Local Artists and Seniors: Some Recent Moves by the San Diego Foundation

photo: Howard Sandler/shutterstock

photo: Howard Sandler/shutterstock

Back in 2015, the San Diego Foundation shifted its arts funding strategy upon the departure of its longtime Director of Arts and Creative Economy, Felicia Shaw. At the time, the local arts community worried that lumping arts and culture along with outdoor recreation and physical activity in the same program category would be devastating for local artists. But a few years later, the funder’s Creative Catalyst program is still an important source of support for artists. It awards $10,000 to $20,000 fellowships and opportunities to partner with mentoring organizations. It’s true that the program, which was initially launched with help from the Irvine Foundation, once gave to more artists than it does now. For example, 15 artists shared a total of $285,000 as part of this program back in 2012. But the foundation’s mindset since then is that "less is more," and that supporting fewer, but more promising artists will have a stronger impact on the community.

To this end, the San Diego Foundation recently announced its five new local artists that are growing the creative economy and sharing $100,000 of foundation funds. This brings the program’s overall totals to 45 artist fellows, over 30 arts and culture nonprofit partners, and 170,000 community members reached. Arts and culture is lumped into the “Enjoy” focus area at the San Diego Foundation, which also includes promoting cultural tourism, increasing neighborhood gathering places, fostering outdoor recreation for families and youth, and other broad community goals.

Although the foundation’s annual arts and culture commitment may not be what once was, it’s still refreshing to see support for individual artists collaborating with local nonprofits. This is a type of collaboration that doesn’t happen too frequently without the backing of a big name like the San Diego Foundation. The new Creative Catalyst grant recipients are Erica Buechner with Art Produce, Thelma Virata de Castro with Asian Story Theater, Matt Morrow with La Jolla Playhouse, Evan Apodaca with So Say We All, and Maxx Moses with The Urban Collaborative Project. The artists’ final works are expected to be shared with the community between late 2018 and early 2019.

Katie Rast, the director of community impact at the foundation, said:

Art serves as a powerful tool that allows communities to explore new ideas and engage with one another through a multitude of creative mediums. Our investment in art sparks conversation, promotes civic engagement and celebrates our region’s unique diversity, strengthening our economy, our community and our culture.

One reason that the foundation is so interested in local art is its impact on the well-being of older adults. The number of people in San Diego who are over the age of 65 is expected to double in the next 15 years, so the San Diego Foundation is getting ready for that shift. Fostering a vibrant arts culture that engages seniors is just one approach favored by the foundation to create an age-friendly region. 

May is Older Americans Month, and to celebrate this, the foundation announced $130,000 in new grants to improve the quality of life for the local elderly population. These new grants of $65,000 each are going to the Jewish Family Service On-the-Go Navigator Program, which provides transportation through a dispatch program, and the Serving Seniors Leadership Development Institute to get seniors involved with volunteerism.

The foundation’s Age-Friendly Communities Program was established with the help of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund and addresses elder quality of life issues including social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, transportation, community and health services, housing, outdoor spaces and buildings, and communication and information.

As we've reported, many foundations neglect aging issues despite a rapidly graying U.S. population. It's not surprising, though, that a top funder in San Diego would be forward thinking in this area, given that the city has long attracted many retirees and been more attuned to the needs of seniors than other places in the U.S. 

Kathlyn Mead, the president and CEO of the San Diego Foundation said:

The San Diego Foundation Age-Friendly Communities Program was developed to address the region’s shifting demography and build communities where older adults can age in their communities. The grants to Jewish Family Service and Serving Seniors will help promote self-reliance among San Diego’s older adults and contribute to improving quality of life for all San Diegans.