By Laura Billings Coleman

Here’s a little of what’s been going on at the Bush Foundation.

Creative Collisions at bushCONNECT

From escalator pitches to swordplay, the first-ever bushCONNECT pushed participants to see their work from a whole new angle.

More than 1,000 leaders from across the region grabbed a seat at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater in May 2014 for bushCONNECT — a first-of-its-kind event that was equal parts summit, networking mixer and tent revival.

“What we’re trying to create today is a space where you collide with new ideas,” Foundation President Jen Ford Reedy explained in her welcome. “You will meet new people who may be useful to you right now, or a week from now or a year from now, when you’re needing a new perspective on your work.”

The idea for bushCON had emerged more than a year earlier, when the Foundation’s increased efforts to bring community leaders together were earning rave reviews from participants. “There was a strong feeling of isolation among leaders in many of the communities we serve; they craved opportunities to be in the same room,” says Dominick Washington, the Foundation’s communications director. “We decided to double down on that and see what more we could do.”

bushCON attendees examine their randomly assigned session tickets and contemplate a trade. (Photo: RJL Photography)

Inspired in part by Steven Johnson’s bestseller Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, the Foundation aimed to break out of the conference room mindset (“where ideas go to die,” Johnson joked to the bushCON audience in his remarks). The experience pushed participants a little outside their comfort zones by encouraging them to trade randomly assigned session tickets and construct the day’s activities based on their interests — from the art of stage combat, to rapid-fire five-minute talks with Ignite Minneapolis, to “The Four Habits of Highly INeffective Conversations” brought to life by The Theater of Public Policy.

The Foundation transformed an entire floor of the Guthrie into a Network Zone where attendees recruited from more than 20 partner organizations could study a network map presented by Michael Bischoff and members of Social Innovation Lab that showed how everyone in the room was connected. In the Network Zone, attendees could share their personal and professional stories with Pollen for on-the-spot illustrations called “Careercatures.” The Guthrie’s escalator — the longest in Minnesota — became a storytelling vehicle for coaching on how to create a great one-minute escalator pitch.

A team devoted to creating fresh connections across social media promoted the event throughout the day with the #bushCON hashtag. By noon that day, Washington says, “#bushCON was trending nationally, which exceeded all of our expectations. The energy of the day was great.”

So are the after-effects: 94 percent of bushCON goers who responded to the post-event survey reported that the event helped expand and strengthen their networks, allowing them to connect with an average of five new people that day. That and other feedback has helped the Foundation plan for bushCONNECT 2015 slated for May 4, again at the Guthrie.



bushCON 2014


Reflecting on THE ARTS

RADP participants, from left, In the Heart of the Beast’s Sandra Spieler (1986 & 2002 Bush Fellow), American Composers Forum’s Bonnie Marshall and storyteller W. Loren Niemi (1998 Bush Fellow). (Photo Ackerman+Gruber)

Participants in the Foundation’s long-running Regional Arts Development Program gathered in July to celebrate. As the program came to a close after nearly 20 years, they reflected on ways the multiyear grant initiative had strengthened the arts ecology of the region.

All told, the program provided $24.6 million of unrestricted, strategic funding to 28 mid-sized arts organizations.

Continuing support for the arts is evident in the Foundation’s priorities for 2015. In late March, the Foundation will announce a Community Creativity Cohort, which will help define new needs in the arts and shape the Foundation’s future arts funding.



Sponsored by the Bush Foundation…
Ted X at Fargo movie theater
 TEDxFargo (Photo CK Photography)

In April 2014, the Foundation earmarked $280,000 for a new event sponsorship  program to inspire, equip and connect leaders across the region. “We receive so many great sponsorship opportunities, we committed that money in a matter of months,” says Julie Cohen, communications program manager at the Foundation. “So we kept going.”

All told, the Foundation provided $642,795 to support 65 gatherings across the region in 2014, ranging from the Women’s Business Conference in Bismarck, to the South Dakota Innovation Expo in Sioux Falls, to the Indian Business Conference in Eagle Butte, to TEDxFargo.

For 2015, the Foundation increased its event sponsorship budget and shifted to a quarterly application schedule.

Beyond a good investment in the region, the event sponsorship program advances the Foundation’s work in other ways. “We want to reach audiences that can benefit from our grant and fellowship programs, while we support efforts to bring leaders together across many sectors,” says Cohen.


 A home for homeless youth

From left, Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation President David Odahowski, Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative Executive Director Lee Blons and Bush Foundation President Jen Ford Reedy (Photo Bruce Silcox)

In November 2014, the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation chose Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative to receive a one-time Archibald Bush Legacy grant of $100,000, which the Bush Foundation matched. Based in Archie and Edyth Bush’s winter home in Winter Park, Florida, the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation wanted to support a nonprofit serving Saint Paul that best exemplifies Mr. Bush’s commitment to his home community. Community nominations identified 80 organizations; Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman narrowed those to five, from which the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation selected the recipient. The Collaborative will use the $200,000 for Prior Crossing, the largest supportive youth housing development in Ramsey County with 44 studio apartments, situated along the light rail line that runs between the Twin Cities’ two downtowns.


Fort Berthold Road Trip

A group of Foundation Board members and staff visited the MHA Nation in May. The trip included a stop on the shores of Lake Sakakawea near New Town at the Earthen Lodge Village, which honors Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara history and culture. The group traveled highly trafficked Highway 22 along the western edge of the reservation to see some of the impacts of oil development. They also learned about the progress of MHA Nation Tomorrow project, a new strategic plan for the MHA Nation supported in part by the Bush and Northwest Area foundations.