What compels a foundation to change a program strategy? There are various answers to this legitimate question, some rooted in internal considerations, such as changes in overall direction by board and management, while other answers may be found in external considerations, such as changes in the context for a foundation’s work. At Irvine, we recently made some significant changes to our strategy for grantmaking in the arts, and I wanted to shed some light on our process and outcome.
Across all of our work, we are managing an ongoing and creative tension in our grantmaking that requires constant attention: we seek to balance a long-term perspective that demonstrates commitment and staying power while remaining attuned to the rapidly-changing environment and context within which many of our grantees are working.
It is not always easy, but we are convinced of our obligation to strike this balance well. We can neither afford to ignore the environment in which we do our work, nor can we be constantly changing our grantmaking priorities. Indeed, consideration of this tension played a significant role in the refinement of our arts strategy. (The details of the new strategy are outlined on our website and in the interview with our Arts program director, Josephine Ramirez, in this issue of the Irvine Quarterly.)
First, we hope that the new strategy as a whole reflects a balancing of the new and the long-term. Our new strategy confirms our long-term commitment to the arts in California. While we have adjusted our goal, the underlying commitment remains, particularly our commitment to supporting arts that help build cross-cultural understanding. Yet, demographic and technological changes have transformed how Californians are expressing their creativity. It became clear that our long-term commitment to the arts required that we help grantees understand and navigate these major shifts that the arts sector is experiencing. Our new strategy intends to provide arts nonprofits with the support they need to experiment with new and exciting ways of finding and engaging new audiences and participants, a necessary step to a sustainable future.
Second, we recognize that flexibility and adaptability are increasingly necessary attributes for any arts nonprofit. While it might be clear what an arts nonprofit should do this year to survive and thrive, demographics and technology will continue to create new opportunities and make old practices less effective. So, we have embedded the notion of adaptation into our grantmaking and, through our grants, will be supporting arts nonprofits to enhance their capacities to adapt.
And finally, we are rolling out our new strategy with a recognition that change can be challenging, and we can help ease the path for our current grantees by not shifting our grantmaking overnight. As a result, we are committed to providing a responsible transition and will devote significant resources over the next few years to support the thoughtful conclusion of several existing initiatives and priorities. As we conclude this work, new grantmaking initiatives based on the updated strategy will be rolled out throughout 2012 and 2013.
While we have conviction about our new strategy, we also know that we don’t have all of the answers. We will continue to learn from our grantees and others who have insights into the rapidly changing arts ecology in California. Indeed, in conjunction with our new strategy, we have released two new reports: one that spotlights the current California arts landscape as seen through self-reported data from arts nonprofits and other sources, and a second that examines the growth of participatory arts practices. The latter report, Getting in on the Act, provides a better understanding of how people are engaging in the arts in different ways and includes many illuminating case studies.
We are excited about our new directions in the arts and remain committed to learning as the strategy unfolds and to sharing what we learn with you. Toward that end, in the months ahead, you will be seeing some changes to our website that will enable us to be even more effective in engaging with our partners and constituents. Just as our strategy development work in the arts has underscored the importance of engaging audiences in authentic and meaningful ways, so do we hope as a foundation to be better at engaging all of you in helping us to be more effective in stewarding the resources of the Foundation for greatest impact. You’ll hear more soon about our website changes, and as always, I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and concerns. They serve to make us a better institution.