Creative energy feels palpable in the capital area. More and more attention is being given to our region’s world class cultural institutions, creative businesses, and the small arts organizations that are embedding themselves in the diverse rhythms of our neighborhoods. It seems galleries are multiplying, theaters are expanding, live music venues are selling out of seats, and artists of all kinds—professional muralists and novice poets, garage band musicians and tenured chefs—are helping foster a more dynamic, more vibrant capital area.
“The role arts and culture play in building individual and community well-being and energizing economic development is incredibly important, so it isn’t overstating the case to say we all benefit when all of our communities are creative, diverse, and vibrant,” said Niva Flor, the Foundation’s Director of Grantmaking & Strategic Impact. “But, in many ways, we aren’t fully there yet.”
While a cultural revival has found fertile soil in the capital region—representing a continuation of our community’s rich cultural history—its benefits have been unevenly distributed.
“Like many communities across the country, the major mechanisms that have supported the arts here for decades have tended to reflect relatively homogeneous perspectives and backgrounds, and this has the result of excluding so many. Even as it feels like the region’s art sector is thriving and moving the economy forward like never before, the reality is that too many are being left behind,” said Flor. “At the Foundation, we’re working to change that.”
As part of our Strategic Initiative to Transform the Creative Economy, the Foundation is leading the movement to advance cultural equity in the Sacramento
region—that is, to ensure diverse communities in the capital area, including those that have been historically underrepresented, are valued and supported in public policies and investment, and in the expression of civic and spiritual life.
It’s a cause that’s resonating in the region’s arts sector, as evidenced by its elevation in the City of Sacramento’s new cultural plan, Creative Edge.
Made possible with significant contributions from the Foundation, Creative Edge takes account of Sacramento’s cultural assets and recommends strategies to leverage those assets in ways that build deeper social cohesion, strengthen the economy, and foster the vibrancy of the cultural hub of the capital area.
“As we see it, Creative Edge is a plan for and by the people who live here,” said Melissa Cirone, Arts Education Programs Coordinator at the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission (SMAC), which helped produce the report in partnership with the Foundation, the City of Sacramento, and Sacramento County. “So, we talked with college students, youth and their families, artists and arts supporters, and community leaders in every district in Sacramento, and we consistently heard two things: first, there is a need to expand access to cultural offerings in all neighborhoods of Sacramento, and second, communities greatly value their own local cultural assets. The need, we heard, was for greater investment in these cultural assets so that they can sustain, grow, and thrive.”
That need is made apparent in the Creative Edge plan by an accounting of Sacramento’s arts and cultural assets—the public art, art galleries, art studios, arts organizations, performance venues, community centers, museums, and more that constitute the city’s creative ecosystem: Of the 843 total assets listed, District 4 claims 363. District 1 has only 47, just a few more than District 7 at only 33. This mapping makes stark how the neighborhoods on the periphery of Sacramento’s core—and the people who live in them—are marginalized by the disproportionately small number of cultural assets within those spaces.
The uneven distribution of cultural assets across Sacramento is one example of cultural inequity, and according to SMAC’s Vice Chair, Maya Wallace, it is in no small part the result of the ways local funding systems have tended to invest in, and provide ongoing support to, what’s already culturally dominant.
“These systems have perpetually supported building cultural infrastructure for dominant groups. We haven’t always thought deeply about what we could do make that infrastructure more accessible to other groups throughout all of our communities, and that has had the effect of ensuring disparities like these exist and persist,” she said.
In short, the Foundation leading this effort with partners like SMAC because the existence and persistence of cultural inequity diminishes our region. “Achieving cultural equity is critical to the long-term viability of the arts sector, and it moves the Sacramento region toward a more democratic and just community, overall,” said Flor. “As the dynamic demographics of the capital region shift the contours of our cultural landscape, we believe the creative output of our community—and the distribution of its arts funding—should reflect and respond accordingly.”
In addition to serving on the Creative Edge Steering Committee and making significant investments in the plan’s development, Foundation staff is also helping implement its pragmatic recommendations. Among those is the development of the Sacramento Arts Education Consortium that aims to bring arts education back to the Sacramento area schools where it has been decimated by decades of budget cuts. With the Foundation’s leadership and a multi-year grant that has been leveraged to secure over a $1 million in additional funding from the state, the Consortium is now working toward ensuring young people in 13 school districts have ample opportunities to engage with arts in their classrooms.
“The Consortium is a natural first step to advance cultural equity. Arts education creates critical thinkers with curious minds, so it’s devastating when entire neighborhoods of kids in Sacramento aren’t given those opportunities at all, or at all meaningfully,” said Flor, a member of the Consortium’s Leadership Council, who noted that research demonstrates integrating arts throughout the curricula improves overall educational outcomes.
Further, she said, arts education is essential to fostering the next generation of artists and arts audiences, safeguarding the capital area’s creative ecosystem—and the benefits it brings to the health of our entire community—into the future.
After all, what’s at stake is the health of our community.
Though Sacramento is often recognized as one of the most diverse cities in the country, many who live in and around the capital city feel marginalized in public life—a common theme expressed at a recent summit on cultural equity that the Foundation co-hosted. In a room packed with over 130 attendees—artists, nonprofit staff, and community leaders from across the capital area—the day-long convening explored the causes and consequences of cultural inequity from individual and institutional perspectives.
“This region prides itself in its diversity, yet there are communities here which are often excluded from consuming its cultural gifts,” said Cassandra Walker Pye, a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and Founder/CEO of 3.14 Communications, who spoke at the summit. “If we believe that arts bring people together, that arts can keep our community vibrant and cohesive, then we must ensure everyone is included and invited to participate in our cultural community. We must aim for a community where they feel they belong.”
“As we look at cultural inequity in our region, let’s ask ourselves persistently: ‘Who are we excluding?’ We have to ask ourselves who is being marginalized in decisions around where resources are spent,” continued Pye. “We have to ask ourselves which communities have opportunities for exposure to arts and cultural education, and which do not.”
Arts leaders across the region are embracing the call to reflection and action. Stacie Frerichs, Executive Director of the Davis Arts Center, who attended the summit, believes leaders of arts nonprofits must examine how their organization’s systems and policies might reinforce exclusion. It’s a charge she takes seriously.
At Davis Arts Center, for example, after realizing that many working parents might have found it impossible to accommodate the schedule for the Center’s summer art camp—which ran for just two hours a day, five days in a row—she and her staff have worked to extend its hours. “This transition has not been without difficulty,” said Frerichs, noting the challenge of securing funding for longer camp days. “But I am proud that we can say to working parents now, ‘In the summer months, the Davis Arts Center has a place for your children.’”
That’s just the sort of shift the Foundation is promoting at capital area arts nonprofits. “As a leading grantmaker in the region, we have a responsibility to ensure our investments support diversity, equity, and inclusion on all levels,” said Flor. “Toaddress the disparities that persist across the region, to right the inequities that are built into systems that affect everyone,we have to lift up organizations that can represent and serve communities that have been excluded in the past.”
Toward that end, the Foundation is diving into the wealth of objective data available from GivingEdge, the Foundation’s nonprofit knowledgebase that powers Big Day of Giving, to learn more about the capacities of the nonprofit arts sector. Armed with that knowledge, and learnings from the cultural equity summit and other convenings, focus groups, and surveys, the Foundation is equipping nonprofit leaders across the capital area with skills, tools, and resources to more effectively serve their local communities.
The work is an extension of the capacity building effort the Foundation introduced to local nonprofits through its Big Day of Giving program, which was piloted in 2013 as Arts Day of Giving. Its success will be a testament to the power of strategic philanthropy and the Foundation’s sustained leadership in this space.
“By making equity a priority at arts nonprofits in our community, we’re improving the vitality of the local arts sector—and, consequently, the economic and cultural vitality of the entire region, for everyone in the region,” said Flor.