In May I was invited to speak at a convening of the Irvine Foundation’s New California Arts Fund grantees. Each of the cohort’s 14 arts organizations really gets engagement and is extremely active living out the work of connecting with communities.
There were many, many wonderful stories of effective community engagement. However, one in particular made a deep impression upon me. One part of the impression was the power of an example that demonstrates that not only does engagement not need to be a budget drain but that it also provides the possibility of bringing more revenue to an organization. The other part was the up-to-the-minute timeliness of the story.
In conversations with staff members of the Riverside Art Museum, I learned that their initial work in fostering relationships with Riverside’s Latino communities had resulted in donations to purchase art. But the “hot off the press” revelation came during the convening. The actor and comedian Cheech Marin had recently lent a portion of his Chicano art collection to the RAM for an exhibition. As a result of that experience and as a result of the enthusiasm he saw in the community’s response to it, he is partnering with the Museum and the city of Riverside to create the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture, and Industry in a repurposed library (that is being replaced by a new building) that will be five times the size of the Museum’s current space. This is one of the best examples I’ve seen putting to the lie the idea that community engagement is a one-way drain on resources. Congratulations to the RAM! For more info see: [http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-cheech-marin-chicano-art-center-20170424-story.html]
Even later breaking news: the project has been approved unanimously by the Riverside City Council–http://www.pe.com/2017/05/17/riverside-council-approves-cheech-marins-chicano-art-center-downtown/ Mr. Marin and the Museum will now have a year to raise about half of the $5-$7 Million cost of upfitting the old library for its new use.
Community engagement can be a path to new and otherwise unavailable sources of funding and support.