How This Community Funder Supports the Visual Arts in Southern California

A whole lot of Los Angeles area nonprofits look to the California Community Foundation for support, and across a wide gamut of issue areas. This should come as little surprise considering that the funder has at least $1.5 billion in assets and manages around 1,600 charitable funds. Like many big community foundations, it has a lot going on and a big footprint on the local philanthropy scene, especially when it comes to issues that affect low-income and vulnerable populations in LA. 

On the other hand, when you think of CCF, its role as an arts funder might not quickly spring to mind. But it's an important player in this space, too. Among other things, its Fellowship for Visual Artists has now been around for three decades. 

CCF recently announced news about this program, naming 14 new Los Angeles County recipients. With a total of $350,000 to share, these artists are getting unrestricted support for their passions. This is significant because unrestricted support for the arts, especially for individual artists, is famously hard to come by. And the mission of these CCF awards is pretty broad too: help artists build successful and sustainable careers and to support the thriving L.A. arts scene.

But what’s also interesting about this new commitment is that CCF received the most applications for this fellowship than it ever has in the program’s long history. The foundation received 551 applications from Los Angeles area artists, which suggests that either the arts are growing in unprecedented ways here or that artists are really struggling to make ends meet. Or maybe a little bit of both.

Another thing to note about this program is the broader context for CCF's arts funding. 
The  foundation's President and CEO Antonia Hernández explained in a press release that CCF "has long valued the power of the arts to transform communities and support social change." We hear this kind of thing all the time from big foundations in the arts space—that their funding isn't just about backing art for its own sake, but how a robust arts scene can yield larger dividends for a community. LA is a great example of that: investments in the arts over recent decades have been a key factor in propelling the city's emergence as a truly world-class metropolis and, more recently, reviving the downtown. 

This extremely competitive artist fellowship has been around since 1987, when the J. Paul Getty Trust and other donors kicked in money to create it. Nearly 300 visual artists have received the awards since then, totaling over $3 million. The CCF Fellowship for Visual Artists has become one of the largest efforts to support individual artists in the state, and it’s doing so through fine-tuning artists' business skills and networking opportunities.

This community funder has been getting into visual art in some interesting ways recently. Back in November, it unveiled a public art exhibit to celebrate its 100th year in philanthropy. The exhibit was named We Are Los Angeles, and it enlisted the help of 32 local artists to instill a sense of civic pride and unity in everyone who sees it. But CCF’s larger goal in all this was to “motivate Angelenos to create enduring legacy gifts and increase conversation about solutions to our region’s most urgent challenges.”

“As art has the power to spark dialogue and move people, we hope the We Are Los Angeles exhibit inspires people toward greater engagement in building a stronger community,” said Antonia Hernández. 

Meanwhile, in other CCF news, the foundation announced $5.5 million in new grants to support Los Angeles County at the close of 2016. These new grants focused heavily on health issues in Los Angeles, as 11 grants totaling over $2.6 million went towards health groups like Saint Francis Medical Center and the University Muslin Medical Association.

The next biggest funding area lately has been housing and economic opportunity, a CCF category that saw $650,000 in new investments across five grants. Not surprisingly, these grants are going towards building and improving affordable units in Los Angeles County to address the homelessness crisis. Another funding category, the education pipeline, saw six new grants totaling $590,000. Recent education grantees included Communities in Schools of Los Angeles and Foothill Family Service. 

As I said, this foundation has a lot going on.