At major inflection points in life as an individual, an institution, a city, or a nation, we ask, who are we and who must we become?
Beginning my tenure as President, I ask these questions of myself and of our staff and Trustees as we embark on the shared endeavor of preserving the Altman Foundation as a dynamic New York institution with a hundred years of tradition behind it, and partnering with grantees and other stakeholders to meet the city’s needs now, and in the future.
As we look forward, we acknowledge the best of our past. In the tradition of our founder Benjamin Altman’s own philanthropic interests, the mission of the Altman Foundation is to support programs and institutions that enrich the quality of life in New York City, with a particular focus on initiatives that help individuals, families, and communities benefit from the services and opportunities that will enable them to achieve their full potential. Over time, the Foundation has realized this mission through investments in key areas such as education, health and social services, cultural engagement, the arts, youth development, housing, job training and placement, and parks and open space; and through investments that promote the effectiveness of the independent, nonprofit sector. As we take stock of our stewardship as grantmakers and what the Foundation’s grantees have accomplished, we can point to meaningful contributions across specific fields, stronger organizations, and tangible differences in the lives of New Yorkers. There is much to be proud of, and we are, indeed, proud.
At the same time, we continue to examine the Foundation’s contributions through a set of critical lenses: where is the city struggling, in whole or in part; who is shut out of prosperity and opportunity; which institutions remain insular in spite of well-meaning efforts; what systems fail their intended audiences or customers; and how can hope, creativity, and resiliency be bolstered in the current climate. And, we also wrestle with hard truths and enduring questions about the underlying causes of inequity and disparity; the leverage and limits of philanthropy; whether we are helping to build durable, nimble institutions; our willingness to look at our own practice; the frequency with which we take informed risks; and how we collectively build the public will for change.
We believe that engaging in this type of inquiry will serve us well. Being transparent about asking these questions does not signal that we are seeking to move away from the Foundation’s four core program areas. It signals our affirmation of the important work that we will yet do together.
Deborah T. Velazquez