Skip to main content

Sep 25, 2023

A Conversation with Clare Ann Harff of MAPS Media Institute

This interview is part of our inaugural impact report, The Ripple Effect.

MAPS Media Institute (MAPS) is an educational nonprofit that empowers, inspires and prepares Montana’s next generation for future success through professional media arts instruction, community service and mentoring. They offer after school and summer programs at their brick-and-mortar studios in Hamilton and Helena and satellite workshops for youth across the state of Montana. MAPS programs help young people find their voice by strengthening their communication skills through the media arts of filmmaking, graphic design, photojournalism, music production and more.

Headwaters Foundation is proud to support MAPS and their efforts to amplify the voices of Montana’s youth. We sat down with their Executive Director, Clare Ann Harff, to learn about MAPS, the youth they work with, and her take on Headwaters Foundation’s trust-based approach to philanthropy.

Can you speak about the youth involved in MAPS, the issues they face and how your programs impact them?

The youth we work with are diverse – from cities and rural areas, private, public or home schooled, from First Nation and Tribal communities. All have unique circumstances, but a common issue that I have observed is that they just don’t have enough support, especially after the pandemic. We want to be a parachute and part of the support systems for all families and youth. Our commitment is to work in any way we can that aligns with MAPS mission, with any group we can, to nurture health and creativity, and help youth see themselves as the integral people they are.

Can you tell us a story about a student who benefitted from MAPS?

The person who immediately comes to mind is Amilia – she is an 18-year old A’aninin woman from the Fort Belknap Indian Community in North Central Montana, and has been working with MAPS since she was in eighth grade. She has always known she wants to be a filmmaker; she has absorbed everything about this medium and been a powerful leader in multiple MAPS projects. All of the films that she has been a part of have won regional student production awards, including one national award nomination. It’s amazing what her resume illustrates, as an 18-year-old woman, let alone from middle-of-nowhere Montana, and from a First Nation community. In the summer of 2023, she served with MAPS through AmeriCorps, leading workshops and productions. Her commitment as an artist and her care as a human being inspires our entire team and so many others.

Tell us about a big success you’ve had recently.

MAPS recently won an Emmy! This award is in honor of MAPS’ unique accomplishments and achievements since launching in 2004. Amilia attended the award ceremony with us in Seattle and met filmmakers and journalists from First Nation communities who can support her on her journey. This award is a tremendous accolade, but honestly, success to me is every time a young person walks through the door to participate in a MAPS class or workshop, despite any personal challenges they might be experiencing.  None of these youth have to enroll in a MAPS program, but our classes are full, often with waiting lists, and we have great retention and attendance rates. I just get so lit up by these young people showing up because they want to learn new things, challenge themselves and make friends.

Headwaters Foundation also partners with MAPS to tell the stories of other grantee partners. What have those projects been like for your students?

We package these types of projects as ‘filmmaking for social impact’ classes and they have been a great way for young people to learn everything that goes into production – taking an idea to a final product, including planning, budgeting, logistics, research. These projects are also designed to empower youth by offering an opportunity for them to directly put their skills to work to help strengthen their own communities. They love getting to connect with community leaders and learn about powerful organizations while making a promotional video that will help the organization raise money and awareness. And then they get to put it on their resume!

How has Headwaters’ trust-based approach to philanthropy helped your organization?

A student in one of MAPS ‘filmmaking for social impact’ classes recently said, “to make change, you need change – like money.” I’ve been ruminating on this idea within nonprofits and within philanthropic models – that there is a need to experiment, to think in new ways and do things in new ways. A more trust-based philanthropic model was long overdue. For a small organization like MAPS that is growing and working with new communities, the flexibility of GO! Grants is deeply appreciated. Headwaters’ face-to-face way of relating has increased understanding especially during “nonprofit growing pains,” like vulnerable times of transition – we feel trusted and supported and cared about.

Thank you to MAPS Media Institute for the vital work they do for Montana youth, and to Clare Ann for sitting down with us for this interview!

To learn more about and support MAPS Media Institute, visit their website, follow them on Facebook or Instagram, or email Clare Ann at [email protected].

Find more interviews with Western Montana changemakers in The Ripple Effect.

Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.