Six Trends in Arts and Culture for Funders to Watch

We are at a historic crossroads — a social, environmental and economic reckoning hastened by COVID-19 and a global movement for racial equity. As arts and culture funders, we’ve seen how the landscape is shifting. Artists and storytellers are regrounding and reimagining themselves, reshaping arts infrastructure and systems that have never been equitable or sustainable, and working to realize the narrative possibilities to come. 

Countless organizations and projects are advancing transformational narratives. Their work offers a window into what is happening in the arts and how arts supporters and funders can help. 

Here are six trends we see that are shaping the future of the arts, and how funders can support and respond to them:

1. New voices in arts advocacy are rejecting the status quo

Diverse artists and culture bearers are self-organizing outside of traditional advocacy spaces to address historic inequities. In New York, HueArtsNYC advocates for transformed public funding, including establishing a $100 million fund for diverse arts entities. Nationally, the Cultural New Deal for Cultural and Racial Justice calls for an end to racial and cultural injustice and the reversal of long-term inequities in funding, hiring and resources in the arts and culture sector.

We see an opportunity to heed artists’ calls to action and make deeper investments in artist-led policy research, alliances and training, while bringing our own voices to the table. 

2. Technology is becoming integral to the future of the arts

Creatives are increasingly using digital tools and technology, not as accompaniments, but as central components of creative work, from the artificial intelligence opera Sensorium Ex to the Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s Living Languages, an “augmented musicality” digital installation that will raise awareness of language diversity. Leonardo’s CripTech Incubator is an exciting new art and technology fellowship centered on disability innovation. 

Funders should encourage new channels for resources and training to support this work, especially for creatives who may lack access to technology. 

3. The sector is building knowledge and strengthening commitments to disability arts 

Arts groups that are not disability-specific are eager to understand how disability work can advance their missions, connect them to audiences, and strengthen artistry.

Disabled cultural leaders are meeting this demand with critical programs like the Urban Jazz Dance Company’s Access Services for the deaf community and Jess Curtis/Gravity’s Gravity Access Services for blind and visually impaired people. Funders should invest in this work directly and increase engagement of disabled creatives in our programs. 

4. Artists and arts organizations are creating new funding models 

It’s a moment of radical experimentation in philanthropy, with funders yielding some of their decision-making power to impacted communities. The artist-led Constellations Culture Change Fund at the Center of Cultural Power is a $23 million, three-year initiative to support BIPOC creatives and cultural strategy organizations, while Recess is passing generosity forward, sharing its own funding dollars with the network of artists and participants that have been engaged in their work. 

5. Creatives are driving civic engagement and movement work 

We see how creative strategy and creatives amplify civic engagement and social justice movements, from climate justice to immigration reform. Building this muscle is at the core of the collaborators at Culture Surge, the accelerator for narrative change. Center for Urban Pedagogy breaks down barriers to civic engagement by training designers and co-creating accessible, visually based, and culturally specific materials that help individuals advocate for their needs and fight for justice. 

This is a moment for civic engagement and social justice supporters to embed creativity in their strategy and for arts and movement funders to fund at these intersections. 

6. Artists are re-thinking the work of museums

A number of creatives are rethinking and inventing new ways to do the connecting, collecting, interpreting, publishing, archiving and story-sharing work of museums, without being limited to a single space. These projects look to the future of cultural work that is sourced and created in the communities facing these issues. The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art will publish a new book exploring art and archival materials that help to narrate the history of transgender communities. The Newark Community Museum is reimagining the precinct building at the heart of the 1967 Newark Rebellion to remind residents and visitors of Newark’s history of advocacy. The Black Lunch Table is collecting stories, facts, data and imagery from Black communities to preserve and share the history stories of Black intellectual, cultural and artistic production.

Funders should follow these artist disruptors and commit to radical experimentation in their grantmaking.

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These trends — developed in a time of extreme change — reaffirm our belief in the power and promise of artists to help us process world events, imagine ways forward, and take meaningful action. 

Arts and culture funders should redouble their commitment to artists through sustained and flexible support. It is critical that we give resources and decision-making power to those most impacted by inequality. We can also add value beyond dollars. Through research, partnership and an emphasis on inclusion and equity, we can help shape the more just and impactful arts ecosystem that creatives are seeking. 

Rocío Aranda-Alvarado and Lane Harwell are program officers for Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation.

Anita Shire

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