Through the New California Arts Fund (NCAF), the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival (SF Shakes) will explore the words and themes of Shakespeare with low-income and diverse Californians, together recognizing new possibilities in our own lives and communities.
The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival performs Free Shakespeare in the Park in five San Francisco Bay Area locations each summer and offers educational programming year round to more than 100,000 students. The New California Arts Fund is providing them with the opportunity to significantly deepen and extend what they are currently doing, but in a more data-informed, more strategically organized, and more properly-resourced way. This will require reflection, observation and articulation of their general organizational practices around: the relevance of programming, how welcoming their spaces are, how their culture nurtures respectful relationships, and the stability of their business model.
While hosting free, unticketed events often make it difficult to know who is in the audience, SF Shakes has a long history with audience research in many forms. They know that approximately one-third of their audience are people of color while their community is a majority people of color. The challenge has become pinpointing which programs were already successful bringing in diverse audiences, how to identify who’s not attending beyond simplistic racial categories, and what the barriers to engagement might be. Once those gaps are identified, next will come community partnerships and potentially new programming and communication strategies.
With so much to do and so many to serve, it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of moving on without reflecting. Recognizing this risk in their own habits, SF Shakes is currently focused on incorporating community voices into every stage of their process from planning through evaluation, and slowing down their own practices to listen to all points of view among their staff.
As they build internal infrastructure in the initial phase of the grant, they’re finding programmatic change is already accelerating. With a nine-member staff, a focus on measuring engagement quickly spreads throughout the entire organization and begins to shift everyone’s priorities. This new data-centric frame of mind brings with it more investment in technology, a newly-hired Knowledge and Messaging Manager hire, more experimentation with data collection methods, and new staff retreats to dive into and discuss all the data.
Throughout their more than 30 year history, inquiry and learning have been baked into SF Shakes’ organizational practices. Through the New California Arts Fund, they are applying that core value to new areas of exploration:
Cultural competency among staff and board members
Outcomes-based evaluation metrics
Qualitative research tools that double as engagement activities