One Foundation's Implied Take on Arts Engagement: Let's Not Overthink This, OK?

The Getty Foundation believes in the power of dialogue to the tune of close to $9 million dollars.

The LA-based grantmaker awarded $8.5 million in grants to fund 43 Latino- and Latin American-themed exhibitions and events as part of Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles/Latin America, scheduled to kick off in fall 2017. Organizers call the breadth of the exhibitions "unprecedented." 

Grants include $425,000 for the Hammer Museum in Westwood for its show on radical women artists, $310,000 for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego for a survey of how artists in Latin American countries reacted to political oppression during the 20th century and $225,000 to the UC Riverside Artsblock for an exhibition devoted to art and sci-fi.

We see two intermingling factors behind Getty's decision at play here. The first up is purely scholastic. As strange as it may sound, Southern Californian museums have traditionally under-represented the history and impact of Latin American artists. That's why Getty aimed to fill this void by establishing Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles/Latin America in the first place.

A little over two years ago, when we most recently looked at the program, we noted how Getty grants paid for artist residencies, performances, film screenings, and exhibitions on a variety of topics, including "Latin America's relationship with the rest of the world, the history of exchange among Latin American countries, and the Latin American diaspora." 

In other words, while the program seeks to recognize contributions by accomplished Latin American artists, it's also focused on the present and the future. "Los Angeles is deeply linked to Latin America in its history and in its current demographics," Getty Foundation Director Deborah Marrow said. "No one has ever put so many Latin American shows together at one time, especially side by side with shows by Latino artists — so people could dialogue about it."

And judging by the scope of this round of grants, Getty has immense faith in dialogue. The round of funding from June 2014 totaled about $5 million dollars. Getty's latest round of funding, on the other hand, stands at $8.5 million. Which brings us to our second point.

It's important to view Getty's announcement through the lens of arts engagement. The idea of engaging specific demographics within the community, of course, isn't new, but it's certainly becoming increasingly important. America for the Arts, for example, cites arts engagement as one of the top five "macro trends" facing arts nonprofits in 2016. The Wallace Foundation has allocated a staggering $52 million for boosting engagement in the arts. Yet despite the hype, the idea of "engagement" remains somewhat ambiguous and fluid

And so there's something sublime in the simplicity of how Getty's recipients will allocate grant funding. The foundation doesn't envision a bunch of people passively standing in front of a painting with their arms folded in deep contemplation. Rather, they anticipate integrative, collaborative, and dialogue-driven art experiences. (We also surmise no consultants were needed to reach this conclusion.)

"We've brought educators, registrars, people responsible for programming — we've brought them together around intellectual issues to discuss what is Latin American art, what is Latino art, what is the relationship," Marrow said. "When the curators get together, they develop activities together and share information." 

Getty's underlying message here seems pretty self-evident. Want to engage a certain demographic?

Put down the spreadsheet and talk to them.