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Press Release


Jean Oelrich
Director of Communications
(714) 876-2380

Pacific Symphony Awarded Second Grant from The James Irvine Foundation to Continue Engagement with and Service to Orange County’s Chinese American Communities

Orange County, Calif. — January 03, 2017

For the second time, The James Irvine Foundation has awarded Pacific Symphony a $1.2 million grant in support of efforts to deepen, strengthen and enhance its commitment to Orange County’s Chinese American communities through arts engagement. Three years ago, the Symphony was one of only three organizations statewide to receive the maximum award (also $1.2 million) from the Irvine Foundation. Both grants awarded to the Symphony are part of the Irvine Foundation’s New California Arts Fund (NCAF), targeted to support arts nonprofits to advance sustainable organizational transformation that leads to expanded arts engagement. The new grant, as with the first, is payable over 36 months.

“It’s a great honor to be named a recipient of a new major commitment from The James Irvine Foundation to engage our diverse communities of Southern California,” says Symphony President John Forsyte. “The James Irvine Foundation has pioneered philanthropy and strategies to support community engagement, and our long-standing relationship has enabled original programs that meld authentic relationship building, participatory arts practices and capacity building initiatives.”

Among the largest grants the Symphony has received from a foundation, the NCAF grant, phase two, provides an opportunity for the Symphony to fulfill and expand its initial goals to engage and serve these communities. This significant investment allows the Symphony to continue its efforts to develop experimental and traditional programs in participatory arts engagement and deepen partnerships with organizations within Orange County’s Chinese American communities. The grant assists in helping to produce engagement programming that is more responsive, adaptable and flexible to the new communities and partnerships it seeks to nurture and develop.

Forsyte continues, “For the next phase of the New California Arts Fund, Pacific Symphony will continue to nurture its relationship with the Chinese communities of Southern California, offering new opportunities to perform with, co-create and experience artistic activities that transform relationships with music and our symphonic institution.”

For the last three years, during phase one, the Symphony has been developing a long-range plan for artistic and engagement programming, leveraging strategies that will create a distinctive series of musical and community-based offerings and span multiple disciplines in various venues. The new grant provides for the planning process to be further advanced and for the Symphony to tackle specific goals. Among these goals are to break down barriers to participation, expand ambassadorship through volunteerism, extend participatory practices, raise visibility and refine the organization’s business model to sustain arts engagement long-term.

“The keys to our success—a highly supportive relationship with the Foundation staff, our fellow cohort of grantees and partnerships in our community—are proving to be invaluable,” says Forsyte. “Ultimately, Pacific Symphony is working hard to be able to adapt to its changing environment and better deliver its mission to a larger and more diverse audience.”

The Symphony’s initial grant proposal in 2013 requested funding to strengthen its ability to gather research on underserved target audiences in order to better understand the behaviors, obstacles, motivators and cultural characteristics that would determine the success of arts engagement programming. The Symphony was able to co-develop a series of interactive programs at Bowers Museum (also a James Irvine Foundation grant recipient), including chamber music, lectures and art-making that revolved around cultural themes suggested by volunteers, the Bowers staff and Symphony artistic leadership.

Throughout the course of the past grant period, the Symphony has focused on building such partnerships (as Bowers) with other local organizations that serve Chinese-Americans, producing events in Chinese-American communities and encouraging Chinese-Americans to deepen their involvement with the Symphony as volunteers, donors and board members. Within the multi-year initiative the Symphony has offered a series of free or low-cost community concerts and events to Chinese-American communities.

A significant partnership with the South Coast Chinese Cultural Association/ Irvine Chinese School (a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote Chinese language learning, to preserve Chinese heritage, to enhance the understanding of the value of Chinese culture and to advocate cultural diversity in America), which was developed during the grant’s first phase, has resulted in a variety of programs and events. Among the successful education programs is “Strings for Generations,” which provides a unique opportunity for Chinese-American family members to play and learn about music together, under the direction of professional music educators and Symphony musicians. The partnership has also led to an annual Lantern Festival, entering its second year in early 2017.

This year, the Symphony is presenting a celebratory Chinese New Year concert of music and dance from both Eastern and Western cultures. In the past, the Symphony has also participated in a Happy Moon Festival and “Immigrants Building America” event (honoring Chinese immigrants); collaborated with various entities associated with Chinese-American efforts, offered or participated in performances, classes, workshops and master classes led by Chinese guest artists, and more. Over the course of the next three years, the Symphony looks forward to increasing the number of partnerships, events, programs and initiatives.

Among its goals for phase two, the Symphony intends to identify 20-25 Chinese community members to join a new support group called the Jade Society, recruit three to five additional board members, and add 800-1,000 new ticket buyers by 2019 through activation of the Chinese Communities Leadership Council and through relevant programming. By prioritizing the recruitment and training of a robust and diverse volunteer corps of approximately 100 ambassadors, the organization expects to enhance its capacity to serve new Orange County communities and achieve “Service Enterprise” status by 2019. The Symphony has formed a cross-departmental team that meets regularly to monitor key performance indicators, trends and research, and also works closely with the Foundation’s staff.

Pacific Symphony has gratefully enjoyed a long history with The James Irvine Foundation, having been the recipient of numerous grants dating back to the 1990-91 season. Grants received over these many years have provided the Symphony with the invaluable opportunity to pursue artistic avenues that would otherwise not have been possible. Most recently, the Symphony received an extension to its three-year Arts Innovation Fund grant that began in 2013-14 and ends in June 2017.

James Irvine, a California agricultural pioneer, established his Foundation in 1937 to benefit the people of California. Since then, the Foundation has met the objectives of its founder by providing more than $1.5 billion in grants to over 3,600 nonprofit organizations across the state. The Foundation is dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful and inclusive society. The Foundation’s grant making focuses on expanding economic and political opportunity for families and young adults who are working but struggling with poverty.