SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Ananya Dance Theatre, Minneapolis, MN. Photo by V. Paul Virtucio. Ananya Dance Theatre, Minneapolis, MN. Photo by V. Paul Virtucio.

Bending Art and Culture Towards Justice

The Impact of the Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression Arts and Culture Program Investments in Diverse Creative Communities

Study Finds Improved Organizational Stability, Lasting Impact on Artists

This evaluation set out to understand the Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression (CFE) Arts and Culture program’s progress toward driving long-lasting social change. Two primary questions drove the research.

First, 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?

Second, 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? This report presents high-level lessons about progress on outcomes sought by Ford’s CFE Arts and Culture program, the role the program played, and lessons about how change occurred. Findings and strategic considerations that emerged from this evaluation will be used to inform the next five-year phase of Ford’s CFE Arts and Culture strategy.


 Download the Report (PDF)

Research conducted by SMU DataArts: Dr. Zannie Voss, Rebecca Roscoe and Daniel Fonner

Key Observations

The findings draw upon qualitative research, including in-depth interviews with Ford staff, individuals at peer grantmaking institutions and arts leaders of 20 CFE A&C grantee organizations, followed by surveys of grantees and artists working at or supported by the grantees. Of the 230 CFE A&C organizations invited to be a part of the evaluation, 110 participated, along with more than 600 artists.

The research was supplemented by quantitative sources of demographic and financial data collected by SMU DataArts. The report summarizes key observations from this in-depth evaluation of Ford’s CFE A&C program from 2018 to 2021, including a number of promising findings: 

Ford grantmaking is improving financial stability.

  • On the whole, grantees are doing better now than they were prior to receiving CFE A&C support with respect to overall operating stability and overall financial stability.
  • People of Color and disability-centered organizations in the broader arts field have become more stable and resilient over time, running surpluses and building working capital.

Ford grantmaking is leading to increased resources.

  • Among the 83% of grantees who reported an increase in their base of support over the grant period aside from CFE A&C funding, two out of three attribute Ford CFE A&C funding as a strong or very strong influence on their ability to attract new resources.
  • For grantees and peer People of Color and disability-centered organizations, funding increased resoundingly over time.

Ford is contributing to more thriving People of Color and disabled artists and arts leaders.

  • Roughly two of every three artists and three of every four grantees organization leaders say describe their personal state as either absolutely or moderately thriving.
  • Artists are thriving most in that they feel inspired, have a strong sense of ownership over their narrative, and are advancing their artistry. Dignified wages and sufficient financial resources present more of a challenge to artists’ ability to thrive than do other indicators of overall prosperity.

The Ford Foundation, alongside CFE A&C grantees, is making progress related to increasing the production and visibility of underrepresented artists.

  • More than half of the CFE A&C grantees increased employment of people of Color and/or disabled artists and storytellers, and increased their compensation. 

CFE A&C grantee leaders reported a remarkably strong sense that their organizations are advancing their goals and thriving.

  • 87% of grantees reported that their organizations are absolutely making progress while the remaining 13% say they are making moderate progress.
  • They are thriving most by advancing creatively and artistically, with strong demand for their programs, whether from artists or the public.


Download the Report (PDF)


What's Next

Since its launch in 2015, the Ford Foundation's Creativity and Free Expression (CFE) program worked collaboratively to invest in creative organizations and storytellers shaping a more inclusive, just world across three areas of focus: Arts and Culture, Journalism, and documentary filmmaking through its JustFilms initiative.

To assess impact and alignment with the changing needs of the field, the foundation is conducting a series of evaluations around each area of focus under the CFE program. This evaluation report on Arts & Culture conducted by SMU DataArts is one in a series of three evaluations to explore how arts and creative sectors can approach inequality thoughtfully.

Zannie Giraud Voss, Ph.D.

SMU DataArts Director

“This in-depth evaluation of Ford’s CFE A&C program shows clear progress in the foundation’s plan for disrupting narratives that perpetuate inequality and lifting up underrepresented voices across race and ability.”

Courtesy Zawaya (CA) Courtesy Zawaya (CA)

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