How You Can Get a Piece of the James Irvine Foundation's Exploring Engagement Fund

What attracted thousands of African Americans to migrate to San Francisco’s historic Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood during the early 1940s? Where did they come from? And how were their lives transformed upon reaching the docks of the bay?

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from The James Irvine Foundation's Exploring Engagement Fund, Bay Area residents are now able to learn a little more about their ancestors and neighbors. (Read the James Irvine Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

Lots of organizations are capable of producing amazing art, but engaging new audiences with that art is a whole different challenge. To emphasize the engagement side of the artistic process, The James Irvine Foundation established its Exploring Engagement Fund to deepen and expand their existing relationships with groups that often don’t benefit from the work of arts nonprofits.

One such nonprofit is the Museum of African Diaspora (MoAD), a museum dedicated to remembering communities throughout the world that descended from the historic movement of people from Africa through slavery and voluntary migration. The museum recently received a $100,000 grant to collect and archive first-voice digital narratives of African American men in Oakland and commission artists to translate these narratives into performance vignettes for presentation at faith-based venues and community centers. The project is called I've Known Rivers: MoAD Stories Project – Crossing Fences: Conversations & Stories with African American Men Across the Generations, and it offers rare glimpses of pioneering African American residents who settled in Bayview for the ship building industry jobs, the sunny climate, and brighter futures for their families.

"This is undoubtedly the most ambitious and exciting volume of I've Known Rivers stories we've ever produced," said Cheo Tyehimba-Taylor, Founder and Project Director of the Stories Project. "We're using Irvine's Exploring Engagement Fund to connect and interact with new audiences to record, commission-for-performance and theatrically present these meaningful stories that rarely get told."

Last summer, the Irvine board approved 33 new grants as part of its Exploring Engagement Fund, which is a statewide effort but gives priority to the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley. Recent Exploring Engagement Fund grants include $100,000 to the Anaheim Ballet, $50,000 to Collage Dance Theater, and $55,000 to Fresh Meat Productions. Priority area grants include $110,000 to Central West Ballet, $116,000 to Fresno Art Museum, and $145,000 to the San Bernadino Symphony Association.

These are a few themes that we've noticed about successful Exploring Engagement Fund grantees:

  • Connection with audiences previously unexposed to the specific art form
  • Extending existing engagement practices to connect with communities that have not yet benefited from the art
  • Experimentation with new arts engagement practices to better understand relationships with audiences

To learn more about The James Irvine Foundation's arts grantmaking strategy, check out this animated video or send an email over to Keep in mind, Irvine receives an average of 200 Exploring Engagement Fund applications each year, and between 15% and 20% are selected for funding.