Interview: Alyce Myatt, GFEM
About Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media (GFEM)
GFEM is an association of grantmakers committed to advancing the field of media arts and public interest media funding. GFEM serves as a resource for grantmakers who fund media content, infrastructure, and policy, those who employ media to further their program goals as well as a collaborative network for funders who wish to learn more about media.
GFEM seeks to increase the amount and effectiveness of media funding by foundations and other funders and the use of media in grantmakers’ and grantees’ work. GFEM intends to raise the broader foundation community’s understanding of current media policy and trends, affecting funders’ work in the larger grantmaking community. Recently, GFEM created a database where youth media grantseekers can upload their projects and where funders interested in supporting projects can find initiatives to meet their funding criteria. Check out: www.media.gfem.org.
GFEM’s aim is to deepen the field of media funding by providing programs and services for colleague grantmakers. GFEM facilitates collaboration and idea sharing among media grantmakers and leaders in the field and works to increase the amount and quality of data available on trends in media funding. For more see: www.gfem.org/about and www.gfem.org/media_issues.
About Alyce Myatt
Alyce Myatt has served as executive director of GFEM since 2006. Prior to GFEM, she was a multimedia consultant providing analysis and strategic planning services for independent media organizations and the philanthropic community. In that capacity she has had a client base that included the Council on Foundations, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), the Women Donors Network, the Center for Digital Democracy, Free Speech TV, MediaWorks, OneWorld TV, Emerson College, TVE Brasil, the Heinz Endowments, and the Annie E. Casey and Skillman Foundations. Prior to her return to consulting, she was Vice President of Programming for the Public Broadcasting Service overseeing independent film, PBS Kids, and the Ready To Learn initiative. Alyce has been a program officer for media at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and president of her own consulting firm that provided program development services, strategic planning, and brand management to a variety of clients in television, radio, and for the Internet. Her production credits include the Smithsonian Institution, Nickelodeon, and the ABC News magazine “20/20.”
YMR: What is the Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media’s vantage point on the current funding landscape?
Alyce Myatt: We live in a media saturated environment. Media has the ability to influence. At GFEM, we believe that the philanthropic sector has a role to play in policy making. Because media is not being perceived by most of the sector as a primary issue of concern it is often not funded to the degree of other issue areas like health and human services and education. However, Funders can be more effective in solving the issues they prioritize by supporting and using media as a key strategy.
YMR: From your point of view, what does the funding landscape look like? What are investors interested in and what overall trends do you see?
Myatt: Recently, GFEM did a presentation with Joi Ito, head of Creative Commons, asking where he thought the most strategic areas to invest were. He said he thought there should be greater investment in young people, particularly in areas of conflict as an activity to move them away from more dangerous activities. Technology can be used for good or ill. If foundations more actively engaged youth in conflict areas (domestic or international) they would have an opportunity to spark innovation in young people.
For example, Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing web site that identified locations of conflict in Kenya, connected concerned individuals around the world. Within three years, the application has expanded and evolved to identify not only places of conflict, but where food, water and medical supplies were located during the Haiti devastation, areas where the oil spill was washing up on shore in the Gulf, and many other examples across Europe and Africa. This project/application began as a volunteer effort and is now supported by funders and governments investments.
The political climate, coupled with innovations in the media sector, has increased funders’ awareness of media; as a result, they are actively learning how to use and support it. Media runs the gamut—it includes everything from social issue documentaries and narrative films, to investing in new media/social media tools (such as applications for mobile phones).
YMR: Why or why aren’t funders interested in investing dollars in media?
Myatt: Some of the reasons that I hear from funders who are not funding media are primarily based on myths and assumptions—for example, it costs too much money to fund (“hundreds of thousands of dollars”), which is not true. Small investments are equally important. We recently spoke to a documentary filmmaker and her first investment was $500. That was enough to get her started.
It is important to note that even though anyone can go out to a BestBuy, purchase a Flip video camera and install Final Cut Pro on a laptop—that is not what we are talking about. Not everyone can tell a well-crafted story.
Media making is littered with failure. But to support those who are making an important, well-crafted story—one that can make significant change—is a critical opportunity for investors.
Funders cannot simply leave media to “other” funders to support, just because your area of focus is poverty or health. Media is a component that greatly adds to and advances the solutions to all issue areas.
Media is also extremely important when we try to address issues of marginalized communities such as women and communities of color. Workforce, pay and health disparities are just some issues that place these communities at a disadvantage.
Because of its power, the absence of women and people of color in the media is actually perpetuating stereotypes. Similarly, smart and engaged youth are absent in the media, which increases the social assumption that youth do not care or, even worse, that they are a threat. Commercial media picks up on these stereotypes, which permeate and causes tremendous damage. Gangsters, bitches and hos—these stereotypical and constructed images in the mainstream are frightening. Consequently, because of their perceived threatening power, they encourage disaffected youth to aspire to these archetypes.
YMR: What does the funding landscape look like, specific to Youth Media?
Myatt: A single major investor in the field—as we have had in the past—does not exist now. When I was a program officer at MacArthur back in 1999, we had a specific youth media initiative through our community-based media arts center. When MacArthur phased-out funding in this area, Open Society Institute picked up the mantel until 2005/2006.
Now, family foundations are supporting youth media in their localities. The NEA and local governments do what they can to support youth media. Many youth media organizations are partnering with one another for group funding. Collaborative efforts such as these are extremely useful while allowing each organization to maintain its’ individuality.
YMR: What are some key takeaways in the recent GFEM report “Funding Media, Strengthening Democracy: Grantmaking for the 21st Century”?
Myatt: We can make a substantive impact in the sector if we address three issues.
First, there is no way to calculate how many philanthropic dollars are going into media (or anything else, for that matter). All information needs to be readable by machines. Therefore, grants and grant reports should be in an open system and calculated in real time. We need to know how much money is going into media and how much is going into youth media in order to effectively identify gaps, overlaps and new opportunities.
Second, regardless of what one is funding, eventually, media is always involved. Media is a strategy and an important tool for all strategies and critical issue areas.
Third, grant making must become more collaborative. If we are serious about significant social change, we must be open and transparent within the sector and not take a propriety stand when funding a particular area.
Referring to Patricia Zimmermann’s book entitled States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies, multiple sectors are currently in states of emergency; in fact, extreme states of emergency. In terms of media, philanthropy should be ahead of the curve. Too often I hear funders talking about incorporating the uses of Twitter and Facebook when instead, they need to be involved in the next iteration of social networking tools. In this regard, Philanthropy is moving too slow.
YMR: What recommendations do you have for practitioners/educators in the field who seek investors?
Myatt: While it might be obvious to talk with funders who already support media, I would also recommend meeting with funders interested in supporting education, workforce development, community development, and other areas that an effective youth media program could strengthen.
The role that youth media can play in the overall education of a young person is key. Basic literacy skills—in addition to media and visual literacy—can be an assumption of youth media if it is structured well. All of our concerns about the education of youth can be addressed through a comprehensive, well-crafted youth media program that develops cognitive and socio-emotional skill sets.
Further, media skills are 21st century skills and require a proficiency in audio and video content for multiple-media platforms. Every company, agency, service organization—even shops, stores, and restaurants—typically have web sites that require content design and consistent maintenance. Media/communications is at the heart of the 21st century industry.
Media is so pervasive and kids are so well versed in media (mobile applications, social media, etc). It is the adults who are behind the curve. Adults need to better understand how to develop media applications that enhance the skill development of young people. Youth media is an important model that starts where young people are (rather than where they are not comfortable) where they can engage with tools that are important to their future and that of the next generation.