"Its about opening up the idea that we're all art makers"
~Jose Serrano, Queens Museum
From 2007 -2013 the Rockefeller Foundation’s Cultural Innovation Fund supported experiments, explorations and innovations by 86 different cultural and community organizations in New York City. In 2013 Helicon Collaborative led an evaluation team to assess how well the program had met the its goals.
In particular, we explored how well the program had met the cultural needs of low income communities, communities of color and immigrant communities — groups whose cultural traditions and expressions have not typically been recognized or widely supported by institutional philanthropy. One of the intentions of the program was to support organizations and cultural forms rooted in these communities as well as encourage arts organizations that want to engage with these communities in new ways.
Check out these videos about a few of the CIF grantees.
Queens Museum, and its work with Drogadictos Anonimos and the Los Angeles Poverty Department:
The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) and its work in Brooklyn’s public housing developments with artist Shantell Martin:
Casita Maria and it work with hip hop group Full Circle in the South Bronx:
ARTs East New York with Mr. Reed:
CIF supported an array of innovations helping cultural organizations explore new programs, presentation strategies, or revenue models. The two most distinctive types of innovations, however, were:
1. Projects making art with low-income people or communities and contributing to the goals of equity and resilience.
2. Projects contributing to the development of theory, practice and information about the role of arts in equity and resilience.
Funding from the CIF program was valuable to grantees because it provided them with “risk capital” for early-stage innovation, which is difficult to find funding for. Grantees felt that risk capital and the resources to innovate are critical, as old paradigms about the way artists and cultural groups operate are being challenged by shifts in demographics, technology, the economy, and the way people interact with arts and culture; and that new approaches are required to respond to these developments.
More than half (54 percent) of survey respondents reported that they attracted over $100,000 in additional funding as a result of their CIF grant, and 15 percent attracted over $500,000. This suggests that the CIF grants have been important seed funding for new ideas, many of which needed substantial additional capital to be fully realized.
Cultural strategies for social change used by grantees included:
- Empowering people by providing them with creative means to express their views and opinions (e.g. Civilians, Foundry Theater, Laundromat Project, People’s Production House, Queens Museum)
- Engaging people in urban design decision-making (e.g. Fourth Arts Block, Groundswell Mural, Parsons The New School)
- Educating people about the development of public policies that affect their lives (e.g. Center for Urban Pedagogy, Greenpoint Manufacturing).
"Cultural innovation" does not yet have a clear and shared definition within the cultural sector, and indeed it was not always clear to grantees what Rockefeller meant by it.
Our interviews with grantees and national leaders confirmed that the term “cultural innovation” has different meanings to different people. For some, it suggests a broad array of activities focused on new ways to create art or present it to the public, and new approaches to the business models and financing structures of cultural organizations. Others think cultural innovation entails a fundamental shift in thinking about the role of art in society, connected with the idea of “cultural equity” and the use of the arts to advance social change. Still others link cultural innovation with resilience, seeing the arts as an important tool in helping develop social capital and community flexibility.