The Funder and the Intermediary, in Support of the Artist: A Look at Rationales, Roles, and Relationships

by Claudia Bach

Dec 1, 2014
This article, examining the ecology of funders' use of intermediaries and regranting organizations, came about as a direct offshoot of GIA's Research Initiative on Support for Individual Artists, begun in 2011. As the research team worked to map the pathways that support followed from funder to artist, a complex map of options and routes began to emerge, and intermediaries and regranters were often part of that picture. It became increasingly clear that this was an essential and important part of the overall system. It also emerged that this was an area of philanthropic practice that had been little examined, and about which little had been published. Interviews with funders during the research work also revealed that while a number of foundations were using intermediaries, their practices had independently evolved, and a wide range of methods and procedures were in use. What follows is the first tangible product of GIA's Research Initiative on Support for Individual Artists. In her analysis, Claudia Bach provides both an overview of the range of philanthropic practices involving intermediaries and regranters, as well as an exploration of a number of related topics and questions that emerged during the course of this work.
  • Funders often seek intermediaries for their expertise and networks in an artistic discipline and their on-the-ground relationships with artists. An intermediary is likely to bring insights and perspectives unavailable to the funder.
  • Intermediaries provide greater logistical and administrative capacity in selecting grantees, mitigate legal or structural concerns by placing the funder at "arm's length" away from artists, and extend the value of financial support.
  • The dynamics of power and questions of control, whether explicit or implicit, dictate the relationship between funder and intermediary.
  • Duration and consistency of support over time have a critical impact on program strength, the vigor of program outcomes, and the health and well-being of an intermediary. A number of intermediaries noted that it takes five or even ten years for many programs to be fully formed and show their true value. Current practice reflects a move toward three-year funding cycles.
  • Intermediaries and funders are both in a position to leverage the relationships and knowledge that grow from their mutual work. Using the networks and connections of either party can greatly expand ideas and experiences for work within, or beyond, the program that brought the two together. These relationships can open the door to a more expansive pool of potential panelists, advisors, and thought partners.
  • Overhead costs can be a sticking point in funder/intermediary relationships: funders need to be aware of the true costs of carrying out the work, and intermediaries need to be clear on the financial realities.
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