Sarah Braverman: Before we begin, can you tell me some background information about PCF and the panel?
Mary Stegura: PCF assigns panelists one or two organizations to perform a site visit for, and this must be done before the actual panel date for that organization to be considered for a grant. You are then paired with a number of other panelists that visited similar organizations, i.e. organizations with budgets under $50,000. On the panel day, all of the panelists with the PCF staff and facilitators meet and take time to listen to each other’s experiences with their site visits. Prior to the panel day, you have access to the grant applications for each of the organizations that you will be discussing. The grant application includes a lot of different information including their DataArts profile. You are tasked with scoring each organization prior to the panel day, but your numbers can change after the discussion happens. PCF then take the averages of everyone's scores.
All are invited to apply to be on the panel; PCF encourages artists, arts administrators, and art enthusiasts alike.
SB: How were you selected to serve as a panelist?
MS: There was an application process: a simple cover letter and questionnaire. These applications went live in the fall and are likely to do the same again this year.
SB: What was the panel discussion centered around?
MS: A lot of the discussion was centered around who each organization articulated as their community and if their programs supported this articulation. There was also a fair amount of discussion around operating budgets and financial strength - it was a positive note to see surpluses in numerous previous budgets.
SB: Overall, what was this experience like?
MS: I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was very helpful to see PCF's commitment to the landscape of arts in the City of Philadelphia, noting that it is every single arts organization that contributes and not just the giant organizations we see everyday. They spoke about their role to aid in the development of these organizations, but not dictate their programming or organizational structures. It really made me appreciate foundations and funders of the creative and cultural sector and also made me curious about the role of a funder.
I cannot speak for all panels, I was just one of the 14 or so, but my panel was pretty agreeable for the most part. I think that our panel was very open to the mission of PCF, which is designed to support and recognize the numerous arts organizations in the Philadelphia area. There were many instances where we were amazed at the way organizations were set up and functioned and also the opposite, but still kept in mind that it is all arts organizations that shape the arts and culture sector of Philadelphia.
We did have lengthy discussions about missions and if the organization’s actions were representative of their missions. This was not an actual issue we faced, but for example, if an organization's focus was to bring art to the Center City area, but their performances were all in the suburbs, then that was looked at, discussed, and scored accordingly.
SB: What advice do you have for people who may serve on panels in the future?
MS: I would recommend that anyone who is remotely interested try it out! It was a really inspiring experience. Some advice I would give to new panelists would be to be authentic to your instinct in the scoring process. Even if you tend to score low, if you do so for every organization the averages will be an honest representation. I would also say that the applications are very lengthy and the other panelists will find details that you may have overlooked or deemed unimportant, and that is part of the process. I think it is what makes a panel setting so successful.
Thanks for sharing your experience with me, Mary!
Visit The Philadelphia Cultural Fund’s website for more information on becoming a volunteer panelist. Click here to learn more about PCF’s grant programs. You can also follow PCF on Facebook and Twitter.