An Investment Framework for Supporting the Artists Ecosystem

Alan Brown, John Carnwath, Megan Bander, with Shalini Agrawal, Lily Kharrazi, Beatrice Thomas, in association with John Shibley Consulting

November 2019

Research Commissioned by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation

At the heart of this report is the artistic idea that there is value in looking at something familiar in a way that makes it seem new and unfamiliar, and even at times strange. In this case, the familiar thing is the complex environment surrounding artists and how they sustain a practice in the Bay Area. The way of making that environment seem new or even strange is a lens adapted from System Dynamics and its application in thinking about ecosystems. This lens allowed us to examine the system of artist support and work towards building a theory about how to strengthen the system as a whole as opposed to supporting the individuals who operate within it.

Our framework has four parts:

  • Part 1 presents a brief overview of the Analytical Approach, including the research questions that guided our work, our methodology, and key elements of the ecosystem lens that informed the analysis.
  • Part 2 offers an Investment Framework, based on the analysis, which suggests 17 ways to support artists in the Bay Area by improving the system in which those artists work. It includes a high-level summary of the proposed investments, a more extended discussion of each investment from an ecosystem point of view, and some thoughts on the applications of the framework and how it might continue to evolve.
  • Part 3 offers four essays on different aspects of the artists ecosystem, including an initial definitional piece that provides background on the ecosystem point of view and essays that unpack our thinking about two prominent species: artists and philanthropic foundations.
  • Part 4 offers narratives about four specific sub-systems of interest within the larger artists ecosystem, including a detailed treatment of patterns of resource exchanges between the relevant species.

Our hope is that the framework serves as a helpful guide to foundation funders and other stakeholders in the Bay Area artists ecosystem to reflect critically on how their investments overlay, or don’t overlay, with the 17 proposed investments—and how, in the long run, they might collaborate or coordinate their funding programs to address some of the gaps.

Read the full report


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