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Large Arts Organizations Explore Engagement

BY Josephine Ramirez
Josephine Ramirez
As Arts Program Director, Josephine is leading the implementation of a new grant
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| Oct 23, 2012

It’s an exciting time in our Arts program as we begin to see our new arts strategy made real through grantee projects! I wrote about the first statewide Exploring Engagement Fund grants — supporting small- and mid-sized organizations — back in June. Now I am pleased to announce the first grants made as part of our Exploring Engagement Fund for Large Organizations.

Earlier this month our board approved eight grants ranging in size from $520,000 to $600,000 to some of the most prominent arts organizations in California so they can experiment with new ways to engage Californians in the arts. The projects represent a commitment by these arts institutions to establish greater connection to low-income and other Californians underserved by arts nonprofits. We hope the projects spark new ways of thinking about engagement and about how arts nonprofits can adapt to changing demographics and technological changes that the arts field struggles to keep pace with.

Our strategy’s overall vision is about promoting engagement in the arts — specifically the kind of arts engagement that honors our diversity and helps us all to live well together. To accomplish this we aim to build the capacities of responsive, relevant arts nonprofits to adapt to a shifting environment, so that they can better serve and more deeply connect with all Californians. This connection to community should lead to organizational changes that help these arts groups thrive. And the people served by these groups should more strongly recognize the value of the arts as accessible and integral to community life.

An important part of becoming more adaptive is learning how to envision and realize new ways to more fully engage the public. That’s why we began the rollout of our new strategy by encouraging new ideas that promote arts engagement. The Exploring Engagement Fund is an opportunity to test the waters, to experiment with arts events and activities that are designed to engage Californians in new ways. Our hope is that what organizations learn in these projects may lead to greater interest in adapting to change. For example, take a look at a few of the compelling projects proposed by our grantees as part of the Exploring Engagement Fund for Large Organizations:

  • LA Opera will create new community opera choirs in East Los Angeles in partnership with local groups that have deep roots serving the largely underrepresented Latino community. These choirs will be created with significant community input and tailored to community interests to ensure authenticity. The choirs will perform at neighborhood events in nontraditional arts venues throughout East L.A. LA Opera also plans to hold one fully staged community opera production at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels with the choir and LA Opera professionals.
  • South Coast Repertory seeks to expand the participation of Latino families by launching a community-based storytelling initiative called Dialogue/Diálogo in partnership with organizations with deep ties to the Latino community in Santa Ana. The organization expects to serve up to 2,000 local residents and the production will culminate with a community storytelling event for families and a fully staged production.
  • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco will create a new, experiential art-making program that serves low-income, ethnically diverse and underserved community members in the local Filipino, Central American and East African communities. The new YBCA: Away program will partner with artists and local groups to develop two participatory arts engagement projects in each community that will be presented in neighborhood venues.

I suspect lots of eyes will be on this first set of projects in the Exploring Engagement Fund for Large Organizations because they’re the big players in the arts field, with operating budgets of $5 million and higher. Their higher operating costs require substantial grant amounts relative to our other Exploring Engagement Fund grants, but their greater level of resources, including physical and organizational infrastructure, ultimately can contribute to their success.

But it’s important to note that our funding is intended as risk capital. The idea of risk capital, both inside and outside the nonprofit sector, is about taking a chance on an idea — an idea that may or may not translate into the fully successful project that was envisioned. With all the projects supported through our Exploring Engagement Funds, we hope that organizations stretch themselves creatively and structurally. When projects come up short — as some inevitably will — we see a terrific opportunity for the organization, the field and arts funders to learn about what works and what doesn’t in becoming more community-responsive, relevant arts providers.

In the months ahead, we look forward to spotlighting more of the projects that we are supporting under our Exploring Engagement Funds, so please stay tuned.

Finally, I’d like to remind you that the December 3 deadline to apply for the statewide Exploring Engagement Fund and the more regionally targeted Exploring Engagement Fund for Priority Regions is quickly approaching. I encourage you to read my last blog post announcing those two funding opportunities or watch two videos of grantees describing their projects. Unlike the Exploring Engagement Fund for Large Organizations, which is an invitation-only process, these two funds are open to a much broader range of arts nonprofits, and this will be the only application process until December 2013.

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As Arts Program Director, Josephine is leading the implementation of a new grantmaking strategy to “promote engagement in the arts for all Californians.” View full bio »

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