Creatives on the Rise

by Ken Grossinger (bio), chairman, CrossCurrents Foundation

The NCRP report is striking in the stark display of inequity it outlines. And the press coverage the report received was significant, fueling further interest in creating baselines for measurement and ideas for action.

In the last decade, an increasing number of funders, artists, scholars and art advocates has accelerated a slow but forward movement toward embracing arts and culture as an essential element in the lives of ordinary people. Their activities reflect small but scalable steps towards what is needed to re-direct funds to reach low-income, minority, and otherwise disenfranchised communities. They are, at least, signs of forward movement.

Many funders and arts advocates also have been pushing for quantifiable measures to determine the amount of money that funders allocate for art and social change. Some of these funders include large institutions such as Surdna, Nathan Cummings and Open Society Foundations, and others are smaller family foundations and donor advised funds such as the Lambent and CrossCurrents Foundation. The NCRP report followed in that vein.

There are other notable initiatives to watch as well. A year before the NCRP report, Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts issued a report entitled Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking that focused on the scope of this emerging field. The report was unable to exactly quantify the proportion of funding going into this field, but it demonstrated that tens of millions of dollars went into art and social change work, and illustrated this finding with many key projects. The report laid out a road map for future research including the need to develop more relevant and rigorous assessment metrics and for the field to come up with common definitions of this work.

Among practitioner-led initiatives are two significant projects that focus in part on issues of equity. The Creative Change convenings, organized by the Opportunity Agenda, have brought artists, funders, and academics together to develop effective strategies for public engagement. The annual convening serves as an important communications hub for the several hundred people who have been involved, and it has generated projects — most recently on immigration and the economy — that address some of the issues reflected in the NCRP report.

Another relatively new formation closely associated with Creative Change is The Culture Group, a group of artists and activists working to deepen progressive cultural activities while generating theory from that work. On the research side they plan to assess the impact of cultural strategies and to map where these activities are taking place. And they plan to generate sustainable revenue models for cultural work. They’ve also initiated pilot projects such as Culture Strike, a multi-pronged initiative that includes writers, visual and performing artists who are focusing some of their work on immigration and migrant communities. Recently, some 50 artists met in Arizona to learn first hand about immigration policies and to develop projects in response.

Within the GIA family a few years back, former Nathan Cummings Foundation program officer Claudine Brown and others began organizing The Art and Social Justice working group, convening primarily at the annual GIA conference. The first meeting I attended had attracted about 15 people. This year the daylong GIA pre-conference on Artists and Social Justice had to close registration owing to space limitations. The level of interest among funders in providing a more equitable distribution of philanthropic resources can be seen even in this small measure.

Taken together, these new initiatives (among many others that might be discussed) simply reflect a field in development. Some two billion in philanthropic dollars every year goes into the arts, but a relatively scant proportion of these resources goes to strategies aimed at engaging poor and minority communities. When a family of four has to pay $80.00 to enter the Museum of Modern Art it is right to question whether the museum is receiving philanthropic dollars for the 1% or the 99%. These new initiatives are meant to occupy a new space. They and others like them should be more fully supported.