More Please: Rauschenberg Expands Risk Capital Support to Small- to Midsize Groups

Here at IP, we frequently report on foundations rolling out ambitious programs to support small- to mid-size arts organizations. And what's the only thing more exciting than that? When the foundation, flush with success, decides to expand its ambitious program to support small- to mid-size arts organizations.

One recent example came last year, when Bloomberg Philanthropies doubled down on its Arts Innovation and Management (AIM) program. The invitation-only program seeks to strengthen nearly 300 small and mid-sized organizations within six cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Recipient organizations collectively netted $30 million of unrestricted general operating support.

But Bloomberg, as you can imagine, didn't expand the program based solely on good intentions. They measured the progress of 245 grantees from 2011 and 2013 and came away with some impressive metrics. Recipient organizations reached new audiences through targeted marketing and social media. They improved board member engagement. They leveraged grants to net new contributions.

Which brings us to news out of New York, courtesy of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and its SEED program. According to the foundation's website, the program is "a combination of risk capital and value added support to early stage, groundbreaking projects in ten cities across the United States: Atlanta, Boise, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Phoenix, Portland, Providence, and New Orleans."

Grants, which focus on "innovation in arts and culture," go to small- to mid-size arts organizations in their earliest operational stages, even before an organization can establish a functioning fundraising apparatus. The foundation, in a sense, gets in before the "ground floor" stage—quite a liberating proposition for the recipient organization. After all, small- to mid-size arts organizations have a lot on their plates. Resources—whether time or money—are finite. By siphoning away resources to shore up capacity instead of "expanding and enriching their local cultural landscape," they're robbing Peter to pay Paul. No one wins.

So the SEED program's value is derived from its ability to help with the less-than-glamorous fundraising and capacity building activities of recipient organizations in these critical formative stages. SEED grantees also get to spend a week together at the Rauschenberg Residency to share their knowledge and skills.

As you can imagine, this approach has worked swimmingly across the initial 36 cultural projects around the United States. And so the foundation announced it will expand the SEED program to Appalachia (Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia), Houston, and Santa Fe, as well as deepen its support in Detroit and New Orleans. The goal here is simple—to reach more rural and indigenous communities while solidifying investment in the emerging cultural petri dishes of the Motor City and Big Easy.

Related: Meet the Winners of The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation's "Artist as Activist" Fellowship