CincyDance 2015I often am asked how ArtsWave makes grants with the dollars it raises through the annual community arts campaign. It’s a story we love to tell, with origins that date back decades ago. Our founders were committed to advancing the cultural institutions that set Cincinnati apart from other places. So, investing in the capacity of arts organizations to deliver “extraordinary cultural experiences” (that is, experiences that are “out of the ordinary”) is one of the guiding philosophies that we still adhere to today.

Since 2012, we’ve been making grants using community impact as the chief criteria. Our research has shown that the “citizen donors” who support ArtsWave are not necessarily the same individuals as those who frequently patronize arts events; instead, they are giving to ArtsWave because they see the ripple effect of benefits from the arts throughout the region– namely, a more vibrant economy and more connected communities. Our grant application and review process is designed to measure activities and progress toward these broad objectives. That way, our own investors – our 40,000 donors – can know with confidence that their gifts to ArtsWave are both relevant and well utilized.

Each year, we ask our grant recipients to complete a thorough written submission, and also to submit regular data reports throughout the year so that we can get a sense of the measurable progress and scope of work across the arts sector. We also review financial performance and look for a history of balanced budgets. In addition to these application materials, we convene representatives from our 15 largest grant recipients once a year to meet with our review panelists and staff in a formal presentation setting. This allows us to hear from artistic, administrative, and board leadership about a range of issues.

Like most community campaigns, ArtsWave’s grantmaking process involves dozens of volunteers drawn from our workplace partners, our board and the broader community. They help us to assess the level of community engagement and impact demonstrated by each organization, and they also help us to look at the collective impact of arts organizations as a sector. Our grantmaking panels include a combination of experienced volunteers and those new to the process, because the combination of continuity of insight plus fresh perspectives helps ensure objectivity and align our awards with larger community priorities.

In fact, over the next year, ArtsWave will be specifying areas where we think the arts sector, working together, can make a difference in our region. These are areas that are “stepping stones” to the broader objectives of a more vibrant economy and more connected communities. They touch on larger business and social imperatives related to growing our workforce, deepening roots of residents, building skills in our kids, enlivening our neighborhoods and advancing practices of inclusion. We know that the arts have special and even unique capacities to advance these goals, at the same time they provide inspiration and avenues of creative expression. Through the methodical investment of donor-dollars every year, and the strategic planning that accompanies our grantmaking processes, ArtsWave amplifies the impact of arts organizations across the region. For more information about our impact-based grantmaking, check out this page on our website:  

concert nova at Ensemble Theatre