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The James Irvine Foundation Announces Exploring Engagement Fund

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The Exploring Engagement Fund is designed to help nonprofit arts organizations try new ways of engaging audiences and participants. Grant awards are intended as risk capital for nonprofit arts organizations to encourage experimentation with new programming utilizing the “Who, How, Where” pathways described below. Organizations interested in exploring two or more of these pathways by prototyping a project idea may submit an Exploring Engagement Fund proposal. The proposed project may represent for the organization a completely new investigation or a new approach to their work of presenting and/or producing.

The Exploring Engagement Fund is the first grantmaking fund announced as part of our new Arts program strategy, which was approved by our Board of Directors in 2011. Our new Arts program goal is to promote engagement in the arts for all Californians: arts engagement that embraces and advances the diverse ways that we experience the arts and that strengthens our ability to thrive together in a dynamic and complex social environment.

Our new strategy focuses on support for arts nonprofits who seek to adapt to California’s changing environment via three distinct engagement pathways:

  • Who is engaging in the arts: We aim to increase engagement by low-income and/or ethnically diverse populations that have been traditionally underserved by arts nonprofits.
  • How people engage in the arts: We aim to expand the ways Californians engage in the arts as active participants – by making or practicing art. This could include the use of digital technology to produce or curate art.
  • Where people engage in the arts: We aim to advance the use of diverse, non-traditional spaces for arts engagement, especially in regions with few arts-specific venues.

Demographic shifts and technological advances are transforming traditional notions about arts engagement. Arts organizations can grow and thrive in this changing environment by engaging populations that reflect the demographics of California and delivering arts experiences that take advantage of the pace, ease and participation afforded by technology. Thus, the core of our new strategy is to support arts organizations to build their capacity to adapt, particularly those that want to use the practices of expanding engagement as a primary strategy that informs and drives ongoing organizational change.

Organizations may have to experiment with approaches to engagement that may be untried and unfamiliar to them. Our first grantmaking fund under the new Arts strategy intends to support this kind of exploration. The Exploring Engagement Fund will support arts organizations to plan and implement projects that prototype an approach to arts engagement using the “Who, How, Where” pathways.


As noted above, the Exploring Engagement Fund is designed to help nonprofit arts organizations try new ways of engaging audiences and participants.

More details about the kinds of exploration we hope to fund are included on the criteria page of the application.

Criteria for the fund include:

  • The Fund is open to California-based nonprofit arts organizations that have an annual operating budget between $100,000 and $5 million.
  • Applicants can request up to 10 percent of their annual operating budget for each year of the proposed project, up to a maximum of $125,000 per year (or $250,000 over two years).
  • Priority will be given to organizations in the San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire. We will also favor proposals from organizations working outside the Bay Area due to Irvine’s focused attention on regions of the state that are under-resourced by philanthropy.
  • The Exploring Engagement Fund does not support in-school, after-school, or out-of-school arts education programs for children and youth. Projects that target families (i.e., not primarily for children, designed for intergenerational arts engagement) may be appropriate for support.

Please note that we plan to conduct two rounds of grantmaking in 2012 as part of the Exploring Engagement Fund. The second round deadline, likely to occur in the summer, will be announced in early 2012.

The Exploring Engagement Fund is the first new grantmaking fund we will offer under our new Arts strategy and will be the only open competitive fund that we will offer statewide. Over the next 18-24 months we will continue to roll out other grant categories designed to support our goal of promoting engagement in the arts via the three dimensions described above.

We’d love to hear from you about the new fund. Please follow the #IrvineArts hashtag on Twitter and please tweet comments about the fund using that hashtag.


A webinar presenting information on the new strategy and the Exploring Engagement Fund will be offered on November 7, 2011. If you would like to participate in the webinar, please sign up by Monday, October 31, 2011.

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