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Strong Arts Ecosystems Build Strong Communities


By: Tracie D. Hall, Culture Program Director

Thinkers and makers are the foundation of a city’s success. The sustainability of any contemporary community relies on its ability to attract, retain, and learn from its creative problem-solvers. Far beyond functioning as entertainment, the arts provide space for experimenting with new frameworks, engaging in critical dialogue, and mining human experience and imagination.

We are increasingly looking to artists, and by extension creative organizations, to not only reflect the current times but to illuminate the future. It is no accident that many of the technologies we enjoy today were inspired by the imaginings of artists who dared to conceive of parachutes, cell phones, and self-driving cars at a time when each was unthinkable. Though not always recognized for such, when it comes to mapping where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed as a society, artists have historically been keepers of the compass.

The arts inform and help shape the culture of their times, but to remain relevant they must consciously reflect the full range of creative and cultural histories and pool of content creators   in the societies they seek to portray and influence. Over the next few years, the Joyce Foundation will continue to be a leader in the effort to achieve equity, diversity and inclusion in the arts. We will continue to bolster the careers of artists, particularly those from African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab, and Native American backgrounds, who have historically had fewer high visibility exhibition or presenting opportunities. Additionally, we intend to take even greater strides toward helping neighborhood-based arts institutions contribute to community economic resilience and serve as on-ramps to lifelong engagement and careers in the arts.

Our 2018-2020 Culture Program strategy builds on lessons we have learned from our work in Chicago and other Great Lakes cities, where demographic, economic, and social shifts underscore the need for fundamental shifts in cultural priorities.

Our Joyce Awards program, now in its 15th year, is dedicated to helping artists of color working in major Great Lakes Cities increase their visibility, build their audience, and advance their careers – while also providing the commissioning non-profit organizations the opportunity to present works that deeply engage their communities. Recognizing that the Joyce Award has fueled the career trajectories of many awardees, we will work to widen awareness about this important platform for artistic practice.    

We will support new priorities, too, such as deeper investment in arts access and participation via neighborhood arts centers, which serve as community anchors and on-ramps for lifelong arts engagement. Understanding that barriers such as affordability and distance make it difficult for some communities to experience the arts on a regular basis, Joyce seeks to ensure that residents in lower-income neighborhoods have as much access to high-quality arts experiences as residents in more affluent areas. 

We will also fund projects that enable neighborhood-based and larger cultural institutions to partner in building up arts ecosystems in communities where there is demonstrated need. As well, we will intensify our focus on ensuring that the people who lead and work in these organizations and in the broader creative sector are representative of our region’s richly diverse brain trust.

The Joyce Foundation looks forward to partnering with grantees and other stakeholders to continue the building of a future-facing arts ecosystem in which talent is developed and showcased to wide and receptive audiences. In this way, we can help ensure that the next generation of artists and cultural leaders in the Great Lakes region is empowered to demonstrate the catalytic effect of the arts on community vitality and resilience.