Mark Muller: Nitrates in drinking water causing friction in Iowa

April 15, 2015, 3:50 pm

It’s been a contentious month for water quality in Iowa. In early March the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) announced that the utility will file a federal suit against three rural counties in northwest Iowa for nitrate pollution.

Residents of Des Moines and other nearby municipalities receive tap water that originates from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Drinking water is federally mandated to have less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of nitrates, most importantly because higher nitrate levels have induced potentially lethal Blue Baby Syndrome in infants. DMWW regularly receives water higher than 10 ppm from its source waters, and this pollution is largely a result of the nitrogen fertilizers and manure applied to farm fields in northwest Iowa. Read the rest of this entry »

Sarah Hernandez: Market Orientation and Scalability

April 10, 2015, 10:34 am

Last year, in conjunction with McKnight’s “Moving the Market” call for proposals, Region & Communities (R&C) program director Lee Sheehy shared some of the foundation’s thinking about market orientation and scale, and the rich opportunities they present to advance our program goals. A lot has happened in the intervening year, and now — with 2015 well under way and spring in the air — it’s a good time to revisit the concepts Lee teed up and see how far we’ve come with them.

The R&C team has been integrating the concepts of market orientation and scalability into our thinking and grantmaking over the last two years. In the context of a cross-sector grantmaking environment, market orientation refers to the calibration of the nonprofit and government sectors with the private market to maximize resources to benefit low-income or disinvested communities. Scalability refers to the capacity to achieve and maintain high-quality, sustainable outcomes while adapting efforts to meet the needs of a broader community.

On January 21, 2015, we convened grantees and other nonprofit and government stakeholders to discuss these ideas in the context of the important work happening in multiple sectors and issue areas in the Twin Cities region. As the region faces rapidly diversifying demographics, shifting economies, technological advancements and pressures on natural and human resources, among other changes, the group came together to discuss how its joint work for the greater good could be leveraged and improved by integrating the concepts of market orientation and scalability. Read the rest of this entry »

Kate Wolford & Meghan Brown: McKnight’s Strategic Framework, updated for 2015-2017

March 23, 2015, 2:48 pm

With 2015 now in full swing, we are pleased to share with you The McKnight Foundation’s new Strategic Framework, updated and refreshed for 2015-2017. This is the second iteration of this important document, the first of which was developed in 2011 and implemented for 2012-2014. We got good mileage out of our inaugural framework during the first three years; we are excited to put the new one — a slightly streamlined model which retains the parts that worked well and revises those that needed some tuning up — to use during the next three.

2015 convening of Region & Communities grantees

2015 convening of Region & Communities grantees

McKnight’s Strategic Framework is very much a living document, which — like our work — must evolve in response to a changing environment if it is going to remain useful and relevant. We intentionally took an open and collaborative approach to the framework update process, inviting input from stakeholders connected to McKnight’s mission at all levels. Naturally, our board and staff were highly engaged; but we took a further step this time around, turning to our network of grantees, peers, and other partners for ideas on mapping our strategic course based on their unique contexts. Read the rest of this entry »

Vickie Benson: The Long View on Artist-Centered Creative Placemaking in Minnesota

March 13, 2015, 9:53 am

People intrigued by Minnesota’s surplus of artist-centered creative placemaking activities often ask me, “What’s in the water in Minnesota?” And with good reason: A flurry of discussion (in articles, blog posts, opinion pieces, and at conferences) and bricks-and-mortar development (in the streets, neighborhoods, and lives of actual Minnesotans), all spinning out from the central concept of creative placemaking, has engulfed Minnesota’s arts and community development fields.

Pillsbury House + Theatre

Pillsbury House + Theatre, Minneapolis (Photo: PH+T)

So, what is in the water around here?

The term creative placemaking has entered the lexicon of elected officials, commercial developers, business owners, chambers of commerce, and nonprofit leaders beyond arts and community development. The definition is crafted and re-crafted. The blueprint for successful implementation is drawn and redrawn. Ann Markusen’s and Anne Gadwa’s landmark 2010 study, Creative Placemaking, offered a definition that involves cross-sector partners strategically shaping places around arts and culture, “bring[ing] diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.” Read the rest of this entry »

Eric Muschler: Exploring Unsubsidized Affordable Housing

February 26, 2015, 4:00 am

This post originally appeared at The Edge, an online magazine from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research.



Minneapolis' Clare Midtown, recipient of the 2014 AIA Minnesota/McKnight Affordable Housing Design Award

Minneapolis’ Clare Midtown, recipient of the 2014 AIA MN/McKnight Affordable Housing Design Award

Recently, the McKnight Foundation has been giving more consideration to what market orientation and scalability mean for our programs, policies, and grantmaking approach. In part this is an adaptive response to the Great Recession, diminishing resources, constraints at the federal level, and persistence of troubling trends. Many of our development partners in the affordable housing field are aware of market orientation because they must work in the marketplace to attract resources for construction and rehabilitation; however, because financing systems for affordable housing rely so heavily on subsidies, these developers aren’t necessarily encouraged to make market orientation a priority. The focus of developing affordable housing is filling the “gap” in the market between total development costs and what can be financed by net operating income. Thanks in large part to Minnesota’s well-developed and sophisticated affordable housing field, however, we are beginning to ask ourselves tough questions about the subsidy per unit cost of affordable housing (see MN Challenge) and if there are alternatives that would require little or no subsidy. We wanted to know if a socially motivated developer could purchase existing unsubsidized housing and create permanently affordable housing with little or no subsidy. Read the rest of this entry »

Elizabeth McGeveran: Small decisions equal big opportunity for investor influence on carbon disclosure

January 29, 2015, 12:04 pm
Midwest-centered report from the Risky Business Project.

Heat in the Heartland: Climate change impact on the Midwest

Last week in Minneapolis, hundreds of people gathered at the Economic Club of Minnesota, which provides a non-partisan platform for business, government, and public policy leaders to present ideas on how Minnesota can better compete in the global economy. The packed house came together for the national release of Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change & Economic Risk in the Midwest, a new report funded in part by The McKnight Foundation.

With the report’s analysis as their backdrop, well-known captains of industry Greg Page (executive chair of Cargill) and Henry Paulson (former Goldman Sachs exec and former U.S. Treasury Secretary) underscored the dramatic risks facing Midwest businesses in a changing climate. According to the research, regional outcomes will likely include shifting agricultural patterns, lost productivity, and rising crime. The report is based on open-source data that allows interested readers to go very local, exploring implications for specific cities such as Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Read the rest of this entry »

Annual letter: Grantmaking forecast and 2014 highlights

January 13, 2015, 9:01 am

This annual letter updates our grantees and program partners with information about The McKnight Foundation’s grantmaking forecast and program priorities as we enter 2015. We believe that communicating openly about our work can build shared understanding among our partners, helping us all to work more effectively together.

McKnight staff during a service day clearing buckthorn at Coldwater Spring, working with National Park Service and Mississippi River Fund.

McKnight staff during a service day clearing buckthorn at Coldwater Spring.

McKnight’s grantmaking in 2015 is slated to total roughly $85 million across all programs, on par with recent years. Across the board, we plan to hold steady our support for all current programs. The Foundation’s endowment now sits at just over $2.1 billion.

In setting grant payout levels every year, McKnight’s board of directors balances several factors, including our commitment to impactful grantmaking, maintaining strong momentum toward program goals, and providing sound stewardship of the Foundation’s assets. Read the rest of this entry »

Becky Monnens: Acknowledging and addressing gender bias can unlock program potential

December 18, 2014, 10:30 am

Women with millet harvest and traditional granaries in the background (West Africa)

Recently, I stumbled upon Project Implicit, a website full of assessments that are designed to reveal a person’s subconscious attitudes, stereotypes, and biases. As a self-described feminist and a professional grantmaker in agricultural research, I wondered if the site’s tests might reveal a subconscious gender-science bias in me. I was pleased to find no measureable, implicit bias when looking at my perceptions of gender and science, because I know that both explicit and implicit gender biases in science (and in many other careers) exist in spades across the world.

Like so many other challenges, eliminating such biases starts with awareness. As a grantmaker, I need to be aware of the implicit and explicit biases in myself and in the people and institutions I work with, continually questioning whether our actions are going to produce equitable outcomes. Read the rest of this entry »

Ted Staryk: Sandy Spieler, 2014 McKnight Distinguished Artist

December 12, 2014, 12:38 pm

Below is board chair Ted Staryk’s foreword from the recently released commemorative book celebrating McKnight’s 2014 Distinguished Artist, Sandy Spieler — artist, activist, and founder of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre on Lake Street in Minneapolis.

2014 McKnight Distinguished Artist Sandy Spieler

2014 McKnight Distinguished Artist Sandy Spieler

When a MinnPost interviewer asked Sandy Spieler why she had chosen puppets as her medium, Sandy replied that “Puppets have no life of their own, and yet, when you pick them up, a breath comes into them. And then, when you lay them down, the breath goes out. It’s the ritual of life: We’re brought to our birth, then we move in our life, then we lie down to the earth again.”

For Sandy, such transformation is the very essence of art, and the transformation in which she specializes extends far beyond any single performance. She and her colleagues and her neighbors transform ideas into spectacle. They transform everyday materials like cardboard, sticks, fabric, and paper into figures that come to life. And through their art, Sandy and her collaborators at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) have helped transform their city and our region. Their work—which invites people in by traveling to where they live, learn, play, and work— combines arresting visuals, movement, and music to inspire us to be the caretakers of our communities and the earth. Read the rest of this entry »

Lorri Todd: McKnight as host, thinking green for ourselves and our guests

November 17, 2014, 9:25 am

More than 10 years ago, McKnight relocated from a nondescript downtown office to our current site in the Washburn A Mill building, on the western bank of the Mississippi River.

Staircase is reclaimed wood from a barn and reprocessed corten steel

Staircase is reclaimed barn wood and salvaged, reprocessed Corten steel

Although we only moved about a mile, the resulting changes in McKnight’s practices, culture, and grantee relationships were monumental. Our old space functioned as little more than a home base for program work taking place outside the office, in the communities we serve. But our current offices are much more of a home than a home base — and nowadays, every day, we welcome communities of grantees, partners, collaborators, and peers here to join us. Last year in our five onsite community meeting spaces, McKnight’s offices provided space, tech resources and support, and basic concessions for 3,900 people at 152 mission-related meetings and convenings. This represents a level of daily program support and partnership that wouldn’t have been possible prior to our current location.

And, as this has become an increasingly integral element of our philanthropy, we’ve emphasized that how we provide this service is as important as the service itself. Read the rest of this entry »