The best ways to measure the impact of the arts has been the subject of a field-wide debate. How do you begin to quantify individual and communal transformation, healing, cultural understanding, and bonding? In the arts sector, qualitative information such as stories, photos, and video can do just as much—or maybe more—than balance sheets and audience numbers to capture the intrinsic value for those who participate in and experience the arts. Communicating this impact in the age of strategic communications requires that organizations not only have high quality digital content but also have the skill to translate that content into compelling organizational stories.
Like our grantees, the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program also wanted to be able to better communicate our impact on Bay Area communities. In late 2013, we launched a digital assets project to create three mini-documentaries and photo sets that highlight the impact of our core strategies. As part of this project we recognized that we wanted to share, visually, the breadth and diversity of our portfolio. Historically, our high quality photos and video came from larger budget institutions in our grantee portfolio; often, small to mid-size community based organizations lacked the capacity to invest in and develop the high-quality video and photos that are essential for effective storytelling and strategic communications. Therefore we decided our mini-documentaries should focus on community-based grantees serving diverse Bay Area communities.
The first grantee we worked with for this project was the incredibly brave School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP) in East San Jose, California. MHP was a great pilot partner on this project, and we learned a lot about the staffing and infrastructure support needed to successfully produce this type of media, as well as how time consuming it can be. During a roughly eight month process, our production company partners Rapt Productions created the beautiful and moving five minute mini-documentary you see above, as well as a fantastic set of photos that truly captures the energy and spirit of MHP and the critical role it plays in its community in East San Jose. The video and photos clearly communicates the vital importance of cultural heritage and multicultural arts education in giving voice to young people and building stronger communities in a way that words and figures just can’t hope to match.
It was clear to us that an effective partnership, and a successful project, would require a great deal of time and effort on the part of MHP—and that the project couldn’t end with the delivery of the video and photos. An important part of this process has been to support MHP in using the materials effectively to further their strategic goals. In addition to helping shape the content of video and photos, MHP staff also attended a Foundation-hosted communications training by Spitfire Strategies to develop a plan to link the visual media to their broader organizational goals: increasing class enrollment, facility rentals, and foundation support .
As you’ll see in the video above and the photos below, the work that MHP is doing in East San Jose is having a remarkable impact in the lives of individual students and the neighborhood. We are tremendously grateful to MHP for their partnership on this project, and for the opportunity to help show how they are transforming lives and empowering a whole community.
The commentary around the recent release of The Faces of the Future report—including blog posts from my colleagues John McGuirk and Emiko Ono—has been fascinating to me. Not just professionally, but personally, because I am one of the NextGen Arts Leaders that the report is talking about. I have benefited directly from the NextGen Initiative’s efforts through a Center for Cultural Innovation grant to travel to New Orleans, where I studied with Urban Bush Women to deepen my dance practice. And it was through an Emerging Arts Professionals/San Francisco Bay Area Facebook post that found my current position as a two-year fellow with the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program.
What I found most compelling about the report were the sections on intergenerational dialogue and the importance of creating stronger networks for arts leaders of color. On my own career journey, I have received considerable support from caring mentors and elders, as well as from being part of a community of likeminded folks of color. I would like to share my experience—as a cultural worker, arts administrator, and dance artist—to inform the conversation about investment in up-and-coming arts leaders, and, in particular, support for arts leaders of color.
This isn’t just about a career. It’s about purpose.
In reflecting on the findings in the report, I kept thinking, “What is our call to action as arts administrators?” Often, the conversation is solely career focused, looking only at the next job, the next opportunity. NextGen arts leaders must operate in multiple roles to sustain ourselves financially, personally, and spiritually. For example, I am a mom, an advocate, a community convener, a dance artist, and a producer. All of us move in the world with a multiplicity of identities, yet we continue to talk about arts and culture in siloed ways, as if art and culture are not the foundations upon which we express our humanity. We don’t live our lives in silos, so why do we approach our work that way? Being an arts administrator is more than just my career; it deeply reflects my values and passions. My work investing in the creative capacity of communities is bound up with my work of being a mom and building a world where my son (a mixed black boy with queer parents) can feel safe and at home wherever he goes. Art and culture dictate and shape our realities and perceptions, and therefore are integral to creating social change. If I am not creating a better society for my son to grow up in, then why do the work that I do?