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Irving Foundation Grants for the 805

SeattledanceProjectThe James Irvine Foundation Arts Regional Initiative, Phase Two, has awarded over two and a half million dollars in grants for 805 regional arts institutions committed to broadening and diversifying their audiences and strengthening their financial sustainability. The organizations represent a mix of artistic disciplines, including music, dance, opera, theater, visual arts and multidisciplinary arts.



Julie Tobiason and Timothy Lynch of Seattle Dance Project


The Irving Foundation grants operate on a principle similar to the saying “it is better to teach someone to fish, than to just give them fish” as each institution has to go through a rigorous review of how its own internal infrastructure and policies work and how it fits into the arts infrastructure of the region it serves. All but one of the institutions was funded in the first round as well, with the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum being added in round two.

From the looks of the results of round one, these grants will have a major impact on the quality and stability of the arts in the 805 over the next few years. All the institutions receiving round one grants have shown a marked improvement in their organizations, online presence and web-sites, ticketing, public outreach, and other organizational aspects since going through the first-round granting processes. One of the unique aspects of the Irving Foundation grants is the depth and thoroughness of the internal review involved and the re-vitalization of fundamental institutional operations brought about by the Foundation’s unique process. The hope is that these grants will create changes that improve things over a significant timeframe going forward.

The Irving Foundation state that “the organizations selected this year for the Arts Regional Initiative are planning to use the grants to advance financial sustainability within a challenging economic environment and to increase cultural participation from underrepresented communities. While each institution is developing specific plans … participants are implementing operational changes to recalibrate for the current economy, strengthening and diversifying board leadership, and developing culturally relevant artistic programs to attract diverse audiences and deepen their relationships with existing audiences.

The recipients in the 805 area are the Museum of Ventura County, $300,000; the Ojai Music Festival, $325,000; the Rubicon Theatre, Ventura, $350,000; the San Luis Obispo Art Center, $225,000; the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, $250,000; Opera Santa Barbara, $225,000; the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra Association, $275,000, State Street Ballet, Santa Barbara, $300,000. The grants are awarded over three years and grantees will share resources, best practices, and lessons learned.

The public should keep in mind that these grants are for infrastructural reform of the institutions and that all of them still need substantial community support for ongoing operating funds, programs, volunteer staff, and all the usual things they’ve needed before.

What is gained is a much more efficiently run and directed professional institution that is able to have a deeper and wider impact within the region. The Irving Foundation also tries to support the key institutions in the regional arts infrastructure, what they call “anchor institutions” so that the changes are leveraged as much as possible across the region’s overall cultural offerings. The foundation has been extremely good at doing this: identifying those key institutions and the specific changes that help them connect to audiences. In fact, the James Irving Foundation may be one of the most significant single sources of improvement and assistance of the local 805 arts community at this time.

“These Central Coast arts organizations are vital anchor institutions within their communities and provide an array of important opportunities for people to engage with the arts,” noted Josephine Ramirez, Arts Program Director for the Irvine Foundation. “These grants represent our continued commitment to them as they explore new ways of achieving financial sustainability and attracting culturally diverse audiences.”

The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunities for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful, and inclusive society. The Foundation’s grant making focuses on three areas: Arts, California Democracy, and Youth. Since 1937 the Foundation has provided over $1 billion in grants to more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations throughout California. With $1.6 billion in assets, the Foundation made grants of $65 million in 2010 to assist the people of California. For more information about the Irvine Foundation, please visit the Irving Foundation web site at www.irvine.org.

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