Philanthropy on Exhibit

Charles Thomas and me signing books at a recent exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy at Duke University, which is Charles’ alma mater.

Six years ago, Charles and I began exploring the idea of an museum exhibition on philanthropy, based on the yet released stories and photography of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists. While it took four years more, before we—in collaboration with NGAAP-Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University—realized that vision with The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited, we’ll claim releasing seeds of this idea into the ethosphere.

Fast forward to a year ago, just after #GivingTuesday, I was reading this story in The Chronicle of Philanthropy about Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and David Rubenstein funding an endowed curatorship at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH) to create a series of exhibitions on the history and future of American philanthropy.

Since the article referenced only billionaire white men (and a few women in the context of being their wives), I wondered whether the NMAH exhibitions would be narrowly framed to present only conventional and predictable pictures of “American philanthropy”. Would traditions of philanthropy in communities of color be told? Would the generosity and impact of people of modest means get included? Would stories of philanthropic women and giving circles be shared?

Quick to climb on my bandwagon, I reached out to learn more about NMAH’s “The Philanthropy Initiative” and to ask questions to ensure a vivid and inclusive and soulful account of philanthropy in America was an aim. Thanks to a network of kind connectors—A’Lelia Bundles, Aviva Kempner and Fath Ruffins—I made some gains.

So on this #GivingTuesday (and hopefully many more to come), I’m traveling to Washington, DC for “The Power of Giving: Philanthropy’s Impact on American Life”—an invitation-only symposium with philanthropists, environmentalists, thought leaders and social innovators to discuss the past, present, and future of American giving. Such programs are slated, annually, for decades to come and the focus this year is “Sustainability and The Environment”. Tuesday’s schedule launches with the opening of the Smithsonian’s first-ever, long-term exhibition GIVING IN AMERICA. We’re in the room, and there’s more to come.

“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo

Below are more photos are from the exhibition of The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed (abridged edition) at Duke University’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. Coincidently, the Duke University exhibition was made possible by support from financier David Rubenstein, who chairs Duke’s Board of Trustees and also is one of the funders of the NMAH exhibition.

 

 

Q: What Gives?

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A: The Soul of Philanthropy! #getyourgiveon

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National Coffee Day is the perfect occasion to share a preview glimpse of another item in the new heARTwork product line, which is inspired by The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit! Plus, I’m thrilled that The Soul of Philanthropy, Pop-Up, Abridged Edition will soon open at Duke University’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.

My cup runneth over.

— VF

 

Day 16

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Gave away my soul

Giving back to get it back

Given what I know

Poem, Day 16

After returning from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB), which held a reception and program in conjunction with The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, today I’m re-posting a featured haiku from my book and exhibit. I wrote this one about five or six years ago on a day I was playing around with various idioms and conjugated forms of the verb to give. The haiku emerged pretty quickly and effortlessly and it perfectly sums up my thoughts, then and now.

The UAPB exhibit in Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center was beautiful and filled with students wandering through. Below are some photos from my Arkansas visit. — VF

Soul-Full Synchronicity

TSOP exhibit pic at NCSU

Portland, Oregon is a city I’ve yet to visit (with the exception of a airport stop en route to Thailand years ago, but that doesn’t really count and I digress). Until recently it was completely off my radar. But over the last few months it’s been like a magnetic field, pulling me and dynamic, creative minds in proximity.

Last year, while working on a project with artist and designer Dimeji Onafuwa (a longtime collaborator with me AND graphic designer of my book and exhibit), he said his family was relocating to Portland. Surprised, I pressed him to tell me about Portland and its appeal. Dimeji spoke fondly of the civic culture, scenery and opportunities. He offered to host me if I ever found myself in the Northwest. 

digital display_VFThen weeks later, while working on a project with artist and designer Marcus Kiser (also a longtime collaborator), he was excited to share that his exhibit, Intergalactic Soul, might have a showing in Portland. Marcus’s art exhibit brings together science fiction and social awareness—imagination x consciousness. He asked about my experiences with a touring exhibit, and I shared some vendors and wisdom gained from The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited.

Within days of that conversation, an inquiry about “The Soul of Philanthropy” arrived from Portland’s MRG Foundation—a philanthropic institution working for social change in Oregon communities for 40 years. A few days after that, a second Oregon foundation called about hosting my exhibit in Portland. [cue theme music from The Twilight Zone] “Whoa…what’s up with this reoccurring Portland thing,” I mused.

To cut to the chase: It’s now March and last month Marcus, along with artist Jason Woodberry and performer Quentin Talley (who’s another super-longtime collaborator and whose poetry is featured in The Soul of Philanthropy) traveled to Portland for an “Intergalactic Soul” exhibition at Portland Community College, in conjunction with a panel discussion and performance. “The Soul of Philanthropy,” pop-up edition, will be hosted by MRG Foundation and community partners in August—Black Philanthropy Month. Together, MRG Foundation and The Oregon Community Foundation will then host the comprehensive version of “The Soul of Philanthropy” with community-wide programming for three months, starting in January 2017. Whoa, indeed.

We’re picturing social change.

— VF

21st Century Philanthropy: Changing The World In A Changing World

AFP Panelist Photo

Panelists for December 9th event, hosted by AFP-Charlotte

If you’re in or near Charlotte, come to Wednesday’s AFP-Charlotte panel discussion and holiday social at Levine Museum of the New South, which features The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit.

I’m moderating the 12.09.15 discussion, titled “Fundraising in a Changing World”. Here are the panelists, who are listed in the order of the photos above:

  • Christina Theodorou, UNC American Indian Center
  • Diane Evia-Lanevi, Tomorrow Fund for Hispanic Students
  • Charles Thomas, New Generation of African American Philanthropists
  • Diep Tran, Charlotte Circle of Friends a giving circle affiliated with AAPIP
  • Steve Bentley, Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund

Click here to register.

READ MORE: http://www.icontact-archive.com/jp_xUj0qFyktMLO8BwbS6e4mI7QwQSOx?w=1

On The Road With ‘Soul’: Mile High City Moments

The Denver opening of Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited, over the August 1st weekend, summed up in photography.

Still reframing portraits of philanthropy!

Photo credits:

  • Flor Blake, The Denver Foundation
  • Andrea Murray, A-Dre Productions
  • Valaida Fulllwood, The Giving Back Project

To Touch A Soul

The community’s interest and show of support at Friday’s closing reception for The Soul of Philanthropy‬ exhibition at the Johnson C. Smith University library was deeply moving. Some folks who attended the opening event in February returned to see it again. A few of them brought along a friend or family member this time.

The experience was affirming in many ways, particularly in the context of such hot days and heated times. Outside temperatures soared beyond 90 degrees and inside the library’s air conditioner was out (our Giving Back hand fans were, indeed, handy). And just the day before, news broke about the horrific shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where JCSU administrator Malcolm Graham lost his sister in the massacre.

Given the atmosphere, we were astounded and further heartened by an occurrence at the end of the event. A man unknown to Charles arrived and handed him a sealed white envelope and inside the typed letter read:

Dear NGAAP:IMG_1557

Enclosed you will find a check for $1,000.00 in honor of [name of NGAAP member] and “The Soul of Philanthropy” exhibition at JCSU. In light of the hateful, racist and tragic events visited upon the victims, their families and the church in Charleston, SC this week, it is my earnest hope that the exhibit’s national tour might educate and change lives in unknown and unknowable ways, maybe even profoundly touching a soul in such a manner that turns hate to love.
Respectfully,
JM
More than ever, we aspire that “The Soul of Philanthropy” serve as an instrument in a triumphant movement of conscious giving for social change. #‎LoveGiveGoDo‬

98 Days of Love

Love at first sight.

A dream for years, the outdoor, interactive walls of The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit were installed on February 18 (two days before the exhibition’s opening) outside the venerable façade of Biddle Hall—the heart of Johnson C. Smith University. In pure ecstasy, at the sight of a dream come true, I, along with a flurry of snowflakes, danced about and melted at the site. My long labor of love, about the love of humanity, had manifested a momentary monument to love itself.

For 98 days, my giant love magnet drew to its walls crews of JCSU students, curious campus guests and social media-savvy visitors to the exhibition in the library’s gallery. Every day a fresh canvas, the walls invited, captured, presented, broadcast and reframed portraits of philanthropy.

Yesterday—after our grand opening event, the snow left, springtime arrived, founders week passed, commencement ended and nearly a semester on campus—the “love walls” came down. You’re sure to see the structure (and bits of colored chalk) pop up some place new soon. In the meantime, below is a photo slideshow from the 98-day reign of LOVE at Smith.

Struggle, Strength and Striving

EIGHTThe number 8 in the Bible represents a new beginning—meaning a new order or creation—and, in general, a numeral rich in symbolism. I’m alert to the fact that last week marked eight years since the idea for Giving Back came as a gift to me while at a conference in Seattle. The Giving Back Project launched that night, if only in my imagination for the first few months. Since April 2007, a lot has occurred. Gully lows. Mountain highs. Jagged trails. Leaps of faith. Dreams realized. Some deferred. And still constant aspiration and so much more to do.

In its eighth year, the Giving Back Project is indeed set to begin again with Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited embarking on a national tour to museums and galleries at public libraries and colleges. In hopes of never forgetting the struggle, strength and striving that delivered me and the project to another new threshold, I’ve posted below the “Author’s Notes” from Giving Back, which I wrote while filled with gratitude just before the book was published.


Author’s Notes from Giving Back

Grace is a gift always welcome. And I was showered with grace while developing Giving Back. When I first conceived of the idea, zeal and naivety blinded me to its magnitude. I thought it would take a year to develop the book; instead it led me on a four-and- a-half-year odyssey that proved both torturous and joyous.

At times, doubts would swarm with stinging questions about whether the vision was attainable. I questioned whether I was up to the sacrifices and risks that seeing it through seemed to require of me. People I spoke with believed in the project; they saw the significance of documenting authentic stories and producing a socially relevant book. This helped fend off some of my fears. Even with dispiriting episodes, I could never suppress for long the call of these stories.

Interviewing people was a privilege and extraordinarily gratifying; yet the gravity of the undertaking weighed heavily on me too. Each set of interview notes seemed so delicate. I gained deeper recognition of how precious each story was and how potent it could become if I possessed the wherewithal to craft a compelling body of work and get it in front of readers.

I felt like a surrogate entrusted to carry not one but scores of seeds, each exceptional, fragile and bundling possibilities. Humbled and often daunted, I knew I had to take care in crafting each story with due reverence. Demanding equal finesse was clearing an uncertain path to bring the book’s narrative and photographic content out of the obscurity of our families, our communities and my laptop into the light of the wider world. Guidance, often from unexpected people and places, came at each crossroad.

Always brightening the journey were the hopes and confidence expressed by family, friends and giving circle members. I remember the excitement of Ohmar, Renee and Rashad when they first heard my idea while on a road trip to a Black philanthropy conference. I think about Aunt Dora’s smile upon learning she inspired the book. I recall early conversations with Charles about my vision and the alignment of our artistic aspirations. Collaboration with Charles has been a God-sent steadying force, from his initial blind faith in the project to his ease, professionalism and quiet generosity.

The most beautiful gift while writing this book was being immersed in its content. I couldn’t help but become re-inspired when each day required me to delve into literally hundreds of narratives and photographs meant to inspire and motivate —I call it chicken and dumplings for the giver’s soul. Gratitude bubbles over when I look back on the gracious acts that brought Giving Back into being. Without a doubt God’s grace is greatest, but grace granted by the people around me was wonderfully sweet too.

— VF


And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.  Leviticus 25:22

Can You Afford Not To?

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A photograph from the outdoor element of “The Soul of Philanthropy” exhibit at JCSU.

Love this!

— VF