A Closer Look at W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Grant to Michigan's Brass Band of Battle Creek

Followers of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation know that it doesn't extensively dabble in the arts world compared to some of the other heavy-hitters we profile here. Just do a search on them on IP and you'll see articles on grants for reproductive health, early childhood education, and healthcare reform.

But the foundation is also a supporter of the arts, particularly the Brass Band of Battle Creek (BBBC). Based in Battle Creek, Michigan, the outfit has traditionally enjoyed generous support from the "Expert in Residence" division of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which includes a grant in the form of $100,000 per year for the past ten years.

The band has been described as an "All-Star band of the brass and percussion world's elite, attracting great musicians from around the United States and Europe to play two annual concerts in Battle Creek as well as a limited number of other engagements in handpicked locations in the U.S. and abroad."

And that support keeps on coming. The Kellogg Foundation recently awarded the BBBC a $396,100 grant for a two-year program that will "build organizational capacity to equitably promote the role of arts and culture in a vibrant and diverse community, and change the narrative surrounding how arts and culture organizations build a sustainable future," according to the news release.

A closer look at the wording reveals a handful of questions, some of which may be of interest to other arts nonprofits.

First off, that $100,000-per-year grant awarded over 10 years that I mentioned actually expires this year. Rather than leave BBBC high and dry, Kellogg squeezed a fresh batch of money into a two-year span. (This isn't to say the BBBC is unhealthily reliant on one funding source. Funding also comes from other grants, donations, ticket sales, CD sales and advertising revenue.)

Secondly, this new grant is something I'd like to dub a "fast-track" grant, as its goal is to set the BBBC on more stable and self-reliant footing within a two-year time frame. The BBBC, of course, is on board. BBBC Executive Director Jennifer Rupp noted, "The Brass Band of Battle Creek is looking forward to partnering with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on this project to change the sustainability model and find new ways to promote the arts."

And therein lies the $64,000 question. How will Kellogg and BBBC "change the sustainability model?" Or to paraphrase an earlier quote, how will they "change the narrative" about sustainability? And if the model isn't effectively changed after two years, then what?

Perhaps even more importantly, what does this mean for other arts nonprofits? At what point will a reliable funder pick up the phone, call the executive director, and say, "Hey, so I was on my StairMaster this morning and I decided that I'm not really feeling your sustainability model. How are you gonna see that it evolves and adapts in the coming years?"

Of course, I'm not saying it's one of those questions that should keep you up at night.

Then again...