Arts and Culture Grantmaking
As both a new enterprise and the primary philanthropic force in its region, the Rapides Foundation was concerned that it establish the correct course for its arts and culture grantmaking — one supportive both of its areas' best and of what would be best for its area. In 1996, the Foundation, founded with assets of $150 million from the sale of two hospitals, turned to consultants from WolfBrown for help in determining what that course should be.
The consultants suggested a comprehensive cultural assessment — taking stock of resources and interests in the Foundation's region and its home community of Alexandria, a town of 50,000. It would provide, they suggested, information necessary for charting such a course, as well as a critical context within which to judge the feasibility of an expanded downtown arts district and a specific proposal for a new cultural facility, two ideas that had already been put forth.
The assessment process — based on cultural planning models the consultants had developed over years of work with some 200 cities across the country — began with a retreat for the Foundation's board of directors and quickly expanded to include interviews with other key people in the city and region. Then the consultants conducted research of a more statistical nature. They surveyed the eleven parish (county) area, measuring participation rates and assessing attitudes — i.e., the market for arts and culture; they created comprehensive inventories of both the facilities available for arts and cultural use and the programs and activities currently being offered; and finally, they analyzed five communities of comparable size and makeup to compare and contrast their arts and cultural activities, programs, facilities, and infrastructure.
From this information-gathering process, the consultants produced a preliminary report that was further refined by focus groups of community leaders and Foundation representatives. The final report, informed by this fine-tuning, was presented to the board prior to a last retreat — offering them a clear sense of the environment in which they would be operating and the dynamics of the arts and culture in that environment.
This project followed up on recommendations to the Rapides Foundation, a relatively new local grantmaker, in a comprehensive cultural assessment of Alexandria, Louisiana, which consultants from WolfBrown had completed a year earlier. The earlier report suggested that the Foundation focus its attention on three projects: a new cultural facility; a restructured and strengthened regional arts council; and the development of a downtown arts and entertainment district. The work resulted in a $4 million Foundation commitment to a 600-seat theatre, the participation of other grantmakers in the project, as well as a public/private initiative to implement a longer-term plan for cultural development.