The kick-off of Austin’s MindPop collaboration was this morning. MindPop, which I’ve written about before, is a collaboration of a handful of leading Austin philanthropists hoping to improve access to arts education for all Austin children. They want to understand what is holding our kids back from learning about and experiencing the arts and what needs to change in the infrastructure of the city in order to fill those gaps.
The project has 3 phases:
- Gap Analysis to determine what is missing in the arts education ecosystem in Austin
- Creation of 4 bold goals to solve those gaps
- Distribution of close to $180,000 in grants to fund capacity building of the overall system and of individual nonprofit arts organizations
So today was the launch of the project with about 75 of the who’s who in Austin’s philanthropic, education, and arts worlds in attendance. The keynote speaker was our new Austin Independent School District superintendent, Meria Carstarphen, who obviously has tremendous passion for the importance of arts education. Her recent arrival in Austin is itself a real opportunity for change to the system.
As inspiration for Austin’s foray into building this collaboration, Gigi Antoni, CEO of Dallas’ Big Thought, was there to explain how her organization led Dallas from a community that dismissed most of their art and music teachers in the 1970s, to a comprehensive, fully funded in- and out-of-school arts learning environment. Over the course of the last 12 years, Big Thought has brought together philanthropists, educators, arts organizations, schools, parents, and community leaders to create an ecosystem for arts education that ensures that all Dallas children have a rich art-centered learning environment both in school (90 minutes of arts instruction for every student every week) and in their communities (music camps, rehearsals, rec center activities, etc). For Gigi, the big transformation was that Dallas went from a bunch of individual solutions and organizations that were providing “random acts of change” to a “completely changed environment that works as a SYSTEM” to create arts education for every child in Dallas.
I have to admit that I am a bit skeptical about whether what worked in Dallas will work in Austin. We have a tendency in this city that I love to talk and plan and envision a future, but sometimes find it difficult to move towards action, perhaps part of that stems from a lack of infrastructure and capacity. So what I am really excited about with MindPop is not the gap analysis and the creation of 4 ideas for solutions. I have no doubt that the gap analysis will be thorough and the ideas for solutions creative and exciting. I am most interested that a group of five very influential philanthropists (family foundations, a corporate foundation, and the Austin Community Foundation) is pooling their resources and efforts toward a common goal, and more importantly, toward building infrastructure and an ecosystem for the arts education sector. Often it is the infrastructure that is missing in true solutions. Ideas are great, and so many fabulous ones exist. But the real hurdle is taking a great idea and building the infrastructure, support, ecosystem behind it to create results.
The other exciting thing about this project is that it could become a model for funder collaboration and ecosystem creation that could be replicated in other nonprofit issue areas. What if all of the education, or healthcare, or youth development, or environmental funders in town got together and decided that they wanted to create an ecosystem of money, expertise, organizations, solutions that could work together towards system-level, not individual program level, change? That would be pretty interesting.
I’m thrilled that these philanthropists are working so closely together, putting money and resources behind this collaboration, and being very public and transparent about the process. I would love to see more philanthropists putting their resources behind big picture, infrastructure-building solutions.
I plan to keep my eye on this project, and I’ll keep you posted.