Why arts & culture? Why now?

A Jewish cultural renaissance is taking shape before our eyes. An entirely new generation of artists, authors, musicians, performers and designers are exploring and creating innovative ways to preserve and reimagine Judaism and Jewish identity, making them relevant and meaningful for the times we are living in. Their art enriches our lives, deepens our understanding of what it means to be Jewish, builds community (both among Jews and between Jews and other cultures), and ensures vibrancy and joy remain at the core of the Jewish experience for religious and non-religious Jews alike. In fact, research has demonstrated that arts and culture are powerful vehicles for today’s Jews to express and strengthen their Jewish identities.

And yet, the field of Jewish Arts and Culture remains significantly underfunded and underleveraged. Without critical support and coordination, this renaissance cannot flourish.

We have arrived at these conclusions collectively, after commissioning two research reports on the field and studying their findings independently, and at Jewish Funders Network (JFN)-sponsored convenings:

The first, Devising Strategies to Support Jewish Arts & Culture, identified the significant enthusiasm, and significant barriers to entry, for Jewish funders considering a philanthropic investment in the arts space.

The second, Cross Section: A Look at Jewish Arts and Culture in North America Today Through the Lens of Artists and Arts Organizations, was based on in-depth interviews with a broad range of artists, presenters, arts nonprofit leaders, and funders — and found that the field is in serious need of three things:

  • More targeted and smarter support for Jewish artists and arts organizations.
  • More robust distribution networks for high quality products and programs, to allow more individuals and organizations to access arts and culture as a way to connect to Judaism.
  • More engaged and coordinated funders who want to ensure that their funding is strategic and well leveraged.
  • This presents a vast but time-sensitive opportunity for the Jewish community. If funders work together, strategically utilizing recent research on the field, the impact of our efforts could be transformative—both for the landscape of Jewish Arts and Culture and for other issue areas Jewish funders care deeply about, including education, identity, cross-cultural understanding, battling antisemitism, and strengthening community.

One would have to return to the 19th century to find a moment like this: when a rich and diverse flowering of creativity captured the imagination of Jews and those who thought they understood them.

Today, the Jewish arts & culture ecosystem is as fertile and productive as it has ever been in the years since the Haskalah prompted that new wave of cultural introspection and reinvention. The ecosystem is also badly in need of support and recognition for what it is and can be: the glue that holds a community, a people, together.

With CANVAS, we choose to focus on the backbone of the ecosystem — networks, distribution channels, and media — because these organizations, whether on their own, or in partnership with one another, represent a kind of one-stop shopping: a way for the funding community to worry less about their own artistic judgment and focus more on the infrastructure that will ensure this Jewish creativity thrives.

Because if we elevate the ecosystem, we elevate the community.

We are calling this effort CANVAS, but we are not starting with a blank canvas. We have the warp and the weft that binds us to a long tradition of expression, elation, of wrestling and celebrating, of debating and transcending – of using creativity and artistry to tell the world: This is who we are. This is where we come from. This is where we might go. Together.Upon that canvas, we can make great art.

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