The Problem

Research dating back to the 1970s suggests that community orientation, along with high-quality artistic programming, may be foundational to organizational health. Although arts organizations founded by, with and for communities of color often have a special emphasis on community orientation—a deep sense of belonging to the communities they serve—those organiza​tions have often been overlooked and underfunded.

How We Are Tackling It

As part of Wallace’s efforts to foster equitable improvements in the arts, the foundation has embarked on a new initiative that has three interconnected components. The first component is focused on 18 arts organizations​ of color1. They will carry out individual projects to address a strategic challenge they are facing and meet periodically as a group to share what they are learning.

Through this work, Wallace seeks to support the grantees’ vision, elevate their contributions and learn with them in ways that could benefit other arts organizations of color. Nonprofit arts organizations, too, might be interested in how community orientation contributes to organizational resilience and helps organizations remain relevant.

Researchers will document the grantees’ work with the aim of developing useful insights about the relationship between community orientation, relevance and resilience.

The organizations’ work and research are focused on this guiding question:

Facing strategic challenges, how can and do arts organizations of color leverage their experience and histories of community orientation to increase their resilience, while sustaining their relevance?

The ​18 organizations​ were selected from more than 250 applicants and represent a diverse range of geographic locations, communities served and artistic disciplines. Organizations include those in the visual and performing arts, media arts and community-based organizations focused on artistic practice.

They will work with the Community Orientation Action Research Team (COART), made up of researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Virginia, to develop the initiative’s research design. Additionally, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is overseeing a fellowship program for 18 early career qualitative researchers, each of whom will be paired with one of the funded arts organizations to develop ethnographies that document their organizational history, practices and culture.

The two subsequent components of the initiative will be designed to support smaller arts organizations of color, with budgets below $500,000, as well as research studies​ proposed by field leaders, arts organizations and researchers. The foundation will share details about both future phases of the initiative as they develop.

The initiative follows Wallace’s earlier efforts to understand how successful arts organizations operate and cultivate their audiences. Building Audiences for Sustainability (BAS), a $52 million initiative that spanned 2015-2021, supported 26 performing arts organizations to design and implement programs to attract new audiences while retaining current ones, measuring whether and how this contributed to overall financial health. Prior to that, the Wallace Excellence Awards (2006-2014) assisted 54 arts organizations in six cities that sought to use reliable data and analysis to design and carry out projects to increase the size of their audiences, diversify them or encourage current audience members to attend more often.

1. The Wallace Foundation uses the term “arts organizations of color” to describe organizations that have been founded by (in either artistic or administrative leadership) and for communities of color. Wallace recognizes that no one umbrella term can accurately represent the plurality and diversity of arts organizations that serve communities of color including Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Arab American, Asian American, and Pacific Islanders.​