In 2011, Irvine put forward a program goal promoting arts engagement. Our aim was to support nonprofits that embrace and advance the diverse ways that Californians experience arts and culture, based on the belief that these experiences strengthen us and help us all live better together. Today we are grateful partners, through the New California Arts Fund (NCAF), with 14 nonprofits that are dialed in to arts engagement as central to their quest to be richly relevant to their communities. We see these nonprofits as bright spots in the arts field — organizations committed to transforming how they operate so they can sustain their capacity to engage diverse and low-income Californians.
Members of this group, whether they host visual or performing arts experiences, whether they are large or small institutions, each bring a tremendous amount of passion and energy to the work. Individually and collectively, their dedication to changing how they involve people with the arts is yielding new models, stellar successes, and a wealth of knowledge that, for Irvine, points to two promises: These arts nonprofits are on the road to lasting relevance, and, together, they represent a powerful, potentially catalytic force in their field.
This year, Irvine’s NCAF initiative begins a culminating phase that will span several years. Over this period, our NCAF grantee-partners will continue to invest in adapting and strengthening internal culture and governance, economic and operating systems, and outreach and offerings — all to elevate their ongoing ability to engage the diverse populations that make up our state today.
To support these efforts, Irvine will team up with NCAF leaders to design our investment in their learning community so they can thrive beyond the end of our grant funding. We look forward to this collaborative work during the concluding stage of our investment in arts engagement — and to what we believe could be the rise of a network of leaders harnessing the field’s potential.
Alongside our work with the “NCAF 14,” Irvine continues to commission research as an ingredient in our mix of supports. I’m thrilled to give a heads up about the upcoming release of two new publications from treasured voices in the arts field, one from the ever-insightful Adrian Ellis at AEA Consulting, the other from bold and critical thinker Nick Rabkin. These reports offer an astute examination of the current conditions for, and potential components of, an arts engagement field (Ellis), and an incisive review and synthesis of studies that link arts participation to civic engagement (Rabkin). Stay tuned for these publications in coming weeks.
Our commitment and enthusiasm for arts engagement during its culmination phase continues as the Foundation’s strategic direction shifts. I look forward to sharing information on how our learning in arts engagement can enhance Irvine’s path forward, including ways that creative and artistic expression can help amplify voice and visibility for people and groups who lack access to economic and political opportunity.
Until then, I invite your comment and send continued thanks to our NCAF partners — as well as appreciation for all who are providing access to meaningful arts experiences as a means to greater good.