Elizabeth McGeveran: Fighting Climate Change One Step at a Time

June 18, 2015, 2:00 pm
Completed Community Solar Garden outside of Denver International Airport. (Photo: SunShare)

Completed Community Solar Garden outside of Denver International Airport. (Photo: SunShare)

On Thursday, the Minnesota town of Cologne (population 1,500) signed a deal making it our first local government to go solar. This town will host a SunShare community solar garden, which will save $40,000 a year by fueling city buildings and sending electricity into the grid.

The municipality looked at its assets, identified a partner, and took action. This is the fundamental formula for fighting climate change.

Forty miles to the northeast, The McKnight Foundation is trying to do the same thing through our grantmaking, but also through our $2.1 billion endowment. Like Cologne, we are looking at our assets, identifying partners, and taking action on climate — in both big and small ways. Read the rest of this entry »

Neal Cuthbert: Reimagining Southeast Minnesota

June 9, 2015, 8:45 am

Below is Vice President of Program Neal Cuthbert’s foreword from the McKnight-commissioned Small Towns, Big Ideas: Reimagining Southeast Minnesota, an essay by Jay Walljasper that explores innovative examples of economic resilience in Southeast Minnesota that could serve as models for the entire Midwest.

Jay Walljasper’s Small Towns, Big Ideas: Reimagining Southeast Minnesota was commissioned by The McKnight Foundation as part of our “Food for Thought” series — a collection of independent essays to help inform our understanding of the fields in which we operate and our related program strategies. This is the first in a four-part series examining the opportunities and challenges in Minnesota’s countryside.

Since 1986, The McKnight Foundation has invested over $270 million in the Minnesota Initiative Foundations — six independent regional philanthropic organizations with priorities defined by the people in its own region. They offer grants and loans to support prosperous and diversified local economies, protect natural resources, cultivate strong leadership, and offer innovative social services. Read the rest of this entry »

Arleta Little: Art Counts

May 19, 2015, 9:30 am
Mu Performing Arts performing Little Shop of Horrors (Photo: Michal Daniel)

Mu Performing Arts’ 2011 production of Little Shop of Horrors (Photo: Michal Daniel)

When is the last time you saw a play, an independent film, or live dance?

Listened to live music or a poetry reading?

Held a hand-thrown ceramic mug or bowl?

Admired a painting, piece of sculpture, or public art?

Perhaps, you and your neighbors have come together to make art or your children participate in art in their school or community.

Minnesota is flush with 42,189 artists who live throughout the state and generate many of the arts experiences enjoyed by nearly 19 million attendees (including many repeat patrons) each year.

Many of Minnesota’s artists find resources and audiences for their work via the enviable ecosystem of arts and culture nonprofits that exists in Minnesota as the result of a long legacy of public and private investments. Read the rest of this entry »

Erin Gavin: Helping America’s Dual Language Learners Succeed

April 30, 2015, 8:47 am
Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools.

Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Public Schools.

Through our Pathway Schools Initiative, McKnight partners with seven schools in the Twin Cities — as well as the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute — to align and improve the quality of literacy instruction from PreK-3rd grade. Dual Language Learners (DLLs) make up nearly two-thirds of the student population in our Pathway Schools — across Minneapolis and St. Paul, DLLs represent approximately one-third of all students and are the fastest growing demographic in Minnesota schools. We view these bilingual students as a key asset for Minnesota – strengthening our cultural diversity and improving our global economic competitiveness.

However, these aspirations will be realized only if DLLs receive effective educational supports. In 2014, only 64 percent of language learners in Minnesota graduated from high school on time — compared to 76 percent of all students. Only 24 percent of DLL third graders in Minnesota read proficiently — a metric that research demonstrates is highly predictive of future academic success. Read the rest of this entry »

Kate Wolford: Philanthropy’s robust toolkit can advance climate mitigation, adaptation via community action, policy, & markets

April 20, 2015, 2:49 pm
Solar panels atop the Minneapolis Convention Center help power the facility. (Photo: MCC)

Solar panels atop the Minneapolis Convention Center help power the facility. (Photo: MCC)

Even as the high human, economic, environmental, and planetary costs of climate change come into sharper focus, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, tightening the timeframe for a transition to a low-carbon future. Climate change exacerbates growing pressures on life-sustaining resources, including freshwater, soil, and biodiversity.  We all have a stake in efforts to mitigate the emissions that contribute to climate change and to increase adaptive capacity to cope with its effects.

The McKnight Foundation addresses mitigation and adaptation alongside other goals in multiple program areas, including our Collaborative Crop Research, Mississippi River, and Region & Communities programs. In 2013, our board of directors established a Midwest Climate & Energy program to help reposition a major emitting region as a leader in cultivating a new, clean, and resilient energy system. Important new pathways are emerging across the Midwest through market transformation, public policy, and community action, from small towns to major cities. We see philanthropy as a critical player in this transition, accelerating progress by breaking down the barriers which slow the growth of the clean energy economy and lock our communities into unsustainable development paths. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »