Acoma Pueblo pottery designs projected onto a 3-dimensional vase as part of a major initiative by the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in partnership with Ideum. Photo by Ideum.

Grants & Awards

Thoma Foundation’s 2021 Digital Changemakers Announced

June 9, 2021

The Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation is thrilled to announce the recipients of the inaugural Digital Changemaker Grant, an initiative to support medium-sized cultural organizations reimagining the role and use of technology in achieving their missions. The Digital Changemaker Grant will support five cultural organizations with grants of $100,000 each based on the merits of their application proposals: Asia Society Texas Center, Flagstaff Arts Council, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, and Snow City Arts.

The Thoma Foundation defines a “digital changemaker” as a cultural institution that is using technology to elevate viewer interactions, both on-site and virtually. The grant program strives to not only help organizations execute cutting-edge digital projects, but also to raise the bar on what is perceived as possible for smaller institutions to achieve. In anticipation of a future where the physical and virtual remain intertwined, the program seeks to support and share boundary-pushing initiatives that reach and engage with diverse audiences in novel ways.

The five recipients of the grant are:

  • Flagstaff Arts Council (Flagstaff, AZ) — a local arts agency focused not only on advocacy, outreach, and grantmaking, but also organizing diverse exhibitions and performances at their arts center. Flagstaff Arts Council will build a digital resource and education center and train local artists and nonprofits to employ digital strategies in order to foster the adaptation of Flagstaff’s cultural sector to a digital-forward sector.
  • Snow City Arts (Chicago, IL) — an arts education provider to children in youth in hospitals. Snow City Arts will expand its virtual initiative to serve those in transitional spaces, including outpatient clinics and juvenile justice programs. In addition to expanding access to standards-based, trauma-informed arts education, Snow City Arts is developing new modes of program delivery that will transform the ways in which they engage with students.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Santa Fe, NM) — the single largest repository of O’Keeffe’s work and the only museum in the United States dedicated to a female artist. The O’Keeffe Museum will connect art and archives through digital storytelling, linking digital tools to mission-specific resources at other museums and providing a case study of how digital interventions can be designed to function collaboratively to generate new knowledge.
  • Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (Albuquerque, NM) — a cultural center and museum dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Pueblo culture in New Mexico. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in partnership with Ideum (Corales, NM) will use projection mapping technology to bring Native pottery designs, spanning historical and contemporary, to an interactive display, and create a database of pottery design and symbols.
  • Asia Society Texas Center (Houston, TX) — an educational institution promoting cultural exchange across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy. The Asia Society Texas Center will create an online learning platform to fill the demand for learning resources about contemporary Asia and Asian culture and the current gaps in relevant, available content for educators, while engaging students with popular formats, such as graphic novels and interactive content.

“The pandemic has shown how important technology is for museums and other cultural institutions to stay connected with audiences. We were thrilled to see innovation across arts and culture organizations of all types and sizes, not just large museums,” says founder Carl Thoma. “These awarded organizations will be a role model for broad change in the field, as even after COVID, arts organizations will need to continue to rely on digital strategies to be relevant and effective.”

The five recipients were selected from a competitive pool of 96 applicants from the Foundation’s special funding region, which includes Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. These organizations are pioneers in their fields, redefining how technology can be deployed to meaningfully engage with audiences and communities long before shutdowns across the country renewed the conversation around virtual offerings.

These initiatives also share the Foundation’s mission to connect people across cultures and spark creativity. “Our initiative connects contemporary Pueblo potting practice to historical designs and creates a unique exhibition that would be interactive both in-person and virtual, as visitors can play with the designs and learn about them as they do so,” explains Rachel Moore, Curator of Exhibitions at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. “It highlights artistic achievement of Pueblo potters, engages students in Pueblo heritage, and is a source of ‘fun’ learning.”

Cultural organizations offer myriad perspectives on what it means to be a “digital changemaker,” and these five organizations span the spectrum of initiatives, from online learning that reaches traditionally neglected audiences to digitally enhanced interactive exhibits. With a large range in operating budgets from less than $1 million to just north of $10 million, these organizations also showcase that meaningful digital projects can happen at all sizes.

At their core, these organizations all demonstrate a commitment to using bold and innovative tools to enable the continued success of their missions. Snow City Arts Executive Director Carrie Spitler notes that new digital platforms extend the historic strengths of their programs to new environments, in their case “transforming transitional environments, which can often be scary and uncertain, into spaces of creativity and joy.”

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