California Arts Council report outlines changes to public media program

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A state-supported program to fund arts coverage by California’s public media outlets is refining its goals and will begin accepting applications next year for support under the revised guidelines.

Musicians in the Radio Bilingüe studio in Fresno County, California.

Musicians in the Radio Bilingüe studio in Fresno County, California. (Photo: CAC)

In 2013, the California Arts Council created Arts on the Air, a funding program that supported projects at KQED, PBS SoCal, Radio Bilingüe, KALW and KCET. In the years following, the council gave a total of $350,000 to the recipients, including $78,000 to Radio Bilingüe for productions about Latino artists and art in Latino communities and $75,000 to PBS SoCal for videos about California artists and arts organizations.

But the council suspended the program last year. “The pilot grant program was a high priority for the Council,” writes Caitlin Fitzwater, communications director, in a newly released report. “But key to a productive investment is ensuring that grants are effectively serving the field and meeting the actual needs of California’s communities.”

After evaluating its work and convening grantees and others to consider challenges and opportunities, the council found that it needed to change the program’s structure and re-evaluate how to measure the impact of the funding and the audience for the projects it supported. Among other findings, the report notes that audience data are not easily quantifiable and that public events can result in deeper engagement.

Council board members, who are appointed by state leadership, reviewed preliminary results of the report in September and voted to reinstate the program with a $200,000 investment. The council will develop program guidelines based on the findings and additional input from advisors, the report says.

As a result of the findings, the funder will put less emphasis on a project’s reach when reviewing grants, which will allow smaller and mid-size stations to be more competitive. It will also broaden eligibility to include media organizations such as online-only outlets and public-access stations, and it will aim to foster more partnerships and exchanging of content among stations.

The council will consider the new guidelines in December and begin accepting applications for grants in 2017.

Report recommendations include:

Develop new methods for measuring success. Measuring impact and audience by sheer numbers puts smaller stations as a disadvantage, the report said. Stations also have difficulty determining precise audience demographics because they use many different platforms, and it’s also challenging to isolate the audience for arts content from the general audience.

“… [G]rant applicants should be given the opportunity to define impact as it relates to the needs of their local communities,” the report said. Other considerations should include a broader network of platforms, as well as the “role community events and performances can play in deepening audience engagement, outreach and promotion.”

Vary grant sizes. Out of 29 applicants, the program previously supported seven grantees with awards from $28,000 to $75,000. The council found that “providing a larger number of smaller grants would allow smaller organizations to participate and benefit from a grant program, while continuing to support larger organizations as part of a network of funders investing in large-scale projects.”

Take advantage of the breadth of expertise and diversity in the field. To foster growth and development, funders should facilitate mentorships and pair organizations that serve different areas and demographics and use different approaches.

Encourage participation of nonprofit media organizations in broader grant programs. Besides Arts on the Air, the council should promote other arts and media grant opportunities to help public broadcasters take advantage of other resources.

Read the full report below:

CAC ArtsPublicMediaReport 2016 (Text)

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