Luis Ubiñas

Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas started his opening keynote at our 2012 Annual Convention talking about about how he came to the arts. It was through free access in New York City. Having grown up with modest means, Ubiñas was only able to attend the finest cultural institutions that the city had to offer via free days.

In fact, he recounted one story when he was 14-years-old and went to The Public Theater to see Macbeth. However, he and has friend had arrived so early that they ran into founder Joe Papp who told them so, but also invited them to look around and explore his theater.

It was that kindness that stuck with him and shaped his appreciation for the arts. He reminded attendees that everyone in the room had similar experiences that shaped our attitudes about arts and culture and to never forget to provide those experiences to other 14-year-olds you stumble across in your work.

Beyond that personal anecdote, Ubiñas also talked about the economy behind the arts. During one passage he reminded the audience how important it is to explain to decision-makers at every level (city, county, state politicians, etc.) the value of the arts. He said all-too-often, it seems that they will fight to hard to bring a new manufacturing facility to their area due to the jobs it brings, but that doesn’t happen for the arts. And, as he said it doesn’t make sense because, “you can’t outsource a museum.” 

Ubiñas went on to highlight the work of the Ford Foundation in their involvement with ArtPlace, a program “investing in art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerful that it transforms communities.” Many foundations came together with the Nonprofit Finance Fund to create this program which is working in cities like San Jose (building a plaza connecting arts organizations in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Transportation), Detroit (Sugar Hill Arts District), and New York City (P.S. 109 in East Harlem).

He said this work program and other creative placemaking projects are a new model that brings together a team of funders, creates a model to transform communities, and connects people to the arts.

Ubiñas also discussed the Ford Foundation’s Just Films program (now in its second year) and ended his session by answering a few questions from the attendees.

An interesting point he made while answering a question about the role of foundations is that he said funders need to be partners with their grantees—to work together towards the common goal, not the extremes of “hands off” or over-involved.

Luis Ubiñas’ work with the Ford Foundation continues the organization’s 76 years of arts support and we were proud to have him help open our 2012 Annual Convention.

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