Hartford Foundation Launches New Program to Support Arts Organizations Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

CATALYST for the ARTS Capacity-Building Program will Allow Arts Organizations to Develop Sustainable Models in New Landscape and Promote Collaboration

Even in the best of times, Greater Hartford arts organizations of all sizes face challenges to generate enough revenue to sustain their programming. With the onset of COVID-19, the arts is perhaps the hardest hit sector of the region’s economy. A recent survey found that Hartford area arts organizations have seen more than a 60 percent reduction in employment as the public health crisis has stretched budgets to their limits, forced venues to be closed and led to the cancellation of countless fundraising events.

In response to these challenges, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has announced the CATALYST for the ARTS program to provide the tools and techniques to help the sector manage this new landscape. The program is a strategic partnership between the Hartford Foundation, Fathom and Free Center/CO:LAB and is designed to shift the way arts organizations conduct individual operations, support each other for mutual success, and equitably cultivate truly diverse leaders that can bring the value of the arts to the center of broader community and policy dialogues.

The goal of CATALYST is to foster more impactful collaborations and influential leadership across the region’s arts sector. The application to become part of the program is open to the arts community in the Hartford Foundation’s 29 town region.

“This collective capacity building opportunity is one of the approaches we are taking to support the arts sector during these challenging times,” said Jackie Coleman, senior education investments officer with the Hartford Foundation. “We look forward to the possibility of seeing not only the participating organizations transformation but their collective impact on the sector as a whole.”

CATALYST focuses on three main objectives:

  • Individual Transformation: Each organization will create a strategic framing and implementation plan and develop tools to ensure that they are not just equipped for resiliency, but for growth. 
  • Collaborate like a Pro: CATALYST participants will be a part of developing an arts sector framework to dramatically increase collaboration for resource sharing, audience sharing, and ultimately for greater impact.
  • Redefine the Nucleus of the Sector: Organizations will work together to develop insights, strategies, and tools to create a truly representative, self-running nucleus of impact in the region’s arts sector. The focus is not simply on diverse representation, it is also rooted in equitable influence.

“Fathom works with leaders to create conditions for unprecedented performance, and design futures that go beyond benchmarks of the past,” said Matt Reiniger, Associate Partner, Fathom. “We’re honored and excited to be a part of Catalyst for the Arts, where we’ll work directly with arts leaders to reimagine what’s possible and to create what’s needed to realize it.”

The program is seeking applicants representing small, medium and large arts organizations of various types to participate in the program. Up to 15 organizations will be selected to participate, based on a competitive application process. The fall program will feature six weekly 90-minute facilitated group sessions to establish new thinking and new connections to develop an influential collective of arts organizations and to inspire new possibilities for each organization.

Each organization’s team will consist of the Chief Executive, along with a key staff person or a board member who commit to fully participate in all aspects of the program. Organizations are expected to commit to centering racial and cultural equity during this program and beyond. Program participants must express a readiness and willingness to re-imagine their organization, audience, approaches and marketing strategies.

Participants will benefit from an executive coaching session to develop greater capacity to envision and implement new ways of activating their work. Organizations will hold ‘Deep Dive’ sessions with the trainers to create a plan that will identify the commitments, strategy, and implementation needed to catalyze their transformation.

“Against all conceivable obstacles, the nature of art is to find a way,” said Richard Hollant, founder of CO:LAB and Free Center. “That’s how I see hope. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to work with our creative community, to uncover all the benefits at the intersection of hope and ingenuity, and to evolve the role of art in the reimagining of our region.”

To learn more about the program, a recording of the information session has been made available.