Supporting Social Change through Arts and Culture: What Roles for Local and State Arts Agencies? (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Ms. Pam Korza, Jan 26, 2011 4 comments

Pam Korza

The current environment has created a context for Local Arts Agencies (LAAs) and State Arts Agencies (SAAs) to reconsider support for arts and culture activity that addresses social and civic concerns.  Many will argue, and rightfully so, that, local and state arts agencies have long responded to disadvantaged populations and encouraged community engagement in their grantmaking.  It’s in their DNA as funders working for the public good.

The 2010 report, Trend or Tipping Point: Arts & Social Change Grantmaking, recently released by Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy program, gives public sector arts funders some food for thought about their roles. The report assembles a first-time portrait of arts funders, social change funders, and others in both private and public sectors that are funding civic engagement and social change through arts and cultural strategies. Local and state arts agencies comprised an impressive 48 percent of the 157 survey respondents that say they currently fund or plan to fund arts for change work; and they were in the top four categories of types of funders supporting this work (others included private foundations and nonprofits that make grants). In this still very much evolving arena of arts for social change philanthropy, the study finds local and state arts agencies are playing a role even though there are challenges and perceived risks.

How are LAAs and SAAs already helping to support social and civic change?  Their interests prominently relate to community development outcomes, including “neighborhood development, economic development, and placemaking.” Two-thirds of public sector funders rated “community development” (66.3 percent) and “community pride and identity” (62.2 percent) as very important, followed by “youth development” (55.1 percent). These responses are not surprising, given local and state arts agencies’ longstanding commitment to: integrate arts into economic and neighborhood development, improve the physical environment through public art programs, engage youth and disadvantaged populations, and enhance cultural access, identity, and expression.

About one-fifth of all respondents—public and private—who fund arts for change said that “lack of understanding of the role of arts/culture as a strategy for achieving social/civic goals” can be a challenge.  Public sector funders would benefit from exemplary support models in their own sectors that advance impactful civic and social change. As primarily arts funders (compared with social justice funders), LAA and SAA guidelines often lack the intentionality and rigor that could enhance social or civic outcomes. At the same time, grantees may lack adequate knowledge of the social issues and populations central to a project, the power dynamics within partnerships, or a clear theory of change. Greater rigor in arts grantmaking and enhanced support services for grantees could improve efforts and results for both.

Finally, lack of evidence of the value or impact of the arts as a strategy for achieving social/civic goals is another barrier for both private and public funders.  Arts and public sector funders feel the need for such evidence, particularly when vying for public funds against other sectors.  One local arts agency leader commented that “adequate and statistically reliable evidence of impact is needed in order to advocate for deployment and integration of the arts” to address the city’s social and civic concerns.”  Addressing impact is a current focus of the National Endowment for the Arts as well. Animating Democracy’s Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative is working to alleviate these challenges.  A beta test version of a new web resource can be found at and will be part of its refreshed web site to be launched this year.

The Trend or Tipping Point report and its companion Funder Directory can serve as a touchstone as grantmakers consider support of the arts as a strategy for change. Both resources are available online at

What are your experiences and thoughts about the role of local and state arts agencies in supporting community, civic, and social change?

Arts Watch is a weekly cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts that covers news in a variety of categories related to cultural policy including Culture and Communities, Arts Education and the Creative Workforce, Public Investment in Culture and Creativity, and Philanthropy and the Private Sector. The newsletter also features an Arts Watch Spotlight item and Arts Canvas – News from the Field, a short piece written by a different Americans for the Arts staffer each week.

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4 responses for Supporting Social Change through Arts and Culture: What Roles for Local and State Arts Agencies? (from Arts Watch)


February 02, 2011 at 3:35 am

"lack of evidence of the value or impact of the arts as a strategy for achieving social/civic goals is another barrier for both private and public funders" - sounds true...

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Stacey says
February 02, 2011 at 9:48 am

Art funding for both modern art and for historical artifacts (as art) needs to be a top priority. Museums are increasingly underfunded, and losing both private and public funding sources is hurting schools and local communities.

Tribal Art Hunter | Professional Art Consulting and Buying

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Grace says
February 02, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Thank you for sharing the IMPACT Arts! resource. Even though it's still in the early stages, I'm glad to see someone attempting to gather measurable data on the social impact of arts. So far the argument for these programs has been mostly anecdotal. What's more, when I voice my concern for the proposed elimination of orgs like the NEA and the NEH, I hear a lot of people say that arts, humanities and media shouldn't be publicly funded at all! They see art as just some frivolity that should be able to support itself with revenue or wealthy benefactors, not realizing, I think, that these programs are a value resource precisely because they help people who have no wealth to give.

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May 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Hmmm... I think the investment in Social Change often occurs in one direction only, which helps in one way, but not in another?

The real question is who needs to change?

Often funding bodies will invest solely in the minorities, the dis-empowered and disenfranchised... thinking that this is their sole role. But in my opinion it is not the homeless or the discriminated that most need to change to solve the problem... It's the average Joe..

We need to identify projects that have a voice :from" the majority that cares for the minority. This voice is a clear voice to the majority of people who need to change...?

Hence Projects that have the right "voice" a relatable voice are the ones that need to be promoted.

I write a seven sentence daily blog about these things athttp://sevensentences, you are welcome to check it out sometime.


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