Skip to content

The Cultural Lives of Californians

Jennifer Novak-Leonard, Michael Reynolds, Ned English, & Norman Bradburn

The Arts Regional Initiative was a partnership between The James Irvine Foundation and 36 arts nonprofits in Southern California, the Central Valley, and the Central Coast — locales that, when compared to California as a whole, are home to people with lower income and education levels while reflecting higher proportions of younger, more ethnically diverse populations.

In a second phase of the Initiative, between 2009 and 2014, grantee organizations worked to increase cultural participation and improve financial sustainability. The Initiative unfolded at the height of the Great Recession, which influenced grantee approaches to increasing cultural participation, and limited their ability to advance financial sustainability. Despite this challenge, many Arts Regional Initiative grantees achieved significant transformations. Most reached their goals for increased cultural participation by expanding the size of their audiences, increasing audience involvement, or attracting new, demographically distinct audiences. Some discovered and tested new outreach techniques. Many developed new capacity to capture, analyze, and use data to inform decision-making.

This report presents findings from the California Survey of Arts & Cultural Participation, a new study commissioned by The James Irvine Foundation and conducted by researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago. The Cultural Lives of Californians: Insights from the California Survey of Arts & Cultural Participation reframes the conversation about arts participation and provides extraordinary insights on the critical role that arts nonprofits can play in communities.

This data challenges the notion that arts participation is in decline, instead suggesting that Californians are engaging in art in new ways and places — a reflection of emerging technologies, expectations, and cultural norms. Report findings point to questions and opportunities for nonprofit arts organizations, funders, and sector leaders to boost their relevance to the state’s increasingly diverse and changing population and to bring the benefit of the arts to all Californians.