Ten Years After Katrina, Did the Getty Foundation's Fund for New Orleans Succeed?

A decade after Hurricane Katrina, there's no shortage of good news coming out of New Orleans. Take the city's resurgent arts scene. The New York-based Joan Mitchell Foundation set up shop in the Big Easy after Katrina and never left. Most notably, it just opened the doors of its new $12.5 million artist retreat—another salvo in the foundation's efforts to establish New Orleans as the country's preeminent arts city.

It's all good stuff, but it's also important to step away from exciting gifts and anecdotal success stories and, as uninspiring as it may sound, actually look at the numbers. Does the data suggest that New Orleans' art scene is thriving? What about the health of its arts nonprofits—have they recovered from Katrina? What is the state of their fiscal health? And for foundations who allocated tens of millions of dollars to support these organizations, do the numbers suggest that these investments have paid dividends?

The Getty Foundation posed these very questions, and now, it seems, they have some answers.

Like the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Getty built a strong relationship with New Orleans through its Fund for New Orleans. Its purpose was to revitalize the city's arts institutions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, the fund allocated 22 grants, totaling $2.9 million, to museums and arts organizations of all shapes and sizes.

Support came in two categories. First, transition and planning grants to strengthen recipient organizations in a post-Katrina environment. And second, conservation grants to assess the conditions of historic buildings and collections and devise plans for their preservation. You can see the full list of recipients here.

All of which brings us to the present day, in which the Getty Foundation, like any good cost-conscious foundation, asked, "How did we do?" The foundation announced the findings of its impact study of the Fund for New Orleans, and the prognosis is good. According to Getty, all recipient institutions are still in business. Better yet, most are thriving. 

They're thriving because, of course, the money provided a critical lifeline during a harrowing time. For example, the African collections at the Center for African and African-American Studies at Southern University of New Orleans were submerged under water and exposed to humidity for an extended period of time. Yet, a Getty grant not only stabilized and preserved the collection, but created the conditions that led to 300 percent growth in the collection, post-Katrina.

Getty's support also provided a useful case study in "catalytic funding." After Katrina, local stakeholders argued that many of the damaged historic structures could be preserved rather than destroyed. But it took more than pleading to convince the national arts community at large. And so Getty's early grant to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to save these buildings was a powerful, early signal that persuaded other foundations to open their pocketbooks. As a result, 150 historic buildings were removed from the city's demolition list. 

Lastly, there are non-monetary impacts. Prior to Katrina, there was little communication among institutions surrounding an arts-collection vision for the city. Getty brought these stakeholders together in the aftermath of the tragedy, boosting collaboration and sharing best practices in transition planning.

Not to be cynical, but it's worth noting that the positive tenor of this study isn't a total surprise, since it was penned by Getty itself. (Of course, it isn't the first time a foundation measured the impact of its grantmaking efforts internally. Click here for Bloomberg Philanthropies' efforts along those lines.)

But facts are facts. The organizations that received a Getty lifeline in 2005 are still around—a happy outcome that most certainly wasn't a sure thing 10 years ago.