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Partnering for a Stronger Lowcountry Arts Community

Posted on February 21, 2018 by Kerri Forrest

Arts funders can be more than donors- we’re partners and champions. In this evolving landscape, where our arts organizations are feeling increased pressure to mount thought-provoking work with limited resources, more arts funders are needed to provide dollars, listen to the needs of the arts organizations, and work together if our vibrant arts communities are to be sustained.

Affinity groups, arts and otherwise, are advocating that funders take their strategy-making out of the shadows and collaborate with grantees, funders and other arts partners in the planning and implementation process.

Last year, GDDF implemented a new Lowcountry Artistic Vitality Strategy, which was designed to support, strengthen and connect the arts ecosystem of the nine coastal counties in South Carolina.  In 2017, the Foundation accomplished several goals:

  • increased its grantee portfolio, by discipline and regional representation, by more than 50%;
  • initiated a funders roundtable – maybe not novel, but novel for arts funders in South Carolina – to begin addressing capacity issues in the arts field;
  • provided the community with research on the need for artist and arts organization live/work space in Charleston and North Charleston that is now informing current and future development projects in the region.

A 2017 Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) survey of the Foundation’s current grant recipients shows that our efforts to engage with our grantees are working, with the Foundation ranking high on everything from responsiveness to positive foundation-grantee relationships to overall impact on the field.

The progress on our strategy, and the positive CEP results, was due to three critical elements of our implementation in 2017. First, we acknowledged that the grantees know what they need. The listening sessions we held in 2016 and 2017 with grantees, as well as other arts organizations, and arts supporters, were essential to the development and implementation of the new 5-prong strategy.  Second, the Foundation lets grantees know we have an open door policy, and if they have a problem and need advice, they can call.  Third, staff hit the road to see the work, visiting every organization’s office, across all of the counties, reviewing performances for every organization, and spending hours talking with grantees about their aspirations and what keeps them up at night.

With the first leg of the new strategy – supporting the arts across our nine-county region - well underway, we’ll now look at strengthening the arts community, mainly focused on building capacity in grantee organizations. Again, this effort is a direct result of our grantees’ feedback. In January, we held the first Quickbooks workshop in conjunction with the SC Arts Alliance and the SC Arts Commission, which provided 20 organizations a full-day, deep dive on the financial software with a specific focus on the arts. We will continue to support scholarships to conferences such as Together SC and we will continue to work with other arts funders to identify areas where we can collaborate to bring more resources to the arts community.

The success of the first year of our strategy could not have happened if it weren’t for three things: time, trust, and collaboration.  We know the work of our grantee arts organizations, and the larger arts ecosystem, enriches our Lowcountry community year-round and we want to see that work continue to flourish.


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