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Bending Art and Culture Towards Justice: The Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression Arts and Culture Program Investments in Diverse Creative Communities

December 12, 2022

What lessons can we learn about how change happens for arts organizations and networks that center People of Color and disabled artists, cultural producers, and executive leaders, especially those who have been further marginalized by sexism, heterosexism and xenophobia? What is the influence of a $230 million investment in their stability, their ability to expand their base of support and their lasting impact on the artists whose voices and cultural contributions they lift up?The Ford Foundation's Creativity and Free Expression Arts and Culture (CFE A&C) strategy discussion began in the Fall of 2015 and targeted goals of shifting "entrenched cultural narratives" that were embedded in and driving cultural norms. The early theory of change was to actually expand the scope of mainstream ideals to include content by underrepresented creators – shifting their status from the margins into the realm of being visible and seen in the mainstream. The 'margins to the mainstream' strategy has evolved over time to center the empowerment of People of Color creators and those with disabilities. The construct of 'mainstream ideals' has shifted from including content by these artists as part of the mainstream to influencing who has voice and who is widely recognized and valued as the mainstream.This report, based on research conducted from December 2021 to April 2022, summarizes key observations and strategic considerations from an in-depth evaluation of the strategy implemented by the Ford Foundation to support CFE A&C grantees, a strategy set in motion pre-pandemic. The purpose of Ford's evaluations is not focused on holding individual grantees accountable for complex social change outcomes, and instead seeks to prioritize learning; and, more specifically, to learn about how change happens and share lessons externally. Part of that learning centers not only on whether current approaches are having the desired impact, but also on whether modifications to the approaches or other internal factors might yield even greater impact.