Photo credit: Erina C. Alejo

Dancers performed a living dance prayer and meditation at Ocean Beach, part of Kularts’ “Lakbai Diwa,” a multi-disciplinary project that sought to bring visibility and collective cultural healing to the Pilipinx community.

The Illuminating Power Of Art

In times of distress, the illuminating power of art and culture can bring us clarity, joy and solace. Last year, artists and cultural organizations were hit hard by shelter-in-place restrictions. Yet they responded quickly—by necessity and instinct—to the pandemic and the uprising for racial justice. They mobilized around community with compassion and fortitude. They reimagined performances, pivoting from live stages and gathering spaces to online platforms, connecting with eager audiences. As their art bears witness to our stories, as they continue to gather us, their visionary voices will help us heal.

“It was amazing and heartening to see people turning to the arts for comfort and connection. So much innovative, creative work was concentrated and accessed through interactive arts experiences online.”
Shelley Trott, Chief Program and Strategy Officer

 Photo credit: Odell Hussey Photography

Kristin Damrow and Company’s performance during the Exploring Public Art Practices symposium at the Oakland Museum of California.

Building Community In Shared Spaces

We began 2020 with far different aspirations than the year ultimately allowed. In January, we gathered with more than 200 people for the Exploring Public Art Practices symposium, in partnership with the Oakland Museum of California. Shortly thereafter, the pandemic transformed our relationship to shared spaces and each other. Yet artists brought us together.

Throughout the year organizations reconfigured their facilities for food and PPE distribution, COVID-19 testing, access to digital learning and voting. Artists also extended and adapted their creative work to help communities. Performance maker Erika Chong Shuch’s collaborative practice, “For You,” brought together artists and elders to counter isolation. Kala Institute’s Commons Archive expanded their “Block By Block” collaborations to support North Oakland emergency response and neighborly care. We were humbled by the ways that arts workers built community amid ongoing uncertainty.

“Artists bear witness to the injustices of Black, Indigenous, and people of color by photographing and documenting the movement, organizing community murals, and garnering funds to support radical activist organizations. They also call in cultural institutions to be accountable to the equity they promise to provide for staff and their community.”
Patricia Cariño Valdez, Exploring Public Art Practices symposium curator

Photo credit: Gabriel Diamond

Myong-Suk (left) and Gabriel Diamond (right) were part of Erika Chong Shuch’s “For You: Artists & Elders,” which brought individual elders and artists together for creative exchanges during worldwide shelter-in-place orders.

Mobilizing To Safeguard The Arts

At the start of the pandemic, the Rainin Foundation acted quickly to help safeguard the Bay Area arts community. We also collaborated to extend our impact. We awarded $100,000 to the Northern California Grantmakers for the COVID-19 Arts Emergency Loan Fund to support small and mid-sized arts and culture organizations with low-interest loans. Working with the City of Oakland and a host of funders, the Foundation led the East Bay/Oakland Relief Fund for Individuals in the Arts. Administered by the Center for Cultural Innovation, this pooled fund distributed more than $700,000 to more than 500 artists and cultural workers that anchor the East Bay’s diverse and vitally important cultural communities.

We augmented funding for current grantees whose projects were impacted by cancellations and offered flexibility around grant periods and deadlines. Our New and Experimental Works (NEW) Program further extended our emergency relief efforts for small and mid-sized arts organizations. Awards totaling $580,000 supported all 33 applicants at 70% of their requested amount, representing a 16% increase for the program. Fifty percent of each grant was left unrestricted to help organizations address immediate general operating needs. The pandemic brought the vital role of artists in our society into sharper focus—as did each of these projects.


Open Spaces Program

Video credit: Jamie DeWolf

Days before shelter-in-place orders took effect, an audience packed a BART train to see “WE SO BAY,” featured in the above video. This performative storytelling project by Youth Speaks spotlighted young poets, dancers and musicians telling stories about their communities.
Moving Toward Equity

The Rainin Foundation continues our work to embed equity across our organization. The journey for the Arts Program began when we updated our strategic framework in 2018. We focused on supporting systemic change and addressing structural barriers in the nonprofit arts sector that disproportionately impact communities of color. We committed ourselves to dismantling the pervasive presence of white dominant culture in our policies, practices and grantmaking.

As we progress, we are finding new ways of working to advance more informed and effective grantmaking with equity at the core. We continue collaborating with fellow funders, understanding that no one funder can tackle issues of equity and systemic change alone. As we learn, we are adapting our strategies and evolving new approaches to advancing equity and accessibility in the arts.

“This year illustrated the need to continue our long-term systemic work. As we navigate widespread changes in the Bay Area and focus on innovation and equity, looking at things systemically will enable more rapid responses and allow us to continue to evolve.”

Ted Russell, Director, Arts Strategy & Ventures


Temporary Public Art’s Lasting Imprint

We invited a performer, an artist and a storyteller, among others, to reflect on their involvement in different temporary art projects that were funded through the Foundation’s Open Spaces Program. Click on a name to read their reflection.

Transforming Systems Of Support

The necessity of our long-term work to seed alternative business models became vividly clear in 2020. The pandemic exposed what many already knew—the system for funding and creating art is flawed and perpetuates inequities for historically overlooked groups. Severe disruptions across the arts heightened ongoing economic and displacement pressures, and fears that creatives will be forced to abandon their fields.

Our multi-year grants are funding promising approaches towards building equitable support systems, including two solutions that launched this year. SVCreates and Community Vision are incubating ArtsWeb to reduce administrative burdens for Bay Area artists of color and arts organizations rooted in communities of color. ArtsWeb is a decentralized, relationship-based hub that connects creatives with culturally competent business service providers. It is also a networking forum for creatives to provide peer support and mutual aid. A second initiative, Social Impact Commons creates more sustainable employment opportunities for arts workers struggling in the gig economy. Their model enables fiscal sponsors to employ and provide benefits to artists as well as back-office staff who are shared among nonprofit organizations.

“One of the assumptions we have behind our work is that the nonprofit art system has never actually worked well for individual artists.”

Angie Kim, President and CEO, Center for Cultural Innovation, as quoted in Inside Philanthropy


Open Spaces Program

Video credit: Jamie DeWolf

Who are your heroes and why do they matter? That question was at the heart of “Heroes of Unity,” featured in the above video. In 2019 and 2020, young artists and their mentors brought mobile printmaking stations to Oakland and San Francisco events to spark conversation and invite community participation around this question.

Building Cultural Wealth

The Rainin Foundation’s multi-year investments have helped launch an array of strategies to build cultural wealth and financial self-determination. One of them is AmbitioUS, an experimental arm and incubator of the Center for Cultural Innovation that redirects philanthropy to build a more just, sustainable, and healthy world.

AmbitioUS supports a growing hub of new economic models in the East Bay and Oakland that center Black, Indigenous and people of color. RUNWAY and the Sustainable Economies Law Center build financial opportunities and security, while the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative channels resources to support cooperative property ownership.

Another AmbitioUS investee model, BlacSpace Cooperative, is a new enterprise led primarily by Black women in the arts, culture and finance. It emerged from the loss of the Flight Deck, one of the East Bay’s few shared performance spaces run by Ragged Wing Ensemble. Their initial thinktank, funded in part by the Rainin Foundation, aimed to reimagine business models to support an equitable ecosystem for artists. It pivoted to a Black-led design process, recognizing the importance of centering those who have been disproportionately affected by displacement. The BlacSpace Cooperative worked with East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative to secure a lease-to-own agreement for a historic former jazz club, Esther’s Orbit Room, that will be part of a planned Cultural Cooperative Corridor in West Oakland.

The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) also advanced artist-led innovations to develop permanent affordable workspace and housing to retain artists. CAST’s Cultural Space Ambassadors inspired the launch of the Dreaming Spaces initiative to design safe gathering spaces for cultural experiences. This work informed CAST’s first affordable multi-tenant project at 447 Minna Street, set to open in fall 2021. These CAST initiatives exemplify our focus on equity and innovation and ensuring that Bay Area artists thrive.

“The medicine finance needs right now is anti-racist and anti-oppressive, community-led, underwritten and cooperative in such a way that builds authentic relationships, shifts power and lovingly centers Black women.”

Jessica Norwood, Founder & CEO, RUNWAY

Photos courtesy of the filmmakers / SFFILM

Fall 2020 SFFILM Rainin filmmaking grantees.

Remarkable Storytelling Onscreen

While movie theaters were shuttered, filmmakers continued to roll out visually and emotionally compelling stories. The SFFILM Rainin Grant program is the nation’s largest granting body for independent narrative feature films that address social justice issues. We celebrated remarkable storytellers among our Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 awards. Through wide-ranging lenses, grantees captured stories that traversed intimate sibling dynamics to global politics. Our Fall awards, which included a pilot grant for two filmmakers with disabilities, supported the most diverse group of filmmakers yet.

Previous grantees continued to gain national recognition and commercial success. Miss Juneteeth, Channing Godfrey Peoples’ debut feature, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and garnered rave reviews. We’re also thrilled about Boots Riley’s (Sorry To Bother You) new series “I’m a Virgo,” on Amazon, set and shot in Oakland. Riley is also working to unify a vibrant East Bay filmmaking scene. The Oakland Film Center, which received planning support from the Rainin Foundation, is a supportive, all-encompassing creative hub for Black, Indigenous and people of color filmmakers.

“Disability has long been overlooked by the film industry and we’re beyond thrilled to be able to support two emerging voices within the disability community.”

SFFILM Rainin Fall 2020 Grant Panelists

Photo credit: Beatriz Escobar via Destiny Arts Center

Ny’Aja Roberson created this Praise Dance for a Black Lives Matter protest. “The Black (W)hole” film will highlight Ny’Aja and others from Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company who are using their art forms to respond to the ongoing loss of Black lives in Oakland.

Bringing Communities Together:
2020 Grantees

The Rainin Foundation invested over $5 million in 2020 for Bay Area arts.

Our grantmaking champions artistic risk-taking and highlights important issues facing our society and communities.

Note: Grantmaking amount includes $1.6 million of multi-year grants committed in a prior year. Financials are subject to audit verification.

Supporting Artists That Push Boundaries


Provides project support to small and mid-size dance, theater and multidisciplinary arts organizations that enable Bay Area artists to produce timely, visionary projects. Grantee projects took on added potency within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and growing calls for justice and accountability. View more information about these grants.

Accion Latina


Brava! for Women in the Arts

Circo Zero

Cutting Ball Theater

David Herrera Performance Company

detour dance

Dog + Pony

Emergent Landscapes

Eugenie Chan Theater Projects

Fictional Artists Contemporary Theatre San Francisco – FACTSF

Fog Beast

foolsFURY Theater

James Graham Dance Theatre

Jess Curtis/Gravity

Joe Goode Performance Group

Life in Motion Productions

Magic Theatre

Margaret Jenkins Dance Studio

Mixed Bag Productions

Montalvo Arts Center

Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu

ODC Theater

Risa Jaroslow & Dancers

Robert Moses Kin

The Black Woman is God: Reclaiming, Reconfiguring, Re-Remembering

Theatre of Yugen, Incorporated


Urban Jazz Dance Company

Vanessa Sanchez

World Arts West

Zaccho SF


Supports nonprofit organizations to partner with artists to create temporary, place-based public art projects in San Francisco and Oakland. View more information about these grants.

Chinatown Community Development Center Inc. with lead artists Francis Wong, Lenora Lee and Ilaria Salvadori

Dancers Group with lead artists Amara Tabor-Smith and Ellen Sebastian Chang

Destiny Arts Center with lead artists Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Brett Cook, and Sarah Crowell

Mujeres Uniday y Activas with lead artists José Navarrete and Debby Kajiyama

Changing Systems Together


An invitation only grant that offers support for projects that will impact conditions for working artists to help them thrive. View more information about these grants.

Bay Area Video Coalition

Black Cultural Zone Community Development Corporation

Californians for the Arts

Center for Cultural Innovation

City of Oakland Office of the Mayor

Grantmakers in the Arts


Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project

Explore the Foundation’s website to learn more about our Arts program and meet our staff and Board members.