SERVICES


Rapides Foundation
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.

Follow-up
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.

Go to www.rapidesfoundation.org