New California Arts Fund (NCAF) grantee-partners are learning what it takes to move, anchor, and stabilize engagement at their organizational core. They are rethinking what it means to be relevant and valued in today’s California by adapting and becoming more relevant, accessible, and inviting.
Working with Sarah Lee and Katherine Gean, our wonderful evaluation partners at Slover Linett, grantees told us how they’re doing this! What’s emerged so far from these ongoing and terrifically rich conversations are four distinct (but not mutually exclusive) approaches:
They focus on culturally specific content. Many organizations are adjusting the content of their artistic work to reflect the cultural background of the communities they hope to engage. They focus programming around themes that connect to the cultural heritage of communities, by including artworks or artistic styles from a particular culture or featuring artists who share a cultural heritage.
They emphasize socially or politically relevant content. Some organizations are shifting their work to focus on topics with social or political relevance to communities. Their programming tackles issues that connect more to people’s daily lives, such as social justice, economic opportunity, or political disenfranchisement. They note that the issues they take on are not necessarily specific to one ethnicity or income group and, in some cases, programming isn’t even really about these issues, but aims instead to inspire needed change.
They experiment with the experience or format that surrounds the content. A number of grantee-partners are changing where and how arts experiences take place, making content more accessible to more people, especially those who typically don’t go to formal arts events and venues. Organizations are offering programming in more welcoming and flexible spaces — often public, outdoor areas — and re-examining existing assumptions about how arts programming is offered and presented.
They use collaborative, co-creative processes to generate programming. Other organizations have invited communities to co-create work. In some cases, the artistic process is embedded in the community and intertwined with the process of engaging community members in conversations about their lives. The resulting artistic content can then resonate with themes they’ve voiced, sometimes reflecting the social or political issues that matter to the communities.
These four strategies reflect just some of the ways our grantee-partners are becoming stronger, more relevant arts organizations. As a matter of fact, one of the leaders in the NCAF cohort, Nina Simon of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), recently released a book about exactly that called The Art of Relevance.
The book explores how mission-driven organizations can matter more to more people, and it includes case studies and practical advice from MAH and other NCAF grantee-partners (like the California Shakespeare Theater, Cornerstone Theater Company, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) — as well as additional organizations around the state and world on how you can make your work more vital to your community.
We’re super proud of Nina and the MAH crew for the leadership they’re providing in the field — we highly recommend you take a look at this thoughtful, intelligent work!