A recurring theme in our coverage of arts funding is the idea that as certain communities recover—or fail to recover—from the Great Recession, any restorative funding to the arts won't come from state or local governments, but from the private foundations that sustained these very programs throughout the darkest hours of the economic slump.
After all, why should politicians reinstate funding knowing Foundation X will step up to the plate, since the alternative—no funding at all—is unacceptable? It's a cynical interpretation, but one that's rooted in corroborating anecdotes from across the country
Then again, if politicians and foundations fail, for example, to fund a middle school music class, the loss would be brutal—but not devastating. But what if a foundation seems to be single-handedly funding the artistic life of an entire community? What if that foundation turns off the funding spigot?
That, in a nutshell, is the over-sized role of the Mott Foundation and their work in Flint, Michigan. As this piece from IP's Kiersten Marek illustrates, the foundation remains determined to improve the economic situation in its hometown of Flint, where Mott also provides a great deal of critical support to the arts, funding local institutions like the Longway Planetarium, Sloan Museum, and Flint Symphony Orchestra.
And as recent news underscores, the foundation has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. Mott awarded close to a total of $5 million in grants to the Flint Cultural Center Corporation, Flint Institute of Music, and Flint Institute of Art (FIA). The funding will go toward maintenance, staffing, and programming costs.
Money for the FIA will specifically fund education and outreach programs for a broad range of ages, including infants and seniors. But it's important to see this gift through the lens of Flint's well-publicized woes. There's a sense of communal struggle and a fervent, well-grounded hope for recovery coursing through the missions of each of these institutions.
To illustrate this point, one of FIA's collections, Artists of the Great Lakes, "depicts all the people that came into this community to work," said Kathryn Sharbaugh, the institute's development director."[It shows visitors] what Flint was once like, and the promise of what it's going to be like as we move into the next decades."