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Three Heads are Better than One: The Evolution of the Joint Future Focus Grant Program

by Lisa Mackay

The Future Focus Granting Program is a pilot program developed as a funding collaboration between three partners: Calgary Arts Development (CADA), the Rozsa Foundation, and the Calgary Foundation. The three funding organizations had previously come together in support of the arts community during the early days of the COVID pandemic, providing joint immediate emergency relief to artists and companies forced to cancel programming gigs and undertake online programming. Since then, they have continued meeting regularly as arts funders to discuss funding projects, trends, and the emerging needs of the arts sector. They often discussed the significant upheaval in the arts sector as the pandemic dragged on. It was becoming clear that “business as usual” was no longer a possibility. This reality was dire for many arts groups, and in 2021, Calgary Arts Development created an Organization Structural Change Grant that funded mergers, partnerships, and closures. They came to realize, however, that there were many more arts organizations grappling with change that fell outside of these three categories. "The Organization Structural Change program was developed because we knew that the impacts of the pandemic would be far-reaching and long-lasting and would result in some organizations facing difficult conversations about their ongoing viability,” explained Melissa Tuplin, Director of Community Investment & Impact at Calgary Arts Development. “When evaluating the Organization Structural Change program after its first year, we saw an opportunity to leverage the strength of our relationship with other funders in the ecosystem who are having the same conversations and seeing the same needs in the community as we are.” The Rozsa Foundation and Calgary Foundation were well situated to join a grant program that looked at different ways to address the future of arts organizations and collectives. “Both the Rozsa Foundation and Calgary Foundation have been funding strategic planning projects for the arts,” said Simon Mallett, Executive Director of Rozsa Foundation, “and as that strategic work started happening well into the pandemic, it was accompanied by a need for broader examinations of who these organizations were now and how they could ensure that their business models support that new identity or new reality.” “Partnering with CADA also meant that we could contribute to supporting organizations that aren’t registered charities, which is outside of what the CRA typically permits us to do,” continued Mallett. “So by working together we could expand both ‘what’ we’re supporting as well as ‘who’.” “The Calgary Foundation's Strategic Opportunities grant program is still there to support small to mid-sized charities with small (up to $10,000), short-term, strategic initiatives" added Brigitte von Rothemburg, Grants and Volunteer Associate at the Calgary Foundation. "The Future Focus Program grants larger amounts to facilitate deeper, longer-term strategic work." The other intended benefit for the arts community in developing a joint program was to cut down on the number of applications they needed to create. “The intent of pursuing a joint initiative rather than simply expanding the program is an effort towards streamlining application processes for organizations who are already seeking funding from multiple sources,” said Tuplin. “We also want to ensure that we are building and sharing knowledge and resources and creating feedback loops that benefit all our programs." The Future Focus Granting Program is aimed at supporting arts organizations to investigate, plan, and implement strategic adaptations in their operations to build capacity, strengthen business models, explore new directions, examine structural change, and address life cycle questions. “We recognize the resources and expenses required to responsibly consider significant adaptations,” noted Ayla Stephen, Granting Manager at Rozsa Foundation. “Money is obviously tight and usually planned for without significant contingencies. Carving out a chunk of money to engage in this more exploratory work, which might not bear fruit right away, is practically impossible for arts groups to do. Through this program, organizations can access funds to develop strategies and engage experts to assist them in their journeys in navigating the significant questions, challenges, and opportunities they face.” Organizations will be asked to speak to how equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility are embedded into this work. “The pandemic was not solely responsible for the challenges the arts sector is facing, and in many ways revealed and exacerbated pre-existing cracks in the system as scarcity models, burnout, discrimination, and burdensome administrative cycles,” pointed out Tuplin. “These are systemic issues that we cannot and should not address in isolation.” This work may incorporate issues relating to organizational strategy development and planning, researching business model evaluation and shifts, sustained inter-organizational collaborations, succession planning to transition from founding & longstanding leaders, and explorations of mergers and closures. There is $400,000 available for the pilot phase of the program, and applications will be accepted until the funds are expended. “This is a pooling together of existing funds that Rozsa, CADA and Calgary Foundation had earmarked for structural change, capacity-building and/or emerging community needs,” clarified von Rothemburg. “All of Calgary Foundation’s programs are intact and still accessible, including the Community Grants program” The Future Focus Grant specifically funds the exploration and implementation of future-focused strategies. An Exploration Phase grant of typically up to $15,000 is where arts groups can identify specific needs, develop initial approach ideas, and plan for change-related projects. An Implementation Phase grant, typically up to $25,000, is where organizations can begin to put plans into action and test out new strategies. “At this point we are in a pilot stage of the program,” Mallett explained. “We have spent some time discussing what we have been hearing individually and crafting what we hope is a useful avenue of support. However, we are using our own philosophy of experimentation; testing and adapting the program as we implement it, and the conversations we all have over the next two months ahead of the November 7 and December 5 deadlines will help us refine and further adapt the program to address the needs of the arts community most effectively.” Staff at all three organizations encourage potential applicants to get in touch before starting a proposal. “With a new grant program like this, we need to get a good idea of what your project and approach to it is so we can help find the aspects that align with the intention of the grant,” explained Stephen. “It really is a back-and-forth conversation where we talk about what your ideas are and how they are going to propel your organization forward and align them with the intention of the grant program and what we can help to support. The criteria are deliberately flexible, so they can accommodate a variety of projects if they have long-term structural implications.” Full information about who is eligible for the Future Focus Grant Program, the criteria, the application process, the evaluation, and the reporting can be found on all three organizations’ websites. To schedule a meeting, contact any of the following representatives: Melissa Tuplin, Director of Community Investment & Impact at Calgary Arts Development, Ayla Stephen, Granting Manager, Rozsa Foundation, or Brigitte von Rothemburg, Grants & Volunteer Program Associate, Calgary Foundation. “There are ideas and answers to be found to the giant questions we are facing in the arts right now,” encouraged Stephen. “It is the time and money that is needed to explore them that is difficult to come by, and that is where we are really hoping to be part of the solution.”

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