Daniel Foster often feels like he’s running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace.
_“The challenge is to go from a traditional, local-audience-based support system and expand programming and marketing to be more regionally focused,” said Daniel Foster, Executive Director of the Riverside Art Museum, one of 12 arts organizations in Southern California that received grants as part of Irvine’s new Arts Regional Initiative. _
Foster’s efforts to further develop the museum’s recognition as a leading arts organization in the Inland Empire is now supported by a $300,000 grant from the Irvine Foundation. The museum is one of 12 arts organizations located in Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Orange counties that received grants as part of Irvine’s new Arts Regional Initiative, which aims to support the artistic leadership of regional arts organizations.
With the initiative, Irvine is focusing on regional arts organizations located outside of the state’s major metropolitan areas. The initiative specifically targets leading arts institutions that may be under-capitalized and vulnerable to decreases in government and donor funding. The grants support an array of capacity building activities such as programming, technology, institutional governance, and communications.
“Most foundations will fund projects, such as specific exhibits or performances, but this is different,” said Martha Campbell, Irvine’s Vice President for Programs. “This is looking holistically at the organization and that’s harder work in some respects since it goes to the heart and soul of the organization. It requires that we adopt a long time horizon for this work and that we engage differently with our grantees.”
The Arts Regional Initiative is being rolled out over three years in other regions of the state, including the Central Valley and the Central Coast. The second round of grants will be awarded later this year and will focus on arts organizations in the Central Valley. The current pool of grantees represents a mix of artistic disciplines, including four museums, four music organizations, two theaters, one opera company, and one dance organization.
The Riverside Art Museum grant will be used to develop a three- to five-year strategic plan focused on financial stability and future organizational growth and to design new programs to broaden cultural participation and recognition within the region. The grant also will allow the museum to hire more development staff, expand fundraising, create a volunteer and intern program, and improve the quality and visibility of its exhibitions and other programming.
The 50-year-old museum is the largest contemporary and fine arts museum in the Inland Empire region and offers a range of core exhibition, education, and community outreach programs with a focus on American artists, particularly California artists and prominent artists working in the region.
Foster said his museum is like other cultural institutions in the region that have operating budgets under a million dollars and struggle to keep up with the changes around them. Much of the regions population boom comes from former Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles county residents in search of more affordable housing and they bring their big city cultural expectations with them, Foster noted.
“The challenge is to go from a traditional, local-audience-based support system and expand programming and marketing to be more regionally focused,” Foster said. “Now we have to have a much larger regional sense of identity about ourselves. It’s challenging for all of us to continue to program for our traditional audience so that you don’t alienate them and at the same time expand programming for new audiences.”
The museum’s budget has doubled from $450,000 to $920,000 in the past three years, partly due to a previous Irvine grant. That growth has supported a boost in programming from 14 to 25 exhibitions per year, as well as increases in educational programs, lectures, panels, workshops, classes, and tours, Foster said.
“We’ve been very successful programmatically in terms of participation and attendance but to hold up the operational supports for those programs has been challenging,” he said. “That’s where Irvine has really stepped in at a critical time for our organization.”
Additional operational support will greatly assist the museum’s development efforts with the addition of a development officer and grant writer to pursue fundraising opportunities. The grant will also assist with marketing plans that will attempt to draw a larger audience, Foster said.
Foster feels optimistic about his organization’s ability to provide cultural leadership within the Inland Empire at a critical moment in its development.
“The growth of cultural institutions has not kept pace with population growth here, partly because there isn’t a deep understanding of the relationship between arts, culture, and the quality of life,” Foster said. “By reaching out to new residents and broadening participation in the arts, the museum can deepen the Inland Empire’s long-term commitment to the arts and culture.”
For more information about the Arts Regional Initiative and to see a list of other grantees, [click here.](grantmaking/our-programs/arts-program/former-arts-strategy/artsregionalinitiative)