Many arts organizations are actively seeking ways to ensure their future relevance by better responding to a new California abundant with demographic change. In a state already known for its immense immigrant population and cultural diversity, we're experiencing an exponential growth of Latino and Asian populations. In 2010, these two groups comprised 51 percent of California’s population, and by 2020 this will increase to 55 percent. Our ability to adapt to the majority presence of these Californians is crucial to the vitality of the nonprofit arts field, yet these and other underserved communities have remained largely untouched by the enormous civic, social, and emotional benefits arts organizations provide.
We know that the more that arts professionals and volunteers meaningfully engage new and different audiences and participants in their work, the more resilient the organization becomes, and the more responsive and valuable it is to communities.
We also know that many organizations in our field succeed at this work brilliantly; and it was with this in mind that we commissioned a study to analyze and profile just how they do it. As a result we have new research to share about the qualities of arts organizations that are successfully engaging new and diverse participants.
Making Meaningful Connections: Characteristics of Arts Groups that Engage New and Diverse Participants is a report authored by Helicon Collaborative, the research and strategy group that conducted this study. This research points to eight recognizable, definable attributes present across these organizations---attributes that are widely transferable and applicable in our field.
Helicon Collaborative’s expert observations about organizational practices informed us last year as we designed and launched our New California Arts Fund at the Irvine Foundation. Grantee-partners in that Fund are working to reflect the qualities profiled in this report, strengthening and sustaining their ability to engage new and diverse participants.
We present Making Meaningful Connections as part of an Arts Engagement Focus series. This body of research uncovers valuable, practical information that can help arts leaders better address key questions related to our Arts program strategy. The series already includes Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups Are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation, a report authored by WolfBrown in 2011. It will be complemented with a study being developed by AEA consulting which focuses on the potential of using atypical venues to engage low-income and diverse participants in the arts.
Together, these studies offer a timely and substantive view of arts engagement across the sector — they can inspire ideas, fuel discussion and provoke valuable debate in our field. In this spirit, we invite you to join the conversation.