Evaluation of Funding Results: NYS Council on the Arts

Founded in 1960-61 under the leadership of Governor John D. Rockefeller, the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) is the oldest and largest state arts agency in the country. Throughout its history, it has been committed to excellence in every art form and has sought to reach into every community and touch every citizen of the state. As of 2010 it provided approximately $36 million through 2,500 grants.

NYSCA is unique among state arts councils in its long-term dedication of resources to the design, planning and historic preservation fields through two funding programs: 1. The Architecture, Planning and Design Program (APD); and 2. Capital Projects. The Architecture, Planning and Design Program aims to increase awareness and appreciation of the designed environment of New York State and to advance innovation in the design and planning fields. Capital Projects support the improvement, expansion, or rehabilitation of existing buildings owned or leased by nonprofit cultural institutions receiving programmatic funding from NYSCA, including theatres, museums, galleries, cinemas, offices, art storage/conservation studios, and historic house museums.

The Opportunity
Anne Van Ingen, long-time director of both programs, proposed that NYSCA measure these grant programs in order to better shape future grant programs and to make the case for additional funding in support these programs. After 25 years of APD grants and 13 years Capital Project grants, these programs had never been comprehensively evaluated or documented. Due to NYSCA’s lean staff, it did not have the staff capacity to evaluate the grant programs in-house. Ms. Van Ingen recognized the need to hire an experienced grant professional to conduct the assessments and publish the findings.

The Results
NYSCA retained Buff Kavelman to conduct a thorough review and analysis of APD and Capital Project grants and to then author a publication that would focus on selected case studies.

Ms. Kavelman reviewed over 1,000 NYSCA grantees’ submission materials, funding documents and final reports in order to evaluate the long-term impact that NYSCA funding had on communities, including community revitalization and main street projects, affordable housing, contemporary design, community design centers, independent projects, parks and open space, conservation and historic preservation, cultural facilities, and institutional support. Ms. Kavelman also looked at the number and diversity of communities throughout New York State that were served by APD and Capital Projects grants; and how, and if, these communities leveraged NYSCA funding for support from other sources.

From the initial evaluation process, Ms. Kavelman compiled a list of case studies that she then examined further through research, interviews and site visits. The resulting material proved invaluable in its validation of the sustainable results of the two funding programs. From the hamlets of the Adirondacks to historic landscapes of the Hudson River Valley to affordable housing projects in Brooklyn neighborhoods, NYSCA’s grants had leveraged substantial public and private funding. One case study that illustrated the effectiveness of NYSCA’s grant programs was the small, upstate town of Watertown where $20,000 in grants for architecture and planning fees had attracted over $3 million in construction and economic development funds to revive the depressed area.

In addition to doing qualitative reviews for each case study, Ms. Kavelman conducted in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, community members and institutional partners to assess the impact of these projects. In one such interview, the director of a volunteer-initiated open space effort, Friends of the Buffalo River, credited NYSCA with providing the seed money they needed to create a greenway and waterfront master plan:

Before the city got involved NYSCA took a chance to help us develop planning and design guidelines. Without NYSCA, we couldn’t have begun the process. These funds allowed us to hire real professionals who did more than we had thought possible.

Ms. Kavelman’s grant evaluations also showed how APD grants had stimulated the design field’s evolution through funding innovative projects by individual designers. NYSCA supported emerging leaders in the design field. Past grant recipients include, John Hejduk, the late dean of the School of Architecture at Cooper Union; architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio; and photographer Margaret Morton, whose NYSCA-funded project “Architecture of Despair” resulted in an exhibition of works by 42 homeless individuals that featured the shelters they created for themselves.

Ms. Kavelman completed her research and analysis of APD and Capital Project programs and shared the findings through 64 case studies that celebrated exemplary uses of NYSCA funding. Changing Places: 25 Years of Architecture, Planning and Design at the New York State Council on the Arts, (48 pp., 68 illus.) was distributed nationally to state arts agencies, funders and nonprofit organizations. At the publication’s presentation, Richard Schwartz, Chairman of NYSCA appointed by the Governor, highlighted its use as an advocacy and outreach tool:

It is our hope that other public and private funders will see this as a call to action and a testament to the value of supporting design. Read this as evidence that modest amounts of money targeted for design and invested thoughtfully at the right time can reap enormous benefits.

According to testimonials from people across the country, the publication has had a significant impact. Ms. Van Ingen used the publication to influence other state arts councils to either start or expand their design programs, and she credits it for strengthening the position of a newly created design program at the Utah State Arts Council, and creating a new partnership with the Nonprofit Finance Fund. The publication has also been a great resource for NYSCA to highlight the proven value of APD and Capital Project programs to new board members and Executive Directors, and to successfully lobby continued support from the New York State Legislature and the Governor, even through these economically-challenged times.