ArtCorps engages funders in reimagining philanthropy at the Just Giving Global Social Change Philanthropy Conference, hosted by the EDGE Funders Alliance.
Last week ArtCorps participated in the Just Giving Global Social Change Philanthropy Conference, a gathering of passionately engaged and progressive donors and foundation officers brought together annually to discuss the role of philanthropy in creating an ecological and socially just transition to the next economy. This year grassroots movement leaders from the Bay Area and throughout the world were also present to engage in dialogue and challenge some of the conventional approaches to a top-down model of resource distribution.
Moderated by Jessica Brown, President of the New England Biolabs Foundation, ArtCorps partnered with Cara Mertes of Just Films from the Ford Foundation to present a breakout session called “Got Creativity? Why Investing in Art and Creativity Accelerates Environmental and Social Change”. Breaking out of the traditional mold of chairs lined up in rows to face a lineup of expert panelists who present and answer questions, we started by setting up the chairs in a circle. We wanted to give the participants an embodied experience of our creative methodology through a dialogue that was informed by more than just words.
The room filled up and participants sat down to face each other. After short presentations, we asked them to introduce themselves by sharing their names and a movement that represented creativity to them. Some nervous looks appeared but soon everyone was on their feet and enthusiastically creating a wide spectrum of creative gestures. An animated reflection followed, identifying the value and importance of creativity in advancing social change efforts. “Thinking outside the box”, “Connecting to one’s heart”, “Taking risks to try something new” were just a few of the responses.
Then we opened up a deeper dialogue around the critical question at the heart of the conference. What role does philanthropy play in truly addressing the systemic nature of today’s challenges? How can it work toward building lasting and meaningful change? First, we needed to identify the ways that the current model contributes to maintaining the status quo. The participants were invited to create a collective physical image of the problematic dynamics in the conventional model of philanthropy. One by one, they entered to form an image that reflected the disempowering and fragmented nature of the traditional approach, such as “not listening”, “begging”, “staying inside the box”, “I know what you need” and “isolated silos”.
Once we identified the problems, we invited folks to open up their revolutionary imagination and dream together about the ideal model. How could the philanthropic sector truly serve a just transition? What is our shared vision? Immediately, the participants grabbed hands and formed a circle. Some entered into the middle to point together toward a common future. Ideas about partnership, solidarity and authentic listening came forward. Energy filled the room as we discussed concrete actions we could take to get from the real to the ideal. Participants not only listened deeply to each other, they also listened to the somatic wisdom of their own bodies. Insights emerged, laughter exploded and relationships formed. Participants got the power of creativity to open up spaces for substantive dialogue, dynamic collaboration and systemic change.