At Irvine, we talk a lot about the “new California.” It’s shorthand for the ongoing evolution of our state, one driven by demographic shifts, innovations in technology and other forces that drive home the adage, the only constant is change.
For the past two years, our arts program has focused on encouraging arts organizations to adapt to these changes. Through our Exploring Engagement Fund, we’ve made grants to nonprofits that are experimenting with arts engagement practices and reshaping the who, how and where of engaging new and diverse audiences and participants. This type of risk innovation is essential for the future and health of the field and we will continue to invest in it.
But piloting innovation has always been just one aspect of our strategy. From the beginning, we’ve known that, to truly adapt to a new California — which is to say, a state of continual change — requires a much deeper approach: one that shifts engagement from something we do to who we are.
In other words, arts organizations seeking to successfully adapt to external forces transforming California must look inward to ensure that engagement is woven into our very DNA. Because the more relevant and responsive arts organizations are at their core, the more resilient we will be as a sector, and the more connected the arts will be to people’s lives and to the ways we all live together.
This is the thinking behind our centerpiece “Strengthening” priority. Over the next few months, we will be sharing elements of the strategy with you. At its heart is the New California Arts Fund (NCAF). In December 2013, we made NCAF grants totaling $8.9 million to ten leading arts nonprofits, selected for their enterprising approach to expanding engagement not only in their programming but as a driver for rethinking their operations from inside out.
Over the next three years of the grant period, these ten organizations will help explore the question, “What could a new California arts nonprofit look like?” As part of a peer-learning community, they will receive coaching and technical support to build their capacity to expand and integrate the ethos of engagement across their organization. This could mean reconfiguring staff and board to include individuals with strong ties to target communities; or recalibrating budgets to fuel new enterprises, while scaling back on others. It could involve redeploying communications to better connect with Californians in their neighborhoods and across social networks. Or it could mean all of the above.
While much thinking and planning has gone into this work to date, we are still, in many ways, in the early stages of our journey. As always, we hope you will join us and enliven the process with your thoughts and feedback.