Working with Small Arts Organizations

How and Why It Matters

Amy Kitchener and Ann Markusen

Enriching our culture and engaging diverse and underserved communities, small arts organizations pop up, flourish, and sometimes flounder, mostly under the philanthropic radar. They often foster artistic expressions not adequately served by larger organizations. From Alliance for California Traditional Arts’ (ACTA) intermediary work in the Community Leadership Project 1 and our joint field research on small organizations for the James Irvine Foundation–funded report California’s Arts and Cultural Ecology (2011), we’ve learned how small arts nonprofits are undercounted, how broad ranging, sustainable, and valuable they are, and how they differ from larger organizations. Sharing ways that funders can better work with smaller arts nonprofits to further their missions, we urge philanthropy to nurture a fuller range of artistic expression in our contemporary world.

The Undercounting of Small Organizations

Small arts nonprofits — those with annual budgets under $250,000 — are found in every discipline and mission area, and in every type of community from densely populated inner cities to small rural towns. From information provided by the Cultural Data Project (CDP) and the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), we estimate that in 2010, California hosted nearly 11,000 arts and cultural nonprofits (Markusen et al., 2010). Fully 85 percent of them operate on budgets of $250,000 or less (Figure 1). Small organizations are found in every discipline and mission area (Figure 1). Small nonprofits are more likely to specialize in ethnic, folk arts, and multidisciplinary offerings (26 percent of those under $25,000 and 20 percent of those between $25,000 and $250,000) and in humanities, legacy, and non-visual arts museums (23 percent and 18 percent, respectively) than are larger organizations. However, the majority of small arts organizations are operating in either discipline-specific arts like music, visual, and performing arts, or in arts and cultural support activities.

The prominence of the former group of specializations among small organizations may be surprising, perhaps because small arts nonprofits are both difficult to identify and undercounted in sources like the Cultural Data Project. Ethnic and folk arts organizations are particularly undercounted in CDP data. Larger and more mainstream arts organizations are more likely to respond to CDP surveys because funders require it of applicants. In California, the CDP’s 1,604 respondents represent only 14 percent of NCSS arts nonprofits, even after careful elimination of likely defunct organizations (Markusen et al. 2011, Technical Appendix: 2–3). Although 48 percent of California arts nonprofits work with budget sizes less than $25,000, the CDP captured only 2 percent of this group, and only 12 percent of those between $25,000 and $250,000, another 37 percent of all arts nonprofits in the state (Figure 2). In contrast, the CDP captured 37 percent or more of organizations with budgets above $500,000, a group that makes up just 10 percent of all California arts and cultural nonprofits.

Similarly, California’s ethnic, folk arts, and multidisciplinary organizations (of all sizes) are greatly underrepresented in the CDP, which is strongest in performing arts (22 percent) and music organizations (19 percent) (Figure 3). The CDP captured only 4 percent of California arts nonprofits specializing in humanities, legacy, and non-visual arts museums. The CDP also overestimated the share of California arts nonprofits in the large urban agglomerations like the Bay Area and Los Angeles while underestimating those in the valleys and mountains north and east of Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley, and Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties). Since organizations don’t take the CDP survey if they are not applying to funders that require it, the undercount is caused both by underfunding of small nonprofits and by fewer funders working outside major metropolitan areas.

Undercounting often reinforces underappreciation. In the first major use of CDP data for arts advocacy purposes, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (2008) used CDP data to depict the area’s nonprofit arts. Despite a note acknowledging an undercount of smaller organizations, the study’s graphs of nonprofit arts organizations by size and discipline (Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, 2008: chart 2, p. 10) depict medium- and large-sized (not counting very large) organizations as more numerous than smaller ones. We found that California organizations under $250,000 comprise 85 percent of all arts and cultural nonprofits, compared to 39 percent in the Greater Philadelphia study. Yet the GPCA’s 2008 Portfolio claims to provide “an accurate measure of the current health and vibrancy of the cultural environment” (p. 8).

Undercounting and underappreciation reflect and perpetuate underfunding. For the United States as a whole, Sidford (2011) shows, using NCCS data, that philanthropic funding heavily favors large arts organizations over small and ethnically specific and social justice groups. Those with budgets greater than $5 million receive 55 percent of all contributions, gifts, and grants, even though they account for only 2 percent of total arts and cultural nonprofits (p. 8).

Ethnic, non-Euro-American, and low-income community-serving arts organizations are markedly underfunded. Sidford estimates that three-quarters of US arts nonprofits have budgets under $250,000 (excluding those under $25,000). Using 1stAct Silicon Valley data on 659 active arts, culture, and humanities organizations in 2008, she finds that 70 percent of the region’s groups are less than twenty years old, and 30 percent of these are ethnic specific, focusing on the cultural traditions of India, Mexico, Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines, among other countries (p. 13). In the largely rural San Joaquin Valley, where ACTA often works, most arts organizations are small and play a crucial role. While our illustrations in what follows are drawn from ethnic, folk arts, and multidisciplinary organizations, our characterizations apply to the entire range and diversity of small arts nonprofits.

Value Added by Small Organizations

The debate on how size matters in arts and culture parallels a venerable theme in the for-profit sector. For at least a century, American researchers, governments, business associations, and philanthropists have acknowledged that small and entrepreneurial businesses are valuable and face different challenges than larger ones. Distinctive tax, regulatory, and incubator policies have been designed to foster small-business viability. Entire agencies, like the federal Small Business Administration, and durable programs, like the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, devote their expertise and budgets to mentoring, funding, and evaluating small-business enterprises. At least five important traits imbue small arts organizations with special value.

Community Embeddedness and Stewardship

Small organizations are often the structures in which culturally specific or local community arts offerings begin, grow, and develop. As direct representatives of a community, workers in small organizations often possess deep knowledge of community issues and a personal affinity with those they serve.

Because of this grounding, activities by small organizations working in culturally specific areas often challenge the dominant concepts and definitions of art, artistic quality, and value. For instance, San Diego’s Familia Indigena Unida, founded by two first-ever college graduates from the community, teaches language, writing, and cultural heritage to recent indigenous immigrants from Oaxaca — working deeply in the part of the arts spectrum that is so embedded in culture that it may not be recognized as “art” by the status quo. In the context of this small organization, the art is made, presented, and consumed by and for the people it is intended to serve.

Some small organizations work cross-culturally, using their artistic practices to bridge among ethnicities, races, immigrant, age and class groups, and arts disciplines. Sol Collective, positioned between African American and Latino neighborhoods in Sacramento, aspires to be a visible manifestation of a multicultural city and engages in multidisciplinary activities: youth entrepreneurship in silk screening and music recording, a healthy living workshop, an ethnic herb garden, and film screenings. Decisions are made by advisory and executive board members from the community who must volunteer for three to six months before appointment. They bring community voice intimately into programming and vision.

Reaching Underserved Constituencies

Small organizations often emerge from within culturally specific communities and focus on artistic expressions not adequately served by mainstream organizations. They can be found even in economically depressed or rural areas with limited nonprofit infrastructures. For example, mothers in Tipton, California, in rural Tulare County, organized a ballet folklórico group to enrich their children’s artistic experiences as an alternative to tap dance classes, the only school-based cultural elective offered to its more than 64 percent Latino pupils (California Department of Education 2011).


The people who lead small organizations often exhibit vision and commitment that compensate for low or no pay or job security. Leadership is often partially or wholly volunteer based. Strong founding leaders may inspire new people, recruit others, and secure funds to further the organization’s mission. Or a young organization may evolve more participatory, member-involved governance practices that suit its constituency and reinforce community cultural practices. Santa Ana’s El Centro Cultural de Mexico, serving recent immigrants and local youth, engages all members in decision making without hierarchical leadership and relies on six quadros, or teams, for programming and administration.

Resourceful Leverage and Sustainability

Small organizations often build and use nonfinancial assets such as strong volunteer bases, social capital, and in-kind donations that don’t show up on their balance sheets but are an essential part of the effective arts and cultural delivery. They often collaborate fluidly with other organizations, formally or informally, as they take their visions to scale. Though their budgets may fluctuate with recessions or lumpy funding, they can rely on these off-budget resources in hard times. This leverage, combined with small budgets, low overhead, and few paid staff, often renders small organizations quite agile. Thus their modest size and changing structures, especially in poorer communities, may reflect adaptability and innovation rather than dysfunction. In contrast, large organizations with employment commitments, owned or leased dedicated space, and contractual arrangements are reliant on earnings, grants, and financial assets and may face greater difficulty weathering asset implosion and attendance drop-off.

Small organizations are assumed to run closer to the margins with little cushion. However, a review of recent IRS 990 data, presented at a Grantmakers in the Arts capitalization dialogue for San Francisco Bay Area funders in March 2012, found that organizations with budgets below $1 million had more median months of cash on hand and of unrestricted liquid net assets than larger organizations.

Active Engagement

In small organizations, the boundary between creators and audiences is often blurred. People who participate in a festival, for instance, may be actively involved in designing costumes, making music, and providing visual art. The notion of “attendance” is often perplexing to small organizations as well as hard to measure. Jewish- and Yiddish-culture-celebrating KlezCalifornia has “participants, not audiences,” because so many of its attendees are culture bearers. With the recent quickening of interest in active arts engagement, small arts nonprofits may have much to offer the larger field (Brown, Novak, and Kitchener 2008; Brown and Novak-Leonard 2011).

For these value reasons, modest amounts of funding can generate significant impacts for small arts organizations. For instance, with a first-ever grant of $7,500 from ACTA, the Garifuna American Heritage Foundation United, based in Los Angeles, broadcasts to listeners around the globe via webcast a weekly language class in its Arawak-based language, recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s endangered cultural assets. It can also provide them an opportunity to improve their capitalization.

How Small Organizations Are Different

Funders reasonably expect arts organizations to demonstrate their impact. But outcomes are hard to measure and difficult to compare across organizations. Through qualitative research and working with small and ethnic/traditional organizations, we found evidence of impact larger than assets, budgets, paid staff, and even attendance figures would suggest. As a group, these organizations are more experimental and flexible, have a wider range of governance structures, engage more interorganizationally, and are more embedded in their communities. Our observations are consistent with what a number of scholars have found over more than two decades of work (Bedoya 2011; Jackson and Herranz 2002; Peterson 2011; Staub 2003; Wali, Severson, and Longoni 2002).

Budgets are often used as a proxy for impact, even though they are an input rather than an output measure. But because they disproportionately engage volunteers and receive in-kind contributions of space and materials, smaller arts nonprofits have a much larger footprint than monetary revenues and expenditures convey. For instance, the volunteer-led South County Historical Society in San Luis Obispo County operates five museum spaces that log 18,000 visits per year on a budget of $80,000. As guides and providers of food service, grounds care, improvements, repairs, and maintenance, its skilled volunteers donate 6,000 hours a year. From benchmarked CDP data, we found volunteer-to-paid-staff ratios of 7 to 1 for California arts nonprofits between $25,000 and $250,000, compared to 2 to 1 for those above $250,000 and 1 to five for those over $10 million (Markusen et al. 2011, p. 23).

Volunteer leadership and artistic programming, as well as in-kind donations, are even higher in under-$25,000 organizations, but because of poor CDP coverage, are hard to estimate precisely. Santa Ana–based Barrio Writers, coaching and securing performance space for youth in bilingual poetry and spoken word, runs on an annual budget of $5,000 with no paid staff and relies on committed volunteer high school teachers, donated materials, and free use of pubic library and bookstore space.

Many small nonprofits create and present in donated, rented, borrowed, or public spaces. Hereandnow, a downtown Los Angeles pan–Asian American theater company presenting all-original work, rehearses in and operates out of two Buddhist temples in Little Tokyo. Some groups, like Oakland’s youth-founded Scraper Bikes, use public park space and streets to paint and parade. Free or shared space is a godsend to some, but can also pose challenges. For Riverside’s cultural arts group We The People, convener of a large annual multicultural festival, the lack of reliable dedicated space means working around other groups’ crowded schedules and makes it difficult to reach out to the community.

Longevity, size, and growth are not synonymous with success. Not all small organizations desire to grow — some are very happy with their current size and mission; and small organizations are more apt to be experimental, changing over time as they learn and reach their constituencies in more interactive ways. Some morph into other organizations, merge, or abruptly change mission. For instance, the Gay Men’s Chorus of San José, originally formed in 1983 as the Liederman Gay Men’s Chorus of San José, reincorporated in 1994 as Rainbow Pride Performing Arts of San José, reincorporated again as the Silicon Valley Gay Men’s Chorus in 2005, and achieved 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt status in 2007. The median nonprofit arts organization is likely to have a professional executive director and a volunteer board that hires leadership and helps them make decisions. Among smaller organizations, there is much greater organizational variation. Some remain informal, while others are structured as collectives or nonprofits. Some small nonprofits have formal membership structures and tailor their governance processes to unique constituencies and missions. San Diego’s Portuguese Hall uses a participatory process whereby large numbers of members elect the board and officers at an annual meeting. In other nonprofits, a founder-leader may continue to make decisions with only nominal board participation.

Although many arts nonprofits enjoy relationships with others in the field, sharing insights, resources, space, staff, and mentoring, we know little about how these relationships vary by size and focus or their impact on outcomes. Our work with smaller organizations underscores their significance. El Centro Cultural de Mexico, despite its modest space and budget of $100,000, operates as an incubator for a number of other organizations — Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble, Barrio Writers, Fandango Sin Fronteras — providing them space, resources, administrative services, and business development assistance. Some organizations partner with non-arts groups such as places of worship, social service nonprofits, community centers. San Bernardino’s Asian American Resource Center, for instance, engages in social service activities that complement its arts and cultural programming. Interorganizational cooperation and mutual support form an important frontier for arts and cultural ecology work, especially for small nonprofits.

Smaller arts and cultural organizations are more likely to be embedded in geographic and/or affinity (ethnic, immigrant, age, sexual preference, specialized art form) communities than are large organizations (Markusen 2009). Neighborhood or territorial identity is common. The California State Old Time Fiddlers Association, District 6, for instance, serves musicians and music lovers in a set of northern California counties, while Los Viejitos Car Club serves Latino adults and youth in East Los Angeles. Those groups heavily anchored in place often participate in, and even lead, local business organizations or coalitions regarding community issues. Some help stabilize their immediate neighborhoods by improving safety, aesthetics, and infrastructure, and providing a sense of community for people more generally. Some actively pursue community goals through local politics, using arts and cultural expression in city council presentations, parades, and protests to achieve recognition and action on pressing matters for their communities.

Small embedded nonprofits are sometimes asked to solve problems outside their arts and cultural expertise, such as dealing with neighborhood violence, immigration issues, or health challenges of participants. Fresno’s Teatro de la Tierra, led by El Teatro Campesino cofounder Agustín Lira, was recently commissioned to write a play dealing with childhood obesity in the San Joaquin Valley that Lira produced working with neighborhood residents as actors.

Strategies for Supporting Small Organizations

Foundation funding can be accompanied by technical assistance and/or networking to maximize impact. As an intermediary grantmaker, ACTA has designed and implemented several small grants programs involving project support and capacity building. Our experience underscores the importance of discovery research to identify exemplary small organizations; understanding the capacity scale; setting flexible budget thresholds and funding criteria; offering a diversity of types of funding; including specialized cultural expertise in the review process; offering technical assistance and fostering peer learning networks; helping to define outcomes and approaches to evaluation; working with intermediaries; and learning from other nonprofit sectors.

Identifying Exemplary Small Organizations through Outreach and Discovery Research

Because many small organizations have never sought a grant, funders need strategies to reach beyond the usual information networks. After ACTA hired a Spanish-speaking outreach manager who had worked extensively in Mexican immigrant communities, applications involving artistic expressions of Greater Mexico significantly increased. Funders can make site visits to community-based cultural events to meet and learn about their cultural producers. Attending an Oaxacan Guelaguetza festival in Fresno, ACTA staff observed and met dozens of California-based indigenous Mexican music and dance groups as well as service-focused nonprofits working with this community.

Face-to-face outreach meetings are effective, especially in bridging digital and language divides. When grants staffs plan information workshops in dispersed locations, they can use ethnic or discipline-specific information networks (Listservs, radio, intermediary organizations) to identify potential applicants.

Understanding the Capacity Scale

Funders can seek to understand the capacity scale of small organizations rather than insisting on standard solutions designed for larger organizations with professional staff. An effective approach will build on grantees’ strengths and desired areas of development. In a learning circle with other Community Leadership Project intermediaries working with small organizations, funded by the Hewlett, Irvine, and Packard Foundations, we developed and distinguished common attributes (staffing, funding, board, and planning capacities) for four budget size groups: $100,000–$250,000; $25,000–$100,000; under $25,000 (incorporated); and under $25,000 (unincorporated) (Alliance for California Traditional Arts et al. 2012).

Setting Flexible Budget Thresholds and Funding Criteria

Foundations often set minimum budget size for program eligibility, shutting out small organizations. But allowing them to quantify the value of in-kind services may bring them above the minimum. With organizational memory and program continuity, volunteer-run organizations can achieve levels of sustainability comparable to those with paid staff. Founded in 1987 and run by volunteers, including its executive director and facilities staff, Arte Americas has made the San Joaquin Valley a flourishing place for Latino arts on a budget of $220,000 per year. If $125,000 worth of volunteer staff services were acknowledged, the organization would be considered a midsized operation. Fiscal sponsorship, grantmaking intermediaries, and consortia applications joining small with larger organizations are other ways of breaking the budget minimum barrier.

Many funders set a funding maximum based on budget size. Although most arts nonprofits once were small, this practice locks today’s small organizations into relatively small grants, perpetuating systemic inequity. It also ignores the nonfinancial assets and contributions that substitute for revenue. Consider CASA 0101, founded in 2000 by Josefina López, author of Real Women Have Curves, to bring art and live theater programs to Boyle Heights. Started in a tiny former bridal shop, Casa 0101 is now a leading arts venue for Los Angeles’s East Side, offering year-round theatrical productions and dramatic writing and acting classes to youth and adults on $150,000 a year. A promising small organization deserves a vote of confidence and the scaling-up resources to go with it.

Offering Flexible Types of Funding

Given the scope and diversity of small organizations, funders should offer multiple categories for support. To maximize a grant’s impact, applicants should be encouraged to ask for what they need most — capital purchase, project expenses, or operating support, for example, or a combination. Flexible funding enabled the Bay Area’s Chinese Performing Arts Foundation to commission handmade folk percussion instruments from Suzhou City, China, enhancing its instruction and performance of Chinese folk music far into the future with a grant from ACTA’s Living Cultures Program (a traditional arts regranting program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund and the Hewlett and Irvine Foundations). Oakland artist Mozel Zeke Nealy used grant funding to bring master Vodou drummer and singer Frisner Augustin for a two-week instructional session with Bay Area–based Haitian drummers, deepening skills and knowledge. Some small grant seekers may identify capitalization as a major challenge, and funders can encourage fiscal health by seeding an operating reserve or a special opportunity fund, or by granting permission to place unused operating support in a reserve account.

Including Specialized Cultural Expertise in Review Processes

Engaging trusted experts who know disciplinary or culturally specific artistic traditions and standards is critical to the review process, whether it’s a panel or foundation staff-directed process. Funders who understand differing aesthetic systems and goals in diverse community-based cultural practice will find it easier to select deserving grantees.

Offering Technical Assistance and Fostering Peer Learning Networks

Small organizations, especially new grant seekers, rarely have access to professional development staff and should not be penalized for it. Funders can offer technical assistance to small arts organizations to help develop proposals, produce work samples, or draft budgets. Technical assistance helps small organizations keep their proposals in line with guidelines and in scale with available funding. This work should be crafted as technology transfer, training organizational staff in skills helpful for future funding requests. Offering workshops and individualized coaching can help groups improve their skills and gain access to the funding process. Relevant training should reach beyond grantsmanship to include financial sustainability strategies to help small organizations control their destinies through grassroots fundraising with individual donors and earned-income strategies.

Workshops and roundtable sessions tailored specifically for small organizations can both bolster capacity and foster peer networks. In 2008, ACTA initiated a Traditional Arts Roundtable Series to strengthen San Francisco Bay Area intercultural traditional arts networks and leadership and offer opportunities for traditional artists and advocates to learn from one another through intimate discussion, technical assistance, networking, and sharing community-based arts and culture. Now in its fourth cycle, the program focuses on skill-building sessions, issues-oriented discussions, and artistic sharing.

Helping to Define Appropriate Outcomes and Approaches to Evaluation

Funders need good evaluation methods to gauge program impact. Small organizations can pose a challenge in that few have dedicated resources for or experience with evaluation. However, outcomes-based approaches work well because small organizations’ community impacts are often visible. From the start, funders can encourage self-defined measures rather than imposed, predetermined ones that might be off-target. At evaluation points, funders can ask groups to tell the story of what they learned and what they think their accomplishments have been in their own terms. Roberto Bedoya calls for a new measure of evaluation based on “stewardship” levels found in culturally specific nonprofits:

How is an organization a good steward of its financial resources? Of its management systems? Of its community call? Of its responsibilities as a cultural bearer for a group? How is an organization a good steward of the catalytic apparatus that empowers talent and community? To understand stewardship, we need to engage the ethical ways of knowing an organization’s purpose, its soul, and its context. (Bedoya 2011, p. 26)

Funders can deepen their understanding of an organization and its work by conducting interactive interviews and/or site visits with grantees as part of the evaluation process. In these, important themes or unanticipated outcomes may surface that are unlikely to appear in a written report, especially when the organization has limited grants administration capacity. Convenings of grantees can serve a vital role for funder-grantee and peer learning.

Working with Intermediaries

Family foundations, community foundations, and local and state arts councils have designed and implemented pioneering grantmaking programs that serve and/or incubate small organizations for decades. But working with “smalls” is relatively labor intensive, requiring special skills and more administration per dollar granted than with larger organizations. So funders sometimes turn to regranting intermediary organizations offering disciplinary, cultural, geographic, or local knowledge. Foundations have accomplished field building via intermediaries in several GIA priority areas: Native arts and culture (First People’s Fund, Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, Native Cultures Fund, and others); individual artists (Leveraging Investments in Creativity, the Center for Cultural Innovation); social justice (Alternate Routes); and in some disciplines (National Performance Network and others). To work, regranting through intermediaries must refrain from imposing budget ratios and must invest in intermediary capacity building.

For ACTA and sister intermediary organizations, severe limits on intermediary operating support funding are challenging and have led to the demise of exemplary organizations such as the Fund for Folk Culture in 2009 (Kitchener 2010). Tom David, who conducted research with fifty intermediaries for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, urges foundations to look at their partnerships with intermediaries as a multiyear investment strategy to build essential infrastructure. In fields with chronic undercapitalizing, foundations have an opportunity to effectively capitalize key intermediary institutions over the long term (David 2007).

Intermediaries who act as fiscal sponsors offer another route for funders who wish to support small and/or unincorporated organizations. A national pioneer, Community Initiatives in San Francisco, offers not only financial management but also human resources, insurance, and project management services. Such large fiscal sponsorship intermediaries rely on income earned by administering large grants, subsidizing services for small organizations. Yet Bay Area arts service organizations like Intersection for the Arts, CounterPULSE, and Dancers’ Group that specialize in fiscal sponsorship for the smalls are running at full capacity and unable to earn income from this work, subsidizing it with operating funds. To expand their funding to this underserved portion of an arts and cultural ecology, funders must move beyond “bang for the buck” assessments of value and look more broadly at field-building impacts.

Learning from Other Nonprofit Sectors

We have much to learn from foundations that have long invested in small organizations, often as a comprehensive strategy to advance policy change in the environment, civic participation, community development, social justice, and health fields. In a new National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report (Hansen 2012), environment and climate funders are urged to invest heavily in grassroots communities disproportionately affected by environmental harms. In the health sector, Los Angeles County offers free nonprofit space at historic General Hospital as a common space area where like-minded nonprofits can coordinate wellness programming, share knowledge and best practices, and strengthen collaborative efforts to combat epidemic health issues facing the East Los Angeles community. The affinity group Grassroots Grantmakers incorporates foundation leaders across mission areas.


The underfunding and undercounting of valuable small arts organizations, many of whom pioneer arts engagement among underserved constituencies and in new art forms, call for more serious conversation among grantmakers. Recently, we sense a quickening, with the Sidford study (2011), the Hansen report (2012), calls for community arts and social change grantmaking (e.g., Chew 2009; Korza and Bacon 2012), and ongoing dialogues within GIA about cultural equity. Despite the sustained recession with its asset implosion, ticket sales slump, and government arts budget cutting, many foundations are not just shoring up their longtime worthy grantees but are also exploring new frontiers, including thinking about the fruits of the arts beyond economic impact, instrumental outcomes (such as smarter children), and sustaining fine arts quality. An obvious frontier is the huge and variegated range of small arts organizations that are exploring new arts genres and serving ethnic, racial, immigrant, and folk constituencies.

Imagine what it might mean if arts advocates set a target, like the environmentalists have won for air quality improvements, to substantially increase the funding and technical assistance available to small arts organizations? We have offered a full menu of ways to do so and increase the effectiveness of funding dollars.

As for our undercounting of, and sustained ignorance about, small arts organizations, compilers of data sources should be asked to aggressively reach out to small organizations and offer them good reasons to participate in surveys. This might mean changing the questions asked. The CDP, for instance, might be expanded to include more nonmonetary measures of resources and to add outcome measures that go beyond attendance, adding others related to social and cultural capital. Meanwhile, for advocacy purposes, the CDP data should be benchmarked against the NCCS data so that they capture the full size, impact, and diversity in our regional arts ecologies.

  1. Targeting nonprofits serving low-income communities of color, the Community Leadership Project is a capacity-building initiative of the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Community Foundation of Monterey County, Families in Schools, HomeBase, and Rose Foundation. 2012. “Capacity Building with Small Groups: Good Practices and Added Value.” Unpublished paper prepared by a learning circle of Community Leadership Project intermediaries of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Bedoya. Roberto. 2011. “The Color Line and United States Cultural Policy: An Essay with Dialogue.” GIA Reader 22 (3): 25–28.
Brown, Alan, and Jennifer Novak-Leonard, in partnership with Shelly Gilbride. 2011. Getting In on the Act: How Arts Groups Are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation. San Francisco: James Irvine Foundation.
Brown, Alan, Jennifer Novak, and Amy Kitchener. 2008. Cultural Engagement in California’s Inland Regions. San Francisco: WolfBrown.
California Department of Education. 2011, June. California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS).
Chew, Ron. 2009. Community-Based Arts Organizations: A New Center of Gravity. Washington, DC: Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts.
David, Tom. 2007. Partnering With Intermediaries. Paper commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. 2008. 2008 Portfolio. Philadelphia: Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.
Hansen, Sarah. 2012. Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders. Washington, DC: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
Killacky, John. 2011, June 23. “Regrets of a Former Arts Funder.” Blue Avocado.
Kitchener, Amy. 2010. “Learning and Legacy at the Fund for Folk Culture: An Interview with Betsy Peterson.” GIA Reader 21 (1).
Korza, Pam, and Barbara Schaffer Bacon. 2012. Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking. Washington, DC, and New York: Americans for the Arts.
Jackson, Maria Rosario, and Joaquin Herranz Jr. 2002. Culture Counts in Communities: A Framework of Measurement. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Markusen, Ann. 2009. “Challenge, Change and Space in Vernacular Cultural Practice.” In The Vernacular in Urban Cultural Regeneration, ed. Tim Edensor, Deborah Leslie, Steve Millington, and Norma Rantisi, 185–99. London: Routledge.
Markusen, Ann, Anne Gadwa, Elisa Barbour, and William Beyers. 2011. California’s Arts and Cultural Ecology. San Francisco: James Irvine Foundation.
Peterson, Elizabeth. 2011, March. “Cultural Policy Research in the United States: An Introduction to Studies Relevant to Folk Arts and Traditional Culture.” American Folklore Society.
Sidford, Holly. 2011, October. Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy. Washington, DC: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
Staub, Shalom. 2003. “Small Organizations in the Folk and Traditional Arts: Strategies for Support.” Working Paper Series 1, Issues in Folk Arts and Traditional Cultures. Santa Fe: Fund for Folk Culture.
Wali, Alaki, Rebecca Severson, and Mario Longoni. 2002. The Informal Arts: Finding Cohesion, Capacity and Other Cultural Benefits in Unexpected Places. Chicago: Chicago Center for Arts and Policy, Columbia College.