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Driving Arts Engagement to the Core: Lessons from 10 Nonprofits

The New California Arts Fund (NCAF) launched in 2013 as the centerpiece of our Arts Engagement strategy. NCAF is based on the belief that arts encounters strengthen people and help us all live better together. Our grantee-partners set out to improve and sustain their reach and relevance to ethnically diverse and/or low-income Californians, involving these communities more actively in making and experiencing art.

NCAF organizations are going well beyond experiments and peripheral offerings to drive engagement to the very core of their respective identities — transforming their programmatic, organizational, and business models in ways that fundamentally shape what they do and how they do it.

Irvine recognizes that any authentic, enduring effort to connect with groups historically underserved by the arts and culture field requires more than adaptations in programming. It calls for the degree of organizational transformation being pursued by our NCAF grantee-partners, including investment in leadership and governance, staff competencies, community input processes, and other capacities, as well as effective change management. It’s a holistic undertaking that takes time and involves a great deal of learning.

Slover Linett Audience Research has been involved with the NCAF grantee-partners to support this learning and development journey. In a new evaluation report, The Engagement Revolution: A Study of Strategic Organizational Transformation in 10 California Arts Nonprofits, the Slover Linett team documents progress and lessons generated by the initial cohort of grantee-partners over their first three years of activity. The report includes considerations for leaders as well as funders of arts organizations who are studying or investing in engagement.

We invite you to read the report, access summary highlights from the evaluation, and check out the related tool and survey used by Slover Linett with NCAF organizations. We also welcome your comments on this post.

As the New California Arts Fund and Irvine Arts Engagement strategy continue toward culmination in the next few years, the final cohort now includes 15 California arts nonprofits. We look forward to sharing more updates and lessons from these grantee-partners that might benefit others in the field.