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Grants aim to foster innovation

THE good news for big-city arts organizations statewide is that the James Irvine Foundation is handing out $5.2 million in a campaign to boost innovation at arts institutions, including $2.4 million to three Los Angeles museums.

The bad news is, that’s only about half as much money as the foundation handed out the last time it did this.

Since that last round of “cornerstone” grants in 2004, says arts program director Marcy Cady, the foundation’s trustees have decided not only to emphasize innovation but to reduce support for big-city groups and increase grants to arts groups outside Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. Late this year, Cady says, the foundation will announce nearly $5 million in grants to the Inland Empire area.

Meanwhile, though, the foundation’s first “artistic innovation” grants -- quietly decided in June and made public last week -- include $900,000 over three years to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. With the money, LACMA plans to build software so that visitors can carry personal media players it provides through the museum, then access related information later. The program also will allow the museum to track visitor movements and see which of its holdings attract the most interest.

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An additional $800,000 will go to the Japanese American National Museum, which will study ways to better address visitors of mixed heritage. And $700,000 will go to the UCLA Hammer Museum, which plans to create an artist residency program and an artist council, the latter to give artists more input in the museum’s decision making.

Beyond Los Angeles, the grants include $800,000 to the San Francisco Symphony (for audience development); $700,000 to the Oakland Museum of California Foundation (which will upgrade the museum’s art programming); $700,000 to the La Jolla Playhouse (to assist in the development of new theater works and audiences); and $600,000 to the San Diego Opera Assn. (for audience building).

Based in San Francisco, the James Irvine Foundation spreads its money among arts programs, youth programs and civic engagement programs. Its arts grants, $12.4 million last year, are expected to reach $17 million this year.

-- Christopher Reynolds

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