Hartford Foundation for Public Giving
How do you move beyond survival, reimagine new paths to a thriving future, and take the first solid steps? In the Catalyst for the Arts program, a partnership between Fathom, The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and Free Center, we brought together leadership teams from 16 Hartford area arts organizations to form new bonds together, and have each individual organization create a strategy for taking its own bold and authentic action centered around their core beliefs and commitment to themselves and their community.

Coming Together, Getting Unstuck

The arts sector has been one of the hardest hit by the changed world brought on by COVID. In-person performances and programs were central to many organizations’ identities, revenue, and community engagement. Some organizations responded by attempting to convert planned events to virtual, others by closing down and conserving resources.

No matter how an organization had responded to its COVID-related challenges, Catalyst for the Arts – a partnership between Fathom, The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and Free Center – created a space to take stock of what was true, what mattered, and what that made possible for the future, guiding the leaders of each organization in charting a new course for the arts sector community, and for their individual organizations.

“I realized I wasn’t in fears and struggles & hopes and dreams alone—we’re all in this together”

“It’s forced us to set aside intentional time as an organizational team and reconnect with each other”

“It was a precious chance to listen to new voices”

“Being able to come together and talk like this is a rare opportunity”

“It’s created a space where people are on the same level”

“We’re dreaming collaboratively”

“Eye-opening conversation led by POC women”

Exploring and Building Community: Catalyst Community Sessions

In the Catalyst Community Sessions, the cohort of 16 arts organizations: 

Made unprecedented connections as peers and leaders, spawning spontaneous and groundbreaking collaboration 

Engaged in fresh and necessary conversation, breaking new ground in sharing each others’ lived experience of the Hartford arts sector, which spans centuries-old institutions to in-formation organizations 

Experienced community, sharing concerns, challenges and hopes, a willingness to provide mutual aid, and possibilities for collective action 

Carried powerful provocations back to their organizations, introducing new conversations, ways of thinking, planning, and action 

Using purpose to drive unpreceded performance: Catalyst Deep Dive Sessions

In the Catalyst Deep Dive Sessions, we worked with the leaders of each organization to re-establish their relationship with their organizations beliefs and purpose, and the commitment to the world that follows. With an eye towards that possible future, we focused on a critical program or initiative that needed to be reimagined, or created, and revealed a pragmatic plan for taking action, and drawing others to contribute.  

Growth for the organizations took many forms:

  • Using a small-scale performance as a large-scale brand launch and campaign to recruit center of influence for board and advisor roles 
  • Exploring possibilities for growth outside of a long-standing iconic physical space 
  • Getting clear about what requests would be welcomed from target audiences, and creating a strategy for extending a clear invitation 
  • Moving beyond translating old traditions into virtual formats, to exploiting virtual engagement to begin new traditions 
  • Redesigning a key but underperforming program and restructuring a team to take it on 
  • Redesigning an organization’s operational system to make space for new leaders and untapped creative possibilities
  • Having the leaders of the organization become much more visible and outspoken in the greater community about what they are trying to accomplish, are thinking about, and inviting others to participate in
  • Defined attributes of a “Community of Intention” and the invitations that would call it into being 
  • Designed a ‘culture of cultivating relationships’ as a way for all associated with the organization to channel interest and contribution towards the goals of the organization 

“Catalyst was phenomenal. It works” 

“Great networking and pulling together of folks I otherwise wouldn’t have come into contact with!”

“More collaboration happened because Catalyst happened”

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