Barry Hessenius of the Western States Arts Federation, writing at his blog:
Everywhere today there are articles and media accounts of how the arts play a role in creative aging for seniors, and how that role is helping people growing older to live more interesting, productive, satisfying and fulfilling lives, and how that - plus a range of other intersections between the arts and medical care - is helping elders (and younger people too) maintain better health, recover quicker from health problems, and from surgery and chronic illnesses, and in addressing mental issues from Alzheimer's and dementia to depression and anxiety.
A growing body of preliminary research is confirming what many in the arts sector long intuitively believed - that the engagement with the arts on multiple levels is simply good for the body, mind and soul - in very tangible, practical ways.
The Hewlett Foundation recently co-hosted, with Aroha Philanthropies, a meeting of leaders in the field called Artful Aging: The Transformative Power of Creativity, which Barry mentions in his post.
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.
To celebrate Cesar Chavez Day, we're sharing the story of the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza, a grantee of our Performing Arts Program. The plaza sits squarely in San Jose's Mayfair, a historically Latino neighborhood where Cesar Chavez grew up and where he led the first of the boycotts for farmworker rights that he organized in the 1960s.
When the plaza was built in 1999, its backers saw it mainly as a performance venue: a "Latino Lincoln Center." A decade later, the city of San Jose decided to make a change, and established the School of Arts and Culture at MHP in 2011 to provide new leadership for the plaza:
The new vision for the plaza focused on arts education—and in particular the traditional arts of Mexico and the Latino diaspora—as a means to help young people grow as individuals, to build important skills like creative problem-solving and collaboration, all while fostering cultural knowledge. “In this community, but I would say throughout most of American culture, we consume the arts—it’s entertainment,” said Lilia Agüero, the school’s director of education. “But here, you can learn to be a maker, and that instills, I think, a sense that you can do things.”
Today, the plaza's classrooms buzz with the sounds of people engaged in creating art—guitar lessons, baile folklórico, ceramics, and painting. Children learn what they are capable of while connecting with their heritage. And the community has a place where its children can be safe, and where it can celebrate art and culture—a refuge in the heart of the neighborhood.
One of the hardest challenges of being an arts grantmaker is deciding how to choose among so many worthy applicants. Even an organization with the Hewlett Foundation’s resources has to make some very hard choices: With more than 2500 arts organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area, our Performing Arts Program can fund only 10% of the them. (We focus on the highest performing companies with annual operating budgets greater than $100,000.)
But that leaves out a host of worthy organizations, and we recognize that very small organizations, fiscally sponsored projects, and individual artists play an important role in a healthy arts ecosystem. To help to meet their needs, we have invested consistently in a dozen regranting intermediary organizations to provide direct support to these players. We contribute to pooled funds (such as local arts councils and community foundations), commissioning funds (such as Creative Work Fund and Gerbode Commissions), and discipline specific funds (such as Theatre Bay Area’s CA$H program and San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music).
This past summer, we engaged consultants from Olive Grove and Informing Change to conduct an assessment of our strategy supporting these regrantors. Their report contains a wealth of ideas and recommendations that are beneficial to the Performing Arts Program, as well as other funders that support regranting intermediaries. Among the recommendations contained in the report are:
Deepening our investment with current regrantors, particularly those reaching underserved communities;
Exploring new regranting partnerships in underserved communities unmet by current regrantors; and
Deepen advocacy role among peers to step up funding in the arts to reach underserved communities.
We cannot accomplish everything recommended in the report by ourselves, so we’re sharing it in hopes that together, we can continue to build a thriving arts ecosystem in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Americans for the Arts, a grantee of our Performing Arts Program, recently announced that California is among ten states joining a three-year pilot program to strengthen arts education by advancing state policy:
Americans for the Arts will support each state team with customized coaching and technical assistance throughout the three-year pilot, via web-based tools and site visits. Additionally, teams will receive a direct grant of $10,000 each year of the three-year pilot program to support identified goals.
Through the three-year engagement, each state team will work toward specific objectives, resources and outcomes that they seek to impact. With issues ranging from teacher effectiveness to high school graduation requirements to Title I funding to equitable implementation of state policies—the ten states are tackling complicated education policy topics. Participating states vary greatly in size, political landscape, geography, population size, demographics, and arts education conditions.
The initial team implementing the pilot in California includes two Hewlett Foundation grantees: the California Alliance for Arts Education, the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA), as well as the California Department of Education (CDE).
San Francisco's ABC 7 News recently reported on the The Kodály Center for Music Education and their efforts to preserve American folk music. A recent grant from our Performing Arts Program is intended to help the Center double the size of its collection.
Congratulations to the Co-Founders of First Voice, a Performing Arts Program grantee. Mark Izu and Brenda Wong Ioki were honored recently in different ways: Brenda was named the recipient of the 2014 Circle of Excellence Award from the National Storytelling Network, and Mark is the subject of a documentary film, "Don't Lose Your Soul," about his music airing on PBS this month. Mark also scored two other films in the same PBS series, Japanese American Lives.
The more we engage in meaningful collaborations, the greater the likelihood that an increasing number of them will succeed with widespread benefits; the more we send the message to everyone that this is something we value precisely because it yields across the board positive benefits for everyone - at least in the long run - the more of us are likely to at least try to say "yes" to invitations to collaborate - even if we have to carefully and judiciously pick and choose between numerous opportunities. And as we get more into the 'habit' of collaboration, the easier it will be to incorporate it as a given in our strategies to move forward.
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?