When Life Imitates Art

Over 25 years of philanthropic activity, the Rozsa Foundation of Calgary has helped to transform Calgary and Alberta into a world leader in arts management. At the heart of Rozsa’s mission and programming is a fundamental belief that the arts are essential to healthy life and a healthy community.

Purposeful collaborations with partners, identification of gaps in the arts sector and innovative programming to address those gaps have been at the core of the Foundation’s strategies. Rozsa has applied an entrepreneurial and systems-changing approach that funds pilot projects by first time grantees, invests in the development of managers in arts organizations, builds board governance and supports ground-breaking research in the arts sector.

Early Days

The founders Drs. Ted & Lola Rozsa built their philanthropy on funds flowing from the family business, often supporting the performing arts through large capital or operational grants to a few organizations.

“My parents were quite strategic when it came to the arts, aiming to not only deliver immediate impact, but also promote long term success and sustainability” says current Foundation President, Mary Rozsa de Coquet. “The Calgary Philharmonic illustrates the point. They established a Maestro’s Chair which facilitated artistic development, and at the same time insisted on improved financial systems to make the organization more resilient and attractive to other donors.”

Purposeful collaborations with partners, identification of gaps in the arts sector and innovative programming to address those gaps have been at the core of the Foundation’s strategies. Rozsa has applied an entrepreneurial and systems-changing approach that funds pilot projects by first time grantees, invests in the development of managers in arts organizations, builds board governance and supports ground-breaking research in the arts sector.

When her father asked her to take over the reins, Mary decided to focus the mission of the Foundation more tightly. She chose to explore the area of arts management.

When her father asked her to take over the reins, Mary decided to focus the mission of the Foundation more tightly. She chose to explore the area of arts management.

In the 1990s, negative public opinion of artists and arts organizations contributed to abrupt cuts of public funding to Alberta’s arts sector. Artists and arts organizations were viewed as “incompetent” and “money wasters.” Not only did this perspective tarnish the entire arts sector, it also sent a harmful message that it was not possible to risk failure.

The Foundation recognized that this was an unfair double standard. As Mary noted, arts organizations were expected to be resilient without having access to the necessary operational supports, such as trained administrators armed with appropriate tools and professional development opportunities. The result? “No middle managers. Founders of arts organizations were burning out or retiring, creating an enormous gap in the system.”

The cuts also decreased funding for grassroots projects. Mary stressed how critical it was to support the initial projects of an artist or arts organization. “They are risk-takers—their projects are all about risk.” Without new work, the entire sector suffers. So the Foundation committed funds over time for these risky new projects to 90 grantees, some receiving multiple grants.

New Opportunities

The Foundation asked itself two important questions: how do we contribute to building up and strengthening the sector so that there are more trained people coming into arts management? And how can Rozsa make a difference for artists and arts organizations to ensure that their projects become a reality?

The foundation realized that it was in a position to make a long-term difference on both fronts. It committed to build capacity in the arts through investments in artist development, innovative programming, increased production capabilities, supporting arts managers and arts leadership, offering professional development opportunities and creating opportunities to recognize outstanding arts managers.

Faithful to the founders’ values, the Foundation created the annual Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management to recognize and celebrate the achievements of arts administrators. In doing so the Foundation collaborated with the Alberta Performing Arts Stabilization Fund, the Centre for Non-Profit Management (now known as CentrePoint Non-Profit Management) and the Calgary Professional Arts Alliance.

The Foundation developed three additional programs that catapulted Alberta on to the world stage as a leader in arts management. The Rozsa Admin Fundamentals Training (RAFT) uses storytelling and case studies to provide professionals with less than 3 years of experience in arts management with the necessary skillset for working in a non-profit organization.

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The Foundation’s flagship arts management program Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP) has invested in 130 early to mid-career arts professionals to address a current challenge their organization is faced with. Mentored by professors from the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business (with a recent program expansion to Edmonton), participants have addressed issues such as human resources, audience development, governance, strategic planning, succession planning and more. Mary notes that an important byproduct of the program is that “business schools have also become conversant in non-profit language.”

Finally, they implemented the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program focused on enhancing the leadership skills of individuals who would become the next cohort of executive directors of larger arts organizations.

Simultaneously, Rozsa decided to support and sustain the creativity of grassroots communities through granting. Mary spoke about the importance of funding the initial project, “because that is all about risk,” she notes. “If you’re in at that level, it’s usually small but what it does is give grantees enough leverage by using our name and support to go to the next person and seek additional support.”

Leading the Conversation, Catalyzing Research for Systems Change

As the foundation grew its programs, it invested in opportunities that would lift the entire arts sector to function at a higher level. Another opportunity has emerged for the Foundation around education research. Though there is ample anecdotal evidence of the impact that an arts infused education can have on a child, there is a scarcity of studies on collective or group impact of arts infused learning. The Foundation asked questions: Would an arts infused, creative curriculum keep students engaged? Can education though the arts really make a measurable difference?

Partnering with the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education and Trickster Theatre’s Kids Go Global, a program that integrates the arts and educational social enterprise in schools, the Foundation launched a research trial of a pedagogical prototype that combines global citizenship, entrepreneurship and physical theatre. “If we can determine why education through the arts is significantly more effective,” hypothesized Mary, “then we can positively influence both the proposed provincial curriculum and how student teachers are trained at university and so the students of tomorrow.”

Today, the Werklund School has seen the difference that arts infused education can make. It is implementing a course that focuses on the methodology—the “how”—of teaching an arts infused curriculum to maximize the empathy, ethics and entrepreneurial skills of students. It will be required for all students in order to graduate. The Foundation is also working on seminars and sessions for current teachers to use in their classes to ensure that the impact is as wide as possible

Looking Ahead

In Alberta, Rozsa’s persistent efforts have reinforced a new public appreciation of the importance of the arts. Through continuous questioning, the Foundation has innovated to develop programs with impact, which have raised the profile of the entire arts sector. Arts management is respected and recognized as a profession. And the outcomes of the Foundation-funded education research to date are already influencing students. In many ways, Rozsa has already achieved the goal it set out to accomplish—to make Alberta a world-class leader in arts management.

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