What Can We Learn The Warhol Foundation's Grant to St. Louis' Fort Gondo Arts Compound?

Therapists often say that we should "give without expectation."

The logic being that when you give with the anticipation of receiving something in return, you'll most likely end up disappointed. And even if you're happy with how the karmic wheel turns, the whole "what's in it for me?" mindset is pretty tacky. It's much easier to give simply because it's nice.

This logic — minus the $60 per hour therapy tab — probably rings true with most folks in the arts nonprofit world, where the term "labor of love" has lost all meaning due to its overuse. Everyone, so the story goes, "gives without expectations." 

But boy, it feels good when someone notices and rewards you.

Take the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts in St. Louis. It only became a registered nonprofit in 2011, but you couldn't tell from its extensive program offerings, exhibitions, seasonal poetry series, and publications. To say they "do more with less" would also be a clichéd understatement. According to Director Jessica Baran, Fort Gondo is the only fully functional arts organization with its level of programming without paid staff.

Throughout it all, the Warhol Foundation was paying attention. Over the past year, the foundation had reps visit Gondo, taking copious notes and assessing the nonprofit's strengths, needs, and (most likely) its financial acumen. (That must have been particularly nerve-wracking for Baran.)

The foundation liked what it saw. It recently awarded Fort Gondo a $70,000 grant, a product of the "extended conversation" between the two parties, that will be rolled out in two annual payments and will help pay employees, artists and poets, and improvements to the building. For example, Baran hopes to improve heating, install new lighting, and improve visibility for art on display.

And why, exactly, did the Warhol Foundation cut that magical check? According to Baran, the answer lies in its programming. "I think that that we’ve built up over this long period of time... is recognized at this point as deserving of some kind of funding along these lines," she said.

The point here? Nonprofits like Fort Gondo aren't in it for the money. So when foundations cut them a check — especially foundations which, like Warhol, love to support the underdogs — it's an inspiring thing.

It's like what our therapist said about free ice cream. Sure it's nice, but don't go around expecting it.