Lessons Learned

In the process of creating a coordinated response that was rapid, collaborative, responsive, and equitable, the Covid-19 Arts Working Group (CAWG) has learned more about the strengths and challenges of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s arts sector, as well as strengths and challenges of its funding practices, individually and collectively. The following are highlights of lessons learned by the group so far.

This page is a work in progress, and will be updated as the group continues to meet around arts sector-wide funding issues.

We are able to implement collaborative, rapid-response funding when we employ the right partners.
  • Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise (PACE) has adapted its effective nonprofit capacity building programs to respond rapidly to the crisis on behalf of arts organizations. Most applicants to the Capacity Building program have found the process clear and easy to navigate. Most grantees received their funding within a month of applying.
  • New Sun Rising (NSR) has applied its established infrastructure and unique experience in nurturing neighborhood collective action to encourage sector-wide solutions in the Collective Action for Re-Imagining program. It will take take to realize the medium and long-term effects of funded projects.

Capacity building and operating support for small and mid-sized organizations are different things, but both still in high demand.
  • Shortly after launching AER’s Capacity Building program, grant funds allocated to the program were almost doubled, due to high demand.
  • There is some confusion within the sector about what capacity building is, and more education may be needed to bridge the gap.
  • It also became clear that what many small and mid-sized organizations need is unrestricted operating and/or program support. While not a new concern, the Covid-19 crisis exacerbated the problem for many.

We better understand, and continue to wrestle with, the tension between giving trust and expecting accountability from our grant partners (grantees).
  • Some funders were challenged to cede more accountability from grant partners (grantees) in favor of more trust, a necessary component to rapid response.
  • It was brought to our attention that what some CAWG members saw as a generous allowances for administrative and overhead costs, some applicants saw as a burdensome restriction to proposing the type of support they really needed.
With 17 different funders and two different programs attempting a rapid response to a sector-wide crisis, reconciling the spectrum of traditional to progressive funding practices is hard.
  • With so many moving parts, maintaining consistent channels of communication among and between funders, service providers,  and arts community members is a significant challenge.
  • Despite the group’s best intentions to remain open, flexible, and responsive, some applicants, particularly in BIPOC communities, felt traumatized by changes made to the program mid-stream.

Do you have questions or feedback for the AER Fund? Send us an email at getinfo@artsreimagined.org.