With your help, ArtsWave hit the 2016 Community Campaign goal of $12,450,000 for arts grants and services – and on top of that, raised another $720,000 in partnership with the Regional Tourism Network for marketing to arts-goers near and far.

Those are big numbers, enabling ArtsWave to invest millions of dollars in organizations and programs this year that will add economic vibrancy to our region and bring people together through the arts. But just how do we decide where our investments should be? In the last Ripple Effect, I shared some of my high-level observations
as I read grant applications. This week, I want to share more about our process.

How a large percentage of money raised this year is invested will be decided over the next six weeks -- about 50 stakeholders representing our business and community partners are immersed in proposals from our 40 largest grant recipients. These applicants include many organizations that have received vital, sustaining support from the ArtsWave Community Campaign for decades. This year, we also opened up the process to new arts organizations that are making a difference, but historically had not been considered for operating support in our process. As long as key criteria were met around financial capacity and organizational stability, we felt it was important to have a process that was inclusive of
all arts organizations that wished to apply.*

Beginning this week and continuing throughout May, these volunteers will be in our office for full days at a time, hearing and scoring presentations from the applicant organizations. To manage the process, we’ve divided applicants into three groups: regional organizations with operating budget larger than $1 million, organizations with budgets less than $1 million, and organizations that serve specific geographies or communities as opposed to the entire region.

We depend on the volunteer grants panelists to make their own assessments of the community impact of each arts organization in terms of the five goals of the Blueprint for Collective Action, ArtsWave's 10-year strategic plan to focus the efforts of the entire arts community. We're asking panelists to look at how the organizations propose to put Cincinnati on the Map, deepen the roots of residents, bridge cultural divides, enliven our neighborhoods, fuel creativity and learning in our youth.

Reading and hearing about the activities that each organization undertakes to advance our collective action goals is an astonishing and gratifying part of our work. It is full of nuance, since we are not really comparing apples to apples. Our Blueprint gives us plenty of guidance, because in addition to setting out our vision for what the arts can achieve, it also gives organizations suggestions for the roles they can uniquely play in advancing it. We don’t imagine that any single organization can do everything, but it is the act of working together toward these Blueprint goals over the next 10 years that is going to give us a clearer, exciting picture of the impact of the arts on the Cincinnati region’s vibrancy.

We also believe it takes a wide variety of art forms, and a wide variety of expressions, to have the best possible impact. That’s why over the last six years ArtsWave has evolved its former “divide the financial pie among a lucky few” system of allocations to an impact-based model. Just this week, the Drucker Institute profiled ArtsWave’s transformation story
 in an article entitled “The Fine Art of Change.” Our new model and philosophy recognizes the need to make room for smaller, emerging, and/or culturally specific arts organizations in order to fully reflect and support the needs of our diverse community, and in order to catalyze exciting new artistic collaborations.

Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.

After all, ensuring a thriving cultural mix and a diverse artistic menu is a powerful differentiator for our region. And it’s this impressive mix, supported by tens of thousands of contributors and volunteers, that will keep Cincinnati’s arts scene at the forefront of innovation for the next century and beyond. 

*It’s also noteworthy that on top of these 40 or so large grants, ArtsWave makes another 50 to 60 grants each year for new projects and initiatives that use the arts to enliven and enrich our community.