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Exploring Creative Expression in Our Grantmaking

All of our new grantmaking here at the Irvine Foundation aims to expand political and economic opportunity for Californians who are working but struggling with poverty. This includes exploring how artistic and creative expression can advance these goals.

We know that artmaking, cultural practices, and creativity increase community resilience and provide job opportunities in and beyond creative industries. Artistic and creative expression also give political voice to residents across our state.

That’s why we’ve made 16 grants (totaling $10.7M) since March 2016 to learn more about the practice of creative expression and to explore how it can amplify our work to increase opportunity for Californians working but struggling with poverty. Here are four examples:

  • Through our exploration of Career Readiness and Living-Wage Work, we’re supporting nonprofits that partner with creative industries to help Californians prepare for success in careers. The intent is to connect people with opportunities in the creative sector that can lead to economic self-sufficiency. ArtworxLA is an example of an organization expanding the Arts Academy model and positioning themselves as a creative careers pipeline for students to re-engage in school, graduate, participate in higher education, and join the creative economy.
  • Through our Worker Voice and Influence grantmaking, we’re supporting low-wage worker organizing efforts that use creative expression. By using storytelling, music, art and other cultural practices, organizations are better able to engage workers holistically. One example is, an online platform that is testing artist- and user-generated content as a way of getting members more involved.
  • We support organizations, through our Immigrant Integration Initiative, using creative practices to identify ways for immigrants to be engaged in the democratic process and to educate the community about the immigrant experience. One example is Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, a coalition that is increasing organizational capacity to support cultural practices and using storytelling to build bridges between different ethnic and racial groups.
  • As we explore creative expression in our new initiatives, we also want to learn how to effectively measure its impact on organization’s work and the people our grantees serve. One way we’re doing this is through a grant to Youth Speaks, an organization using arts-based practices to advance the voice of young Californians. Here, we’re supporting their work to refine evaluation methods to specifically measure how creative expression impacts the individuals doing it and the issue areas being discussed in new ways because of this work.

This new grantmaking builds on the work of our former Arts program but does not replace it. Our previous Arts program is culminating over the next few years and is focused on the New California Arts Fund’s efforts to support arts institutions as they bring arts engagement to the core of their work.

Our creative expression grants will go to a variety of organizations that align, in different ways, with our new goals. We’re excited to more fully grasp the potential for such investments to benefit people who could more fully participate in California’s political systems and economy. I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress and, as always, welcome your thoughts and insights.