DreamMaker

Participating Organizations

  • Hmong Community of the Northcoast, Eureka, CA
  • Eureka Art & Culture Commission, Eureka, CA
  • Playhouse Arts, Arcata, CA
  • 2 Left Feet, Arcata, CA
  • AkaBella SongCorps, Eureka, CA
  • ASK ME, Carlotta, CA
  • Institute of Native Knowledge, Arcata, CA
  • Synapsis, Arcata, CA
  • Original Voices, Eureka, CA
  • WildRivers101 Film Festival, Garberville, CA
  • Alternative Galleries
  • Annie B. Ryan House
  • Arcata Repertory Theatre
  • Artistic Action for Hope, Happiness & Health (AAHHH)
  • Ban Longya Project
  • Bandemonium
  • Blue Lake Teens 4 Change
  • Brazilian Cultural Arts Center
  • Brenda Tuxford Gallery
  • California Arts Council’s Artist in Schools
  • Comite de Madres
  • CyberTribe
  • Dance & Drum in Humboldt
  • Danza Xalxiutlicue
  • Digital Media Zone/The Arts Online
  • Elemental
  • Fire Arts Center Education
  • Gaia Humanity Project
  • Hammond Trail Cultural History
  • Hit & Run Productions
  • Horai Center for Study of Pacific Culture
  • Humboldt Arts & Sustainable Living Network
  • Humboldt Communidad
  • Humboldt County Youth Art/Placebo
  • Humboldt Spin Collective
  • Incopah Retreat and Wellness Center
  • KKDS
  • Life Drawing & Painting Groups
  • Luna Kids
  • Manifest Positivity
  • MARZ (Media & Arts Resource Zone)
  • Money Like Water
  • Mosaic Productions
  • Native Women’s Collective
  • New Choice Productions
  • Newsletter
  • North Coast Storytellers
  • North Star Quest Camp
  • Old Women’s Theater
  • OS Assemblies
  • Prague Project
  • Redwood Coast Writers’ Center
  • Rural Burl Mural Bureau
  • Sanctuary Stage
  • Senior Arts & Culture Project
  • Senryu Poetry Project
  • Steelhead Special
  • Street Beats
  • Vagabond Players
  • We Pan

Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.

Formation

  • Joint Programming to launch and manage one or more programs
  • Administrative Consolidation to share, exchange, or provide back office services such as accounting, IT, human resources
  • Merger by which governance, programs and administrative functions have been combined but which may or may not have included the integration into a single corporate entity.
Multi-County
  • Arts and Culture
  • Community Development
  • Economically Disadvantaged
  • Immigrants
  • Minorities
1995
  • Achieve administrative efficiencies
  • Improve the quality of services / programs
  • Address unmet and/or escalating community need
  • Financial problems / pressures within one or more of the partnering organizations
  • Response to a community need
  • Response to a funding opportunity
  • Executive Director(s) / CEO(s) / President(s)
  • Community leader(s) / organization(s)
>10
  • Suggested / encouraged the collaboration
  • Provided endorsement of the project
Yes

In the mid 1980s, at the request of the California Arts Council, we began exploring how to collaborate with other nonprofits to maximize efficiencies and provide extensive technical assistance in management and administration. We began with Rural Arts Services, a statewide rural artists' service organization. Beginning in 1990, we formalized the process while working with the Seventh Generation Fund to form the Intertribal Coalition for Cultural Continuity and the Institute of Native Knowledge, and the Humboldt Area Foundation to ensure the continuation of the Hmong Community of the Northcoast, which was experiencing culture shock. Our collaboration expanded to work with incorporated and unincorporated community-initiated projects, which wanted to try out nonprofit structure before incorporating or deciding to stay under our administration or to complete their projects and close down.

We have since found ourselves acting as a hub and facilitator for many different kinds of community-initiated projects for over 20 years. It is costly and exhausting to incorporate a new tax-exempt organization. We watched several groups go through it and by the time they were finished, they didn’t have any energy left for their creative dreams. As a means of allowing people to try out their ideas before committing to the corporate structure, we started “incubating” DreamMaker projects. We give them peer support, advice, technical assistance, a sound administrative structure, and lots of compassionate handholding. Since then, we have worked with over 200 projects. Presently, there are over 50 DreamMakers, some of which are 501(c)(3)s and some of which are informal projects.

Each year, we offer workshops in comprehensive aspects of nonprofit management and fund development, and invite project directors to participate in the Circle of Emerging Leaders. Offering structured training allows us to be able to have time to respond to individual groups’ needs. Bringing the project leaders together also gives them the opportunity to get to know each other better, share stories of successes and challenges, and creates an atmosphere conducive to cooperative, collaborative and cross-disciplinary endeavors.

Management

One Executive Director / CEO / President

The management structure evolved through extended discussions, trial and error, feedback and response, and working hard at clear communication. Our mutual goals were to ensure excellent administration and success, while allowing the organizations to focus on achieving their cultural and artistic goals. The Ink People's mission is to change lives by connecting people with resources for cultural development. Thus, the efficiencies of scale made sense to all concerned, given the scarcity of resources, especially for arts groups.

By centralizing the administration, financial management, fund development, and capacity building for the organizations, we have made it possible for many cultural and artistic groups to be successful and enrich our community far beyond what would have otherwise been possible.

Over time, organizations complete projects or leaders' lives change, and groups close down, or go off on their own, having become well established and stable. Thus, there is constant turnover in the groups, though some have chosen to remain in the collaboration for many years, like original organizations, the Hmong Community and Institute of Native Knowledge. We average 12-15 new organizations a year.

Challenges

  • Lack of trust among partners
  • Coordinating / merging / integrating operations
  • Raising funds or integrating fund development to support the collaboration
  • Creating a shared culture

We have developed a constant feedback loop that allows us to head off most challenges and address them before they become fatal. Organizational leaders know they can get help for managing issues, whether they are dealing with personnel, finances or structure, from the Ink People's Executive Director or peers in other collaborative organizations. Should challenges get beyond this stage, we request the involved parties to meet and openly discuss their views in an open and safe environment. This almost always results in resolution. We have never had a group self-destruct, if they have engaged in this process. Rarely, a group's leaders will not take advantage of the resources available to them, and may lose control of their organization and fail. About three have gone this far.

Impact

  • Financial savings - Consolidation of management / administration
  • Financial savings - Bundled insurance policies
  • Fund development - Access to new / more sources of funding
  • Enhanced ability to manage reporting, documentation, billing - Enhanced ability to manage reporting, documentation, billing
  • Collaboration has served as a model for others
  • Previously unmet community need now being addressed

In the last 30 years, Humboldt County has gone from a cultural backwater to a vibrant, culturally infused community, due in large part to our efforts. We still have a lot of social and economic problems, but the development of arts and cultural projects to address some of those issues has proven to be effective in resolving some of them. Perhaps the most effective part of our method is providing the cushioned try-out period for the nascent groups and the extensive support for already incorporated partners. By taking them into our organizational structure as a project, giving them open access to arts professionals, technological and administrative support, they are able to develop their programs in relative safety. The pressures of overhead, no track record, and competition are significantly lessened. This program builds capacity in both the arts groups and in the community.

Admittedly, we have little formal evaluation structure, other than the success of the organizations as measured by financial stability, growth, and programmatic success. The collaboration's impact in the community has been evident in the reduction of graffiti, the decrease in mental health adverse outcomes, more healthy and well adjusted youth, and the broad community involvement in arts and cultural activities.

Model

The DreamMaker structure has been used as a model by several other organizations, both locally and nationally. The Humboldt Area Foundation used it as a template for reorganizing its funds into a lateral management structure that simplified and clarified their functionality. This structure provides flexibility for the collaboration of existing organizations to thrive, developing groups to build capacity and achieve their goals, and acts as a launching pad for independent and effective organizations. The relative simplicity of the structure and its feedback mechanisms allows maximum effectiveness at minimal cost.

Efficiencies Achieved

The DreamMaker collaboration’s most readily quantifiable efficiency is the centralization of bookkeeping and other administrative functions. These include grantwriting and fund development assistance, a central message and postal delivery mailbox, financial record keeping, disbursement and deposit of funds in a separately tracked account, inclusion in an umbrella liability insurance policy, access to computers and free webhosting, and free or subsidized training opportunities. Additionally, the collaborators receive unlimited free consultation services with experts on nonprofit management and other issues specific to arts and cultural endeavors.
These services save the participating organizations each over $20,000 a year, and also save them from doing those things badly or wrong. For the 62 nonprofit organizations and community-initiated projects presently active in the DreamMaker Program, that is a potential savings of over $1,240,000 per year. The groups do pay an administrative fee on all funds they receive of 12.5%, except for ticket revenues from performances for which they are assessed 5%.

Most of these groups run on such low budgets that the cost of liability insurance alone would be enough to prevent them from carrying out their vision. Bookkeeping and financial tracking would be minimally performed, and receiving grant funding would be totally out of the question. The loss to the community in cultural enrichment, insightful civic discourse, and enhance quality of life without these programs and services is immeasurable. Literally hundreds of community improvement projects would not have happened in the last thirty years.

When The Ink People began exploring this kind of collaboration in the 1980s, our relationships were more like a fiscal receiver, but we soon realized that we could be the catalyst for significant community change by offering more and going deeper. By the 1990s, we had made significant strides toward developing our range of services and administrative efficiencies.

We have found that the 501(c)(3)s that we collaborate with generally stay within the DreamMaker structure for at least ten years, and some longer. Most of the unincorporated projects run from one to five years. A few have been in the DreamMaker sphere for over ten years, but most either have done all they set out to do or decide to fledge as an independent organization. In the latter case, we assist them with the processes of incorporation and gaining tax exempt status, a savings to them of over $5,000 each in lawyer fees. Throughout the life of the DreamMaker Program, only 7 groups have gone independent, with a savings of over $35,000.

Our collaborative has been locally recognized by both the Humboldt Area Foundation and the Mel & Grace McLean Foundation as an important resource and catalyst for the community. They have observed the community building effects of the DreamMaker Program over time, and have become regular supporters of our efforts. Although they appreciate the whole package of services we offer, it is the operational efficiencies that they like the most. In a sense, we act as a de facto community cultural development arm for them.

Evolution

When we started going down this path, our county was home to many artists (the highest per capita number in California), but they were mostly independent loners, generating little synergy for the community good. An unintended result of developing this collaborative has been the exponential growth of joint endeavors aimed at improving our lives in common. It has also served to strengthen and define the vibrant expression of the diverse cultures which make up our community.

The management structure was not so much “chosen” as it evolved through trial and error, and much feedback and give and take amongst the collaborating partners. Part of the evolution was developing a coherent, efficient and effective package of services, and the other part was figuring out how to create a structure that would meet the collaborative’s needs without destroying any of the organizations, especially The Ink People. We had to balance the needs and strengths of the collaborators, and find ways to support an environment conducive to learning, rapid change, and resilience. In truth, we have all grown and become stronger, better, and more efficient.

There were partners who just did not fit well in the structure and were encouraged to become independent. Most of them had founder or other structural problems, which eventually tore them apart. We managed to learn from those experiences and developed better systems of evaluating potential new collaborators. Their leaders must meet personally with us to discuss their vision and how the collaborative works, what are their rights and responsibilities. If both sides agree to proceed, the prospective organization must then make a presentation to The Ink People’s Board of Directors, who also make sure they understand the working arrangements. The Board must then adopt the group into the DreamMaker Program. When the group leaders come in to sign the agreement, they are welcomed and oriented to the particulars of the collaboration.

A few new collaborative partners start out resenting the administrative fees that are assessed, but fairly quickly, all see and experience the benefits of shared administration, bookkeeping, and immediate acceptance by the community, just in stating that they are a partner in the DreamMaker Program. The excellent reputation extends incalculable benefits to their efforts and allows them to hit the ground running. This alone saves years of building a reputation, establishing credibility with funders and donors, and finding reliable partners to work with.

Most of our evaluation has been anecdotal of the success of the projects and the ripples they have created in the community. Some numbers, though, are tracked, such as that we have 62 active partners in the collaborative right now, and have worked with several hundred more over the years. An amazing 99% of partners in exit interviews have expressed satisfaction with the collaborative experience. About 10% of organizations that left the county have started similar projects in their new homes.

The anecdotal evidence of the power of this collaborative is very strong. Attitudes about working together, sharing resources, and improving the common good have flourished in the last 25 years in our community. We believe that the DreamMaker collaborative has been an important influence in that change from rugged individualism to cooperative community building. Some examples of this effect follow.

In particular, our first true DreamMaker organization was the Intertribal Coalition for Cultural Continuity. It was formed for the express purpose of contributing to the revitalization of traditional local Native American cultures. As one of the initiators stated, “Our old people are dying and we don’t know what they know.” Its primary goal was to train people who were directly connected to and accepted by the tribal communities in the creation of traditional dance regalia, basket weaving, food ways, and language, including storytelling. Over the next ten years, the efforts were so successful that traditional circles of learners had been re-established and the cultures had experienced an amazing renaissance. This cultural revitalization helped provide the confidence and grounding that the tribes seemed to need for their economic growth.

One of the main reasons members of the local Hmong community formed their nonprofit was also to pass on and revitalize their cultural roots in the wake of a rash of devastating suicides among elders who were afraid their grandchildren would forsake traditional rituals for American mainstream mores and gang life. While the cultural classes did effectively lure youngsters out of gangs and help them understand where they came from, an important benefit the Hmong Community of the Northcoast received from being a member of the collaborative was the knowledge that their money was being handled by a neutral, trustworthy party. Many other Hmong groups that organized elsewhere were torn apart by clan rivalries and distrust. Started in 1995, the Hmong Community continues to preserve and practice their cultural traditions, today. An additional benefit to the community in general has been stemming the growth of gang activity, which we have relatively little of.

While these are two significant and important examples of the social good that has been achieved by the DreamMaker collaboration, there are many more, such as:

• Through collaboration with the Eureka Redevelopment Agency beginning in 1993, the Rural Burl Mural Bureau, a teen graffiti prevention program, has made Eureka into a mural town, reduced graffiti, and greatly enhanced tourism.

• The Studio, a place for developmentally disabled people to explore creativity, has built a workshop/class space and runs a successful gallery.

• The Annie B. Ryan House Historical Preservation Project is collaborating with College of the Redwoods’ Preservation Technology class to restore the house and establish an historical center and gardens educating the public about this Eureka pioneer family and Eureka’s history.

• Blue Ox Youth Radio for Humboldt Bay is a low power, youth run community radio station, which involves a collaboration between the Humboldt County Office of Education’s Court Appointed Community School and the Blue Ox Millworks, a for-profit company.

• The Comité de Madres is a group of Mexican American women who wanted to celebrate the holidays they remembered from Mexico, instead of Cinco de Mayo. The first three years, they organized Dia de los Niños events that became so successful and huge, the women encouraged local communities to put on their own. Next, they celebrated Dia de los Madres the Mexican way, once again to great success. These women have been empowered and have become organizers within their communities about social, justice, and health issues.

Few of these would have been successful without the environment of open acceptance to new ideas and the collaborative spirit permeating the community, thanks to the DreamMaker collaboration.

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