Kenneth Rainin Foundation: Exploratory Research on Systemic Approaches to Supporting Bay Area Artists

Kenneth Rainin Foundation logo II

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

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation has long been a leader amongst foundations in critically examining the needs of artists and how current support structures both succeed and fail in meeting their needs. In furtherance of this ongoing inquiry the Foundation awarded a grant to WolfBrown to build an exploratory framework for systemic approaches to supporting Bay Area artists. The overarching questions driving the research were:

  • Can we build a stronger conceptualization of the ecosystem in which artists sustain a creative practice, wrestling down the complexity to a manageable level?
  • Where are the gaps in resources? Where are the inequities? Where does the system fail artists?
  • What roles do different kinds of intermediaries play in the ecosystem?
  • Can we identify leverage points where new resources will have maximum impact on the system?
  • What kinds of support lead to sustained benefits to the ecosystem?
  • Is there a research-based conceptual model for how foundations might work together to simultaneously support different parts of the ecosystem, so as to make the system as a whole more equitable and more sustainable?

With these questions in mind, the WolfBrown team set out to build a stronger understanding of how Bay Area artists produce work and flourish creatively, and, specifically, to posit an investment framework that would allow foundation funders to make more informed decisions about where to apply resources in the future. The analytical approach drew from the theory and practice of systems dynamics to uncover the underlying exchanges of resources between stakeholder groups or “species” in the artists ecosystem. The resulting framework offers funders a starting point for considering more systemic approaches to suppoting artists, including 17 specific types of investments.

To read more about the findings, read the online report.