Arts Learnings - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Arts Learnings

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation invests in research to better understand the Bay Area arts landscape and what artists are facing.

Our reports offer insights into artists’ experiences and what they need to thrive. We share our findings with funders and the arts community to strengthen our collective work.

Pandemic Relief & Recovery

The 2021 Pandemic Relief & Recovery: Emergency Funding & The Bay Area Arts Community report examines the impact of local and national COVID-19 pandemic relief funding on individual artists and small to mid-size arts organizations, with a focus on racial equity. The Rainin Foundation collaborated with four Bay Area funders and commissioned Vogl Consulting to conduct the research.

The report illuminated pronounced disparities impacting the region’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and organizations. Study participants conveyed clear, compelling calls for additional resources to meet immediate and ongoing needs and more equitable grantmaking practices.

Key recommendations offer funders vital insights:

  • Unrestricted, multiyear funding, “start-back” grants and technical support to adapt to an evolving operating environment.
  • Greater transparency and coordination among grantmakers and more streamlined procedures.
  • Meaningful investment in racial equity and dismantling barriers to funding.

A Chicana-Native dancer standing on the tiptoes of one foot, with arms spread wide above her head. In the background is dense city housing and downtown San Francisco high-rise buildings.
Still image from the 2020 film “If Cities Could Dance” by Kelly Whelan. Vanessa Sanchez is pictured dancing in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of KQED Arts.
An illustration in pink and red of “Block by Block,” a 2016 public art installation in San Francisco. Two people are standing on opposite sides of a big block of wood, using their bodies to swing it back and forth.
An illustration of “Block by Block,” a 2016 public art installation for “In/With/For the Public.” Illustration credit: Will Betke-Brunswick

In/With/For The Public

The Rainin Foundation partnered with Art Practical in 2020 to produce In/With/For the Public, a thematic issue that invited artists to share first-hand experiences making art that engages with the public. Their insights are captured through writing, illustrations, diagrams, collages and recorded conversations. The result is a generous offering of reflections and expertise gained through years of thoughtful practice, along with resources for artists who are just getting started working in the public realm.

A few highlights include:

  • Ellen Sebastian Chang framing public practice as “….an invitation to develop an understanding of One and Other, through better questions, shared accountability as well as shared responsibility, acknowledging where control and gatekeeping resides in all aspects of the creative relationship.”
  • Sonia Guiñansaca emphasizing the importance of time in the development of relationships with community. “As cultural workers, creatives, and artists, we do not parachute into a community. We build. We build. And building takes time.”
  • The Future IDs collaborators inviting readers to examine power, emphasizing “Power is a cultural, social, political, and economic construct…forming authentic partnerships requires understanding the fluidity of who holds weight in a particular moment…”

Mapping Small Arts and Culture Organizations of Color in Oakland

The Rainin Foundation partnered with Akonadi Foundation in 2018 on Mapping Small Arts and Culture Organizations of Color in Oakland, a benchmark report that fills a critical gap in research on small organizations serving people of color. It was authored by Creative Equity Research Partners and features 138 organizations with budgets of $250,000 or less. The report outlines the characteristics, strengths and needs of these grassroots organizations to build understanding and spur investments by funders and policymakers.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Nearly 50% of these organizations serve a diverse constituency of people of color.
  • Over one-third of the organizations serve Black populations, mirroring the overall percentage of Black people in Oakland.
  • About 12% of the organizations have a social enterprise model. This means that they use a for-profit model or component that allows them to provide programs or space to the community at low or no cost.
  • Lack of fiscal sponsorship capacity and limited general operating funds are central challenges.
  • Organizations are also facing rising operating costs and high risk of displacement, due to gentrification, from the communities they serve.

Three young Black female dancers performing on Lake Merritt in front of a band including a keyboardist, guitarist and drummer.
Studio Grand “Under Oakland Skies” JAX Dancers. Photo credit: Jean Melesaine
“Block by Block,” a public art installation on Market Street. Photo credit: Darryl Smith / Luggage Store Gallery

How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation awarded our first public art grant in 2015 to the Luggage Store Gallery for “Light Up Central Market.” The project included illuminating murals and installing “Block by Block,” a platform intended to offer a space for gathering, fun and interaction.

We knew this was an experiment to install art on a busy street known as much for crime and homelessness as swank cafés and sleek towering apartments. The Rainin Foundation understood the tensions in San Francisco’s Central Market neighborhood going in, yet we firmly believed, along with our partners, that the community would benefit from a public art project that brought people together. But within weeks of the installation, the experiment looked to be teetering. Our collective good intentions entered sticky territory: Just whom is public art meant to serve? 

To gather diverse perspectives and share collective learnings, we hired a writer to talk with various stakeholders and have presented their thoughts in “as told to” style narratives. Read Eight Conversations About Art, Class and Race and the insights we gained from this public art project.