are a “donor-directed, perpetual, tax-subsidized exercise of the liberty to give public wealth away.” And what, Reich asks Quartz' Olivia Goldhill, is “the democratically good part about that again?"

New research from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University finds that philanthropists in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo (Michigan) give generously to improve their respective communities, but that they go about it in vastly different ways. Jane C. Simons reports for MiBiz.com.

In Philanthropy Daily, Martin Morse Wooster, a senior fellow at the Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C., suggests that maybe "there is no one best way to give. Sometimes charity is the answer, and sometimes it is philanthropy. Sometimes program-related investments may be the right way to go." The point is, the "mix should vary with each donor and aim."

"America’s foundations spend many millions of dollars every year on investment advice. In return, they get sub-par performance." On the Transparency Talk blog, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther explains why this may be about to change.

Science/Tech

Because "those who experience hate, marginalization, and discrimination on a daily basis know it when they see it," writes Lucy Bernholz on her Philanthropy 2153 blog, "[m]ainstream nonprofits struggling to understand how and why they must investigate the technology on which depend [their] 'values fit' would do well to turn to such groups for guidance."

Social Innovation

And almost all the way back from a self-imposed social media "break," Nell Edgington checks in with a list of ten great social innovation reads from June and July.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

National Museum of African American History and Culture: ‘The Story of America Through an African-American Lens’

July 25, 2017

NMAAHC_gettyOn a very cold, very sunny March day, I make my way down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., walking from Union Station to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institution complex. I am going to talk with Rhea L. Combs, NMAAHC’s curator of photography and film, about its media arts program. In 2009, I attended and wrote about an early exhibition organized by the museum, "The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise." The photography show was held at the museum's then-temporary base in the National Museum of American History. NMAAHC moved into its own building on the Mall in September 2016.

As I approach the museum from the south, I am treated to a dazzling view of the museum's facade. I've seen photographs of the building with its three tiers of filigreed metal wrapping all four sides of the glass-walled structure, forming what its architect calls an "outer corona," and the bright sunshine reflecting off the building's surface this morning truly suggests something fiery.

Inside, school groups and other visitors pack the lobby and are lined up on the subterranean floor waiting for their tours to begin. NMAAHC welcomed its millionth visitor in February and is expecting six million by the end of year.

The museum has been the subject of many articles, from its award-winning design (see Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times) to its often challenging and emotionally moving exhibits (Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic). The museum's mission was summed up by founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III in an interview on the PBS Newshour with Gwen Ifill a few days before it opened to the public: "This is the story of America through an African American lens." Appropriate, then, that in this post and the one that follows, I will focus on the museum's photography and film program and the donors who made it possible.

Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA)

Before catching up with Combs, I have time to walk through the second-floor gallery of the Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts (CAAMA), which she directs.

As stated on the museum's website, CAAMA was created to "explore the formation of African American history and culture through media arts, including photography, film, video, and audio recordings." The center's holdings and offerings encompass photographs, film, and video; in-house publications; public programs; a resource center; and a digital archive. Some of these components are already in place, while others are in development or being refined.

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Abdul Latif Jameel: Empowering Communities to Help Themselves

June 27, 2017

At the annual summit of the Family Business Council-Gulf (FBCG) in Dubai, Foundation Center's Lisa Philp led a plenary session on philanthropy in action in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. She was joined by Hassan Jameel, deputy president and vice chair, Abdul Latif Jameel Domestic Operations, and Caroline Seow, director of sustainability, Family Business Network International. Philp is working with FBCG and FBN International to shine a light on thoughtful and sustainable philanthropy in the GCC. This post — part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work — is an adaptation of a case study she wrote on lessons learned from Community Jameel.

Jameel_philpAbdul Latif Jameel is an international diversified business with operations in seven major industries — transportation, engineering and manufacturing, financial services, consumer products, land and real estate, advertising and media, and energy and environmental services. Founded in 1945 as a small trading business that later evolved into a Toyota distributorship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the company has achieved this scale and market success in just over seven decades.

The company's entrepreneurial founder, the late Abdul Latif Jameel, saw that better personal transportation could empower businesses and individuals and, in turn, advance the economic development of his nation. With that vision to guide him, he established an extensive operations infrastructure and over time built the largest vehicle distribution network in Saudi Arabia. Along the way, the company developed comprehensive expertise across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (or "MENAT"), the region in which it operates, fashioning a reputation for building the "infrastructure of life." Today, Abdul Latif Jameel has a presence in more than 30 countries and employs 17,000 people from over 40 nationalities.

Jameel was a visionary and dynamic entrepreneur who dedicated his family and company to meeting the needs of his fellow Saudis. In 2003, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, who had been named chair and CEO of the company a decade earlier, created Abdul Latif Jameel Community Services, or "Community Jameel," as it is known today. Community Jameel has evolved into a sustainable social enterprise organization focused on six priority areas: job creation, global poverty alleviation, food and water security, arts and culture, education and training, and health and social. From its headquarters in Jeddah, the organization coordinates a rage of programs focused on the development of individuals and communities in the MENAT region and beyond.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 17-18, 2017)

June 18, 2017

Rising-TemperaturesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

On the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies CEO Pam Breaux argues that leaving support for arts to the private sector alone "would leave millions of people behind."

Communications/Marketing

On the Communications Network site, Na Eng, communications director at the McKnight Foundation, shares some of the best practices that she and her colleagues embedded in the foundation's latest annual report.

Corporate Philanthropy

In the Detroit News, Melissa Burden reports that General Motors is overhauling its $30-million-a year corporate philanthropy program — a decision that has some nonprofits and arts groups in southeastern Michigan worried.

Diversity

"Of all the things philanthropists are trying to fix," writes Ben Paynter in Fast Company, "there's one major issue the sector seems to continually ignore: itself." By which he means the "lack of racial diversity among nonprofit and foundation leaders, an issue that remains unaddressed despite having been well documented for at least fifteen years."

Grantmaking

When are program evaluations worth reading, and when are they not? On Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog, Rebekah Levin, director of evaluation and learning at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, breaks it down

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‘Justice Matters’ and the Power of Film to Persuade

June 12, 2017

JusticeMattersEach year, Justice Matters, a special series within Filmfest DC, the annual Washington, DC International Film Festival, shines a spotlight on some of the best new social issue films from around the globe. This year, three of the films were judged outstanding by jurors and audience members.

Filmmakers throughout the history of the medium have felt the need to address injustice, poverty, and other social concerns, prodding audiences to reflection and action, a tradition that continues today. As Filmfest DC founder and director Tony Gittens noted in launching Justice Matters in 2010: "What better city to highlight this tradition than our nation's capital, the vortex of ongoing debate on how best to further democracy and equitable treatment for all." And what better time than the present.

I was happy to catch the Justice Matters 2017 program during this year's festival in April. I had attended Justice Matters in 2012, highlighting 5 Broken Cameras in an earlier PhilanTopic post and was eager to see this year's selection of films, especially The Good Postman, an intimate story about the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe set in Bulgaria, where I'd lived for two years.

This year's lineup included eight award-winning films that explore some of the most pressing challenges of our time and some of the most creative and courageous responses to those challenges: corporate corruption (150 Milligrams); corrosion of public trust and the need for a free press (All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone); the privatization of public education (Backpack Full of Cash); refugee integration (The Good Postman); the crisis in Syria (Last Men in Aleppo); and climate change (Tomorrow). Two of the films mined the past for lessons and inspiration: one a personal recollection of the U.S. invasion of Grenada (The House on Coco Road); and a musical quest set during Freedom Summer (Two Trains Runnin’).

(All the films should be available in other festivals, theaters, broadcast, or on the Internet. More information about each is on the Justice Matters site and/or on the films' websites.)

Jurists for the series included Conrad Martin, executive director, the Stewart R. Mott Foundation and executive director of the Fund for Constitutional Government; Montré Aza Missouri, founder and director, Howard Film Culture; and Kathryn Washington, director of diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 13-14, 2017)

May 14, 2017

Youre-FiredOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Although President Trump has signed into law a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, bringing to an end (for now) months of debate over his administration's controversial budget blueprint, the future of arts funding in America remains uncertain, write Benjamin Laude and Jarek Ervin in Jacobin. Critics who accuse the president of philistinism are missing the point, however. "For better or worse," they write, "the culture wars ended long ago. These days, with neoliberalism's acceleration, nearly every public institution is under assault — not just the NEA. If we want to stop the spread of the new, disturbing brand of culture — the outgrowth of an epoch in which everything is turned into one more plaything for the wealthy — we'll need a more expansive, more radical vision for art."

On the Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, the foundation's president, Earl Lewis, explains why the National Endowment for the Humanities is an irreplaceable institution in American life.

Data

In a post for the Packard Foundation's Organization Effectiveness portal, Lucy Bernholz, director of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, reflects on the process that led to the center's Digital Impact Toolkit, a public initiative focused on data governance for nonprofits and foundations.

According to The Economist, the most valuable commodity in the world is no longer oil; it's data. What's more, the dominance of cyberspace by the five most valuable listed firms in the world — Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — is changing the nature of competition while making the antitrust remedies of the past obsolete. "Rebooting antitrust for the information age will not be easy," the magazine's writers argue. "But if governments don't want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon."

Food Insecurity

According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap report, 42 million Americans were "food insecure" in 2015, the latest year for which complete data are available. That represents 13 percent of U.S. households — a significant decline from the 17 percent peak following the Great Recession in 2009. The bad news is that those 42 million food-insecure Americans need more money to put food on the table than they did before. Joseph Erbentraut reports for HuffPo.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 1-2, 2017)

April 02, 2017

Surveillance_wordcloudOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

The National Endowment for the Arts, which has been targeted for elimination by the Trump administration, is a "uniquely American [institution]: diverse and independent, with a significant part of the budget distributed to state and local organizations. It also collaborates with nonprofit and private donors." Hillel Italie reports for the AP.

Civil Society

There's a lot of noise out there these days and not nearly enough signal. A reminder, writes Kathlyn Mead, president and CEO of the San Diego Foundation, that "change starts with dialogue. [That before] we act, we must listen and attempt to understand each other. What are the challenges others face that we might not? How do our actions impact people both inside and outside our community? How does the past affect the future?" Good questions, indeed.

Community Improvement/Development

"Compared to many places around the world, [the U.S.] has developed an enviable community development finance system that productively uses public resources to leverage private investment, incentivizes banks to invest in underresourced communities, and fosters a sophisticated network of organizations and practitioners who excel at revitalizing places where others deem investment too risky," writes Kimberlee Cornett, managing director of the Kresge Foundation's Social Investment Practice. But for "all their positive impact, these strong, productive programs still [aren't enough to] meet the real need of our low-income neighborhoods, friends and families."

Black or white, economic pain is economic pain and lack of opportunity is lack of opportunity. Which is why, argues Bill Bynum, an Aspen Institute trustee and chief executive officer of HOPE, a credit union, loan fund, and policy center in Jackson, Mississippi, that "[n]o purpose is served toward the goal of creating broad prosperity by building barriers between oppressed groups."

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 25-26, 2017)

March 26, 2017

David_rockefeller_photo_jim_smeal_wireimage_getty_images_115356418_profileOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Manhattan's Upper East Side is one of the great cultural institutions of the world. But is it a great cultural institution in decline? In Vanity Fair, William D. Cohan looks at the New York Times article and ensuing circumstances that led to the resignation of the museum's director, 54-year-old one-time wunderkind Thomas Campbell.

Climate Change

The nation's leading climate change activist is a former hedge fund manager you've probably never heard of. Wired's Nick Stockton talks to Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who is trying to save the planet.

Education

Citing new research which finds that the skills required to succeed professionally are the same as those required to succeed in K-12 education, Laszlo Bock, a member of the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, suggests that the best place to invest scarce education reform dollars might just be where the overlap between the two is most clear.

Fundraising

Like many people, I'm a student of cognitive biases. So I was pleased to come across this post by John Haydon detailing five cognitive biases that can be leveraged to improve the success of your next fundraising campaign.

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 18-19, 2017)

March 19, 2017

Sad-Big-BirdOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

The Wellesley Centers for Women partnered with American Conservatory Theater to study gender equity in leadership opportunities in the nonprofit American theater. This is what they learned.

In an op-ed for Bloomberg, Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a major funder of the arts and humanities in America, suggests that any plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National for the Humanities "would be foolish," not least because it would "deprive ourselves and our successors of the cultural understanding central to our complex but shared national identity." 

Education

The Trump administration's call for massive cuts to national service in its first budget would deal a "devastating" blow to the education reform movement. Lisette Partelow, director of K-12 Strategic Initiatives at the Center for American Progress, and Kami Spicklemire, an education campaign manager at CAP, explain.

Environment

In a guest post for the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Keecha Harris, president of Keecha Harris and Associates, Inc. and director of InDEEP (Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Environmental Philanthropy), argues that if the environmental movement wants to remain relevant, its needs to do something about the "green ceiling" — i.e, the lack of diversity and inclusion within its ranks.

In a statement released earlier in the week, Nature Conservancy president Mark Tercek criticizes the White House's "misguided" budget blueprint, which assumes that "the security and prosperity of [the] country must come at the expense of critical federal investments in our natural resources." 

Hewlett Foundation president Larry Kramer argues that philanthropy has an important role to play in limiting the damage from climate change already locked in, but that to do so, it will need to respond with a much bigger effort than it has mustered to date.

Here's some good news: Despite a growing global economy, CO2 emissions have remained flat for the third year in a row. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (March 4-5, 2017)

March 06, 2017

No_noiseOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

"The right of artists and journalists to tweak the nose of power, to challenge what we believe, to criticize those in high places, to hold accountable people who otherwise might anoint themselves kings, cannot be abridged because we find it at times uncomfortable," writes Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant on the foundation's Point blog. And the "very real possibility that the tiny levels of federal spending for the NEA, NEH and CPB will be eliminated has...obviously nothing to do with balancing budgets or fiscal prudence. It is an attack, pure and simple, on independent and potentially critical voices. It is an expression of disdain for the magical ability of art and journalism to knit our country and its people back together again, and of cowardly antipathy toward those who dare speak unpleasant truths to power...."

Civil Society

Citing efforts to repeal the Johnson Amendment, proposed budget cuts to the IRS, pending anti-protest bills in at least sixteen states, the renewed drive to kill net neutrality, and other developments, Lucy Bernholz argues in a post on her Philanthropy 2173 that "[c]ivil society in the U.S. is being deliberately undermined" and that, just like current attacks on the press, these efforts "are both deliberate and purpose-built."

Education

In this Comcast Newsmaker video (running time, 5:09), Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson discusses the drivers behind the foundation's early childhood work in Detroit.

Fundraising

Looking to hire a fundraising consultant? Consultant Aly Sterling has put together a nice presentation with a dozen "essential" tips for you to consider and keep in mind.

Giving

The folks at @Pay have the answers to your questions about online giving platforms.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 4-5, 2017)

February 05, 2017

Patriots_logoOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

It's Black History Month. Here, courtesy of the Washington Post, are a few things you should know.

Arts and Culture

The Trump administration is rumored to be toying with the idea of eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts. Who stands to lose the most if rumor becomes reality and the Republican-controlled Congress pulls the plug on NEA funding? In an op-ed on the Artsy blog, Isaac Kaplan says it would be the American people.

Climate Change

With the Trump administration determined to pursue "a ‘control-alt-delete’ strategy — control the scientists in the federal agencies, alter science-based policies to fit their narrow ideological agenda, and delete scientific information from government websites," is philanthrocapitalism our best hope for finding solutions to a warming planet? Corinna Vali reports for the McGill International Review.

Can shareholder advocates really move the needle on the issue of climate change? Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther weighs in with a tough but balanced assessment.

Diversity

In a post on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Alyse d'Amico and Leaha Wynn reflect on what the organization has done, and is doing, right in the area of diversity and inclusion.

Education

"Nearly sixty-three years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case kick-started racial integration in schools — and six decades after a group of African-American students had to be escorted by federal troops as they desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School — students nationwide are taught by an overwhelmingly white workforce," write Greg Toppo and Mark Nichols in USA Today. "And the racial mismatch, in many places, is getting worse."

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 28-29, 2017)

January 29, 2017

Constitution_quill_penOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

New York Philharmonic president Matthew VanBesien's decision to step down from his position before his contract is up has raised eyebrows and some good questions about the financing and politics of cultural mega-projects. Michael Cooper reports for the New York Times.

Continued funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is rumored to be in jeopardy. In FastCoDesign, Diana Budds explains why that's a really dumb idea.

Communications/Marketing

Deep dive? Move the needle? Take this offline? Classy's Ellie Burke has put together a good list of the jargon-y nonprofit phrases we love to hate.

Higher Education

"Our current debt-based system widens the gap in educational attainment by race and class, reduces graduation rates among students who make it to college, distorts career choices, constrains entrepreneurship, delays people from buying homes and building families, reduces retirement savings and overall net worth, and lengthens the time it takes to reach median wealth in the United States." But it wasn't always this way. William Elliott explains.

Immigration

In the New York Times, David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary, explains why the Trump administration's temporary refugee policy is un-American.

The Center for American Progress' Silva Mathema explains how Syrian refugees get to the United States and where they are resettled.

International Affairs/Development

"Today, the future of international criminal justice is more in doubt than at any point since the end of the Cold War," write Trevor Sutton, John Norris, and Carolyn Kenne on the Center for American progress site. "[And a] Trump presidency means that U.S. commitment to international criminal justice — and to human rights in general — may soon be a thing of the past...."

Colombia has become an even more dangerous place for rights activists, with five having already been killed in 2017. Anastasia Moloney reports for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

On Monday, UN Foundation president and CEO Kathy Calvin issued a statement on the imposition, through executive order, of the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations from receiving any U.S. foreign assistance for family planning if they provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or lobby for abortion. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 14-16, 2017)

January 16, 2017

Martin-Luther-King-Day-2017Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Advocacy

On the HistPhil blog, veteran activist/commentator Pablo Eisenberg elaborates on an op-ed he penned for the Chronicle of Philanthropy in which he argues that one way to strengthen the nonprofit sector in the Trump era is to transform Independent Sector into "a new powerful coalition solely of charities."

Arts and Culture

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has announced that it is delaying plans to build a new $600 addition for modern and contemporary art. It was hoped the new wing would be completed in time for the museum's 150th anniversary in 2020. Robin Pogrebin reports for the New York Times.

Climate Change

Bud Ris, a senior advisor for the Boston-based Barr Foundation, shares key findings from a new report that explores the city's vulnerability to rising seas and other adverse effects of climate change.

Civic Engagement

In a joint post on the foundation's blog, Case Foundation founders Jean and Steve Case argue that now is the time, in Teddy Roosevelt's words, to "get in the arena" and make a positive impact in your community.

Education

In a new post on her blog, public education activist Diane Ravitch offers her full-throated support for a statement released by People for the American Way in which PFAW spells out "the danger that [the nomination of] Betsy DeVos and the Trump agenda poses to American public education."

Giving

GoFundMe, a leader in the online crowdfunding space, has acquired social fundraising platform CrowdRise. Ken Yeung reports for VentureBeat.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts in 2016

December 30, 2016

So it ends, not with a bang but a whimper. Depending on whom you speak to, 2016 was a train wreck, a dumpster fire, a sure sign of the apocalypse, and just plain weird. If it was a year in which too many beloved cultural icons left us, it was also an annus horribilis for progressives, who will have to work twice as hard in the new year (and beyond) to preserve important policy gains achieved over the last eight years and limit the harm caused by a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress.

But while our attention often was focused elsewhere, many of you were taking care of business and digging deep into the PhilanTopic archives for tools and ideas you could use — today and in the weeks and months to come. So, without further preamble, here are the ten posts you "voted" as your favorites in 2016. Enjoy. Happy New Year. And don't forget to check back next week, as we return to the office tanned, rested, and ready to fight the good fight.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or gave you a reason to feel hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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    — David Tenenhaus, professor of history and law, University of Nevada Las Vegas

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