FAN perfects the art of funding the arts


During their morning walks in Coconut Grove’s David Kennedy Park in the early 1990s, Deborah Hoffman and the late Nita Prieto-Maercks, discussed many things. But they kept coming back to the need to increase private funding for Miami’s burgeoning number of arts organizations.

After more discussion and study, they launched Funding Arts Network, originally named Fifty Over Fifty; Hoffman was the founding president.

The goal: Fifty women each contributing $1,000 to a pool for making grants to Miami-Dade arts organizations. In 1996, FAN’s first year, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts was still in the planning stage; Miami City Ballet was 6 years old; New World Symphony, 5 years old; and many of today’s most vibrant theater companies nonexistent.

FAN, fundingartsnetwork.org, is a volunteer, nonprofit organization — about 250 members strong and including men — with a mission to support and enhance Miami-Dade’s visual and performing arts organizations by awarding competitive grants. It will celebrate its 20th anniversary on May 3. It will award grants totaling $250,000 in amounts ranging from$5,000 to $25,000 to 21 Miami-Dade nonprofit arts organizations.

That’s quite an evolution from December 1996 when Fifty Over Fifty awarded its first grants totaling $50,600 to seven arts groups.

In philanthropic terms, this year’s grants are equivalent to the government required 5 percent annual distribution from a $5 million private foundation. FAN’s grants since inception, total $3.9 million, which includes $150,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for special New Work awards. Ninety-six nonprofit arts groups, emerging to mature, representing the complex cacophony of Miami’s diverse voices have benefited from a FAN grant to present work in Miami. All this without paid staff.

FAN’s goal was to create and manage an open funding process that would give all Miami-Dade nonprofit arts organizations in existence for at least three years a chance to apply for competitively awarded grants.

There’s no favoritism in the FAN awards. Every group has to complete an application — as of 2015, online — and have a face-to-face on site review with at least one of the 40 FAN members who participate annually in the screening process.

After their reviews and visits, screening team members, divided by discipline (visual arts, theater, music and dance), rank the proposals. All screeners then select and rank the final 20 to be awarded with a grant for a particular performance, series or show. All FAN members then have the chance to vote by secret ballot to determine the actual amounts to be awarded to individual groups.

Important as its grant dollars are, there many other ways FAN has strengthened Miami’s arts organizations. There are its grant-writing workshops; the extensive give-and-take between the arts group and the FAN volunteers during the review process; and the presentations made by arts organization leaders and mavens at FAN’s quarterly membership luncheons with topics ranging from Miami on the Literary Beat to How Political is Theater Anyway? to Artists in Nature.

When FAN members indicated they wanted an in-depth study opportunity — the response to a luncheon program The Art of Film — FAN launched FANFare. This winter seminar series focused on one theme is open to members and nonmembers.

Starting in 2011 FAN members have enjoyed A Taste of Film, Dance, Music, Art, Theater and Technology. The presenters? Leading arts administrators, academics, writers, artists, performers and provocateurs.

FAN’s Cultural Camraderies provide the group’s members and friends a performance or viewing of what their grant has made possible — always paying for their tickets and entrance fees, helping build audiences and spreading the word. An additional payoff has been the pool of members introduced to new groups through FAN who have become board members, volunteers, supporters, subscribers, donors and cheerleaders for Miami’s diverse array of arts organizations.

FAN is 20 and still evolving to meet new opportunities and needs. But its work remains based on its founding principles. FAN shows the power of women walking and working in sync.

JoAnne Bander is the former president and CEO of the Donors Forum of South Florida, member and of FAN’s Board Advisory Committee.