The Kresge Foundation was poised to respond quickly and creatively to the 2008 economic downturn. A year earlier, it had begun to move beyond its well-known facilities — capital challenge grants — to focus on strategic interests in arts and culture, education, environment, health and human services and the community development in Detroit. As the recession took hold and the team for each of these programs developed its approach to grantmaking, the national Arts and Culture Program launched two pilot initiatives to “challenge communities to use art and culture as a tool to address broader community issues in some of America’s most neglected urban neighborhoods.”
The foundation saw the two pilots — Community Arts and College Arts — as learning initiatives that would enable staff to experiment with a different kind of grantmaking. The initiatives would also test the assumption that the arts can address society’s pressing issues, transform communities and lift spirits during an economic downturn. While many local funders have deep experience in community arts, it was new territory for Kresge’s Arts and Culture Program.