When Arnie and Carol Kanter first set out to create a fund supporting small to mid-sized arts organizations, they didn’t necessarily intend to be “radical.” Yet the couple and their fund partners—Janis Mendelsohn, a fellow Brandeis alum, and Duane Quaini—are redefining what philanthropy in retirement can look like, driven by their own passion, decades of collective experience—and a dash of guidance from Trust Senior Philanthropic Advisor Nicole Layton.
The donors share a passion for equity in the arts—a point of connection with the Trust’s strategic direction to confront our region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap. The group connected with Nicole in fall 2019, and she helped the donors refine their goals.
Ultimately, they established Innovation 80 in January 2020—the “80” signaling that the founders are all nearly octogenarians. This donor-advised fund acts as a catalyst to foster innovative arts-based programs that engage and support disinvested populations. Nicole further assisted the donors in establishing a formal grant cycle, issuing a request for grant proposals, and, in May 2020, awarding the first set of four grant recipients a total of $80,000.
“When we talked about what we’re doing with the president of another large Chicago foundation, Nicole said to us, ‘You are radical,’ and we took that as a great compliment,” said Arnie. “She was saying that we are approaching our philanthropy in a way that many other donors aren’t doing.”
Indeed, the donors have established an advisory committee to diversify and expand their reach; a fellowship to incorporate a younger perspective; apprenticeships with recent ChiArts graduates to help current grant recipients and foster their own arts-based development, and a group of consult-ants to lend credibility and connect with other potential donors. Innovation 80 even has a sister organization, the Amadeus Foundation in Medellin Colombia, to share ideas and inspiration.
“Although they are well into retirement, they have a very active approach to their philanthropy,” said Nicole. “It’s also inspiring that they are taking diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously. That could be considered radical, but that’s just who they are.”
For example, Innovation 80 was in the midst of reviewing grant proposals when COVID-19 hit our region in March. The funders went back to the organizations to ask them how the pandemic would affect their proposed projects and encouraged them to build those considerations into refined proposals.
“Something we thought about during this time—when people are hurting for necessities such as food, clothing and shelter—was whether funding arts organizations would be a responsible thing to be doing. We feel that it is,” said Arnie. “If we fail to fund these organizations now, some of them are just not going to survive—and we’ll have bodies without souls to support them.”
While the four initial grant recipients—The Kedzie Center and 2nd Story; Reading Between the Lines; Silk Road Rising; and SkyART—received funding for specific projects, Innovation 80 hopes to attract additional donors to increase both the amount and scope of funding for current and additional grantees.
“We consider ourselves partners with these four organizations, whom we love,” said Carol. “We are keeping in touch with them and hope to re-fund them with general operating support so that they can sustain their efforts and grow.”
Another way Innovation 80 is thinking expansively is by forming a funding partnership with Jon Will, trustee of the Elizabeth Louise Smith Fund, another donor-advised fund at the Trust. That connection was strengthened by the common connection to Nicole, their shared advisor.
“Nicole’s role as part of our team is important because it feeds directly into what we’re trying to do with Innovation 80,” said Arnie. “We view ourselves as catalysts, and we’re trying to expand our reach and attract more people to support our work.”
“The Kanters, Janis and Duane have a ton of experience underneath their belts and are experts in their fields respectively,” said Nicole. “The beauty of the Trust’s philanthropic services is that we can meet our donors wherever they are, from $10,000 donors to multimillion-dollar donors. We respect that all philanthropy is great philanthropy, and our goal is to help our donors achieve their goals.”