A Foundation's 20-Year Experiment in Art and Civic Engagement

A Foundation's 20-Year Experiment in Art and Civic Engagement

Frances Neff Phillips (Walter & Elise Haas Fund, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1727-6.ch025
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In 1994, four family foundations in San Francisco launched a grantmaking program to support Bay Area artists by providing them with project grants for the creation of new work through collaborations with nonprofit organizations. Creative Work Fund grantees may collaborate with any kind of nonprofit organization and many choose to work in community settings. This chapter explores five projects awarded grants between 2008 and 2013. Each focused on a distinctive goal: increasing cohesion among a community of recent immigrants from Africa, exploring a city's recovery from the economic downturn and foreclosure crisis, promoting literacy and reading in a inner city school district, incorporating public art into the development of an historic waterfront, and achieving better health and mental health outcomes for women infected with HIV. Project research is based on grant proposals, reports, media coverage, and interviews with artists and their principle nonprofit partners.
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Setting The Stage

Each year, the Creative Work Fund invites artists to team up with nonprofit partners and submit letters of inquiry in two of five broadly defined categories—literary, media, performing, traditional/folk, or visual arts. Professionals in the invited disciplines evaluate the letters of inquiry, and 25–30 artist/nonprofit partnerships in each disciplinary category are eligible to submit detailed proposals. A national, five-member grants panel reviews these proposals, which include work samples from the artists, and each panel recommends between six and nine projects for funding. The maximum grant amount is $40,000.

The Creative Work Fund’s mission is to encourage genuine, challenging collaborations and creation of new artworks. It was originally designed to respond to declining local and federal resources for artists. Program elements were meant to help artists (two-thirds of any grant must be spent on artists’ fees and their direct expenses for making the artwork), to assert that artists should be paid to fulfill their purpose (making art), and to strengthen their networks (through collaborations).

While the artist was the program’s primary focus, the Fund hoped that the collaborative projects might bring the arts to new audiences, engage with the nonprofit partners’ constituents, or draw attention to community needs. Civic engagement was not named as specific goal, but collaborative practice has drawn a number of Creative Work Fund grantees into civic life—their work has identified community concerns, fostered debate, and influenced public systems.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Summer Brenner: American fiction writer and poet who has written more than a dozen books for young adult and adult readers.

Mark Brest van Kempen: American artist who has created a variety of public artworks and exhibitions using land and the environment as sculptural material.

Anné M. Klint: Oakland-based American artist and curator who creates films and multi-media exhibitions.

Community Works: A nonprofit organization, based in Oakland, California, that produces arts and education projects–many of them focused on reducing incarceration and violence.

Alpha Oumar Sidibe (Bongo Sidibe): Dancer and drummer from Conakry, Guinea, who co-founded Duniya Dance and Drum (San Francisco) and Duniya Center for Art and Education (Conakry, Guinea).

Collaboration: A joint venture between two parties working closely toward shared goals.

West Contra Costa Unified School District: Northern California public school district serving approximately 31,000 students in kindergarten through 12 th grade.

Creative Work Fund: A grantmaking program of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, also supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, awarding grants for artists to create new works through collaborations with nonprofit organizations.

African Advocacy Network: A nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that provides legal advice, along with social and psycho-social services to immigrants from Africa.

Rhodessa Jones: An American theater artist and co-artistic director of the nonprofit Cultural Odyssey. Jones is known for her solo theater performances and extensive work with incarcerated women.

Grand Theatre Center for the Arts: A cultural center in downtown Tracy, California, that features theaters, classrooms, studios, a gallery, and programming for artists and the general public.

Arts Benicia, Inc.: A nonprofit visual arts organization based in Benicia, California, that offers exhibitions, classes, and services for artists and community members.

Multimedia Work: Artwork that incorporates more than one artmaking material or process. Sometimes a multimedia work is a single artwork incorporating several media or disciplines and sometimes it is a set of related pieces–such as a film, a book, and a photography exhibition.

The Women’s HIV Program: A clinic within the University of California, San Francisco, that provides multifaceted assistance to women who are HIV+.

Site Specific Work: Artwork created for a specific location. The artists consider topography, environmental factors, history, and uses of the location in creating the work.

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