What Can Arts Nonprofits Learn from the Hearst Foundation's Give to The Film Society of Lincoln Center?

There are always new — and oftentimes subtle — trends surrounding not only arts funding, but the logic and strategy behind the funding. It can prove to be pretty intriguing, speaking to the inventiveness and ingenuity of nonprofit arts organizations. In other words, resident program directors and grant writers identify concerns, funding gaps, or hot-button issues pertaining to their area of focus, and tweak their programs accordingly.

There's nothing inherently disingenuous about this approach, particularly when an experienced and not-easily-duped foundation allocates thousands of dollars to award such inventiveness.

To understand where we're coming from, here are two examples. Each is built upon a distinct problem. The first involves the hysteria surrounding standardized testing. For better or worse (we fall in the "worse" camp) schools, funders, administrators, and anyone remotely associated with the education of kids are consumed with standardized testing. It's not exactly a secret.

The hysteria presents both a challenge and an opportunity to nonprofit arts educators. For example, Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center just netted a $6.6 million grant from from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation to support Art From the Start, a new three-year program designed to "better connect families and students with the arts center's art and arts education offerings."

But in a classic case of "burying the lead," we were most intrigued by what vice president of advancement Janine Musholt said afterwards. Expounding on the grant, Musholt noted that, "We know that exposure to the arts benefits students in a variety of ways, from improved test scores to a better understanding of the world around them" (emphasis added).

Presto. What better way to address standardized test mania that promote education programs that improve test scores?

This brings us to our second example. Much like standardized testing, educators, administrators, and parents are quite understandably concerned with literacy. (Heck, we have a whole vertical devoted to this very topic.)

And an emerging promising tool in the field of literacy is what's known as "visual literacy," a student's "ability to comprehend, make meaning of, and communicate through visual means, usually in the form of images or multimedia." Sounds like tremendously fertile terrain for, oh, let's say, purveyors of film-based education, right?

That's exactly right.

Harnessing the ever-growing interest in visual literacy, the Film Society of Lincoln Center announced the launch of CineKids, a new education initiative focused on bringing film into the classroom, "through screenings, discussions, and production, in order to bolster visual literacy learning — in neighborhood elementary schools" (emphasis once again added).

"The purpose of the CineKids program is to use the viewing, discussing and making of art house films as a tool for literacy learning,” said Amy Poux, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Director of Education. "We treat the film as text, the filmmaker as author, editing as revision, and, in this, open up the practice of literacy learning to a whole range of learners."

And guess what? The William Randolph Hearst Foundation thinks it's a pretty cool idea. They cut the society a $200,000 grant to fund the program, which has already launched in three public elementary schools on the Upper West Side of Manhattan’s Community School District 3.

(And in case you're wondering, yes, we'd lump the Hearst Foundation into the "not-easily-duped" camp.)