Two Foundations Take New Approaches to Arts Engagement

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October 4, 2011; Source: Sacramento Bee | Many arts organizations have tracked fluctuations in attendance rates during the economic downturn, and with two separate funding initiatives the James Irvine Foundation and the Knight Foundation seem to have responded by saying, “Yes, changes have occurred. Embrace them.” 

A recent story in the Sacramento Bee highlights the demographic changes that led the James Irvine Foundation to shift its arts funding strategy. A key factor was a study (PDF) released in September on arts engagement that reveals that Californians are increasingly experiencing culture at home as opposed to in theaters, museums, or galleries. The study also emphasizes the increasing importance of religion in individuals’ cultural preferences—particularly for African Americans and Hispanics. The new Exploring Engagement Fund aims to promote arts engagement by supporting arts nonprofits that are responding to the changes in the “who,” “how,” and “where” that arts engagement is now taking place within California. Commenting on the shift reflected in this new initiative, Josephine Ramirez, arts program director at the Irvine Foundation, told the Bee, “This is a whole new world where we’re prototyping risk and experimentation." She added, "What I think we will see are a lot of organizations across the state trying new things and coming up with interesting ideas." 

Meanwhile, over on the East c\Coast, the Knight Foundation is accepting applications for the second round of Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia, a grant program that is open to established arts institutions, independent artists of all types, and even businesses and service organizations. The only three criteria for the program are that projects focus on art, that they benefit Philadelphia in some way, and that they come with matching funds. As an example of  a funded project from the last round, a recent NewsWorks story cites “A Play, A Pie, A Pint,” in which audiences “at a pub or lounge can see a short play, and wash a slice of pizza down with a pint of beer, for $15.” The concept is a British import that Emma Gibson brought to the U.S. Dennis Scholl, vice president of arts at the Knight Foundation, told NewsWorks, "This year, we're going to reach deeper into the community and try and motivate and look for ideas from individual artists and also from the creative community.”—Anne Eigeman