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Taking Stock: The Field of Arts Engagement

Josephine Ramirez

Josephine Ramirez, Former Portfolio Director

Recent budget proposals from D.C. have arts leaders rightfully worried about the sustainability of nonprofit organizations that are vital to our cultural and civic life. At The James Irvine Foundation, we have spent the last six years exploring how arts nonprofits can sustain their work by being more relevant to and engaging of their communities. Through our partnership with more than a dozen nonprofits in the New California Arts Fund we’re witnessing how powerful, relevant nonprofits provide deeply meaningful arts engagement experiences that benefit individuals, communities, and their organizations’ sustainability.

The leaders of these organizations are passionate and brilliant, yet they express a need for fellowship with their peers. Like-minded leaders can mutually inspire one another to ongoing growth and adaptation that keeps them moving toward greater relevance. This begs the big question: How to build that spirit-, mind-, and energy-sustaining group of people?

We asked Adrian Ellis of AEA Consulting to consider whether there are enough of these strengths — however undefined or undeveloped — in common to build on among organizations and leaders in the wider arts nonprofit field. Adrian and his colleagues gathered information from arts leaders, researchers, funders, and others who have a vantage point on the topic.

In this report, he shares the findings and analysis — providing critical context for this work, exploring how to develop a nascent field through a five-part framework, and suggesting new actions that could accelerate the building of a strong network of practitioners whose purpose is to provide opportunities for all kinds of people to more equitably access artistic experiences.

The resulting report, Building the Field of Arts Engagement: Prospects and Challenges, examines the prospects for a field of nonprofits focused on “arts engagement” — a term we use to describe multiple, overlapping strategies that focus on expanding arts participation to diverse and/or low-income communities. You can access the full report, plus a sharable summary and literature review on our website.

We hope you find that Adrian’s work surfaces new possibilities for increasing and connecting arts organizations and leaders who are committed to transforming themselves into relevant, public-facing institutions. Please share your reflections and join the conversation here.