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Duke Foundation creates nation's biggest artist-grant program

October 22, 2011 |  8:00 am

Mark Taper Forum in 2008
Jazz, contemporary dance and theater artists who now dream of getting a phone call from the MacArthur Foundation telling them they’ve won a $500,000 “genius grant” can add another plausible fantasy to their list: a $275,000 phone call from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The $1.6-billion New York City-based foundation announced this week that it’s committing $50 million over the next 10 years to a special Performing Artists Initiative that will provide up to $27.5 million to 100 well-established “leading artists” and up to $8 million for 100 emerging figures. The balance, about $14.5 million, will go to administer the program and to fund an initiative in which individual artists will pair with dance companies, theater companies and performing arts presenters for four months of residencies spread over two or three years.  At least 50 residency awards of $75,000 or $150,000 will be made, starting in 2013.

The new infusion, which the Duke Foundation says is “the largest allocation of cash grants ever given to artists in these fields,”  will be on top of the Duke Foundation’s regular arts giving, which has totaled $13.1 million a year since 2009 -– down from about $18 million before the financial crash and recession whittled its investment holdings.

In distributing $3.5 million in average annual grants to individuals during the coming decade, the Duke Foundation will become the nation’s leading charitable funder of individual artists -– although it will take a few years to ramp up to that level.  L.A.-based United States Artists awards $2.5 million annually, providing no-strings, one-year grants of $50,000 each to 50 mid-career USA Fellows who work in various visual, performing and literary disciplines. Last year, United States Artists kicked off a $50-million endowment campaign aimed at ensuring that its grants will continue “in perpetuity.”

The idea, Duke Foundation spokeswoman Kristin Roth-Schrefer said Friday, is to fund artists who are in a fertile period of their career and are “passionate and pushing forward.” It’s not “a lifetime achievement award looking backward.”

Jazz musicians known for great chops but not original material or innovative approaches, and dancers and actors who mainly just play their roles (sublime as the results may be), need not wait for a call next spring. Roth-Schrefer said the winners will be “generative artists, people who are creating and pushing the art form forward, not necessarily playing something that someone else gave them. It means they’re doing something beyond simply acting out a role.”

While the individual MacArthur grants are bigger, the "genius grants" don't have an annual set-aside for artists. Of this year’s 22 MacArthur Fellowship winners, seven of the five-year grants were awarded in the arts, including music, architecture, silversmithing and poetry. Just one, jazz composer-percussionist Dafnis Prieto, works in a field funded by the Duke Foundation, which concentrates its arts giving on jazz, theater and contemporary dance because they were passions of Doris Duke, the heiress whose bequest launched the foundation three years after her death in 1993. In the 15 years since 1997, Duke performing arts grants have totaled more than $218 million.

Ed Henry, the foundation’s president, said the new initiative responds to worsening funding prospects in the arts. “At a time when support … is being cut back across the country, and when most artists … are struggling to stay viable project by project, we thought it was essential to step up our commitment.”

Organizations and individual artists who have a track record of working together can team up to apply for the residencies starting late next year. But, like the MacArthur Fellowships, the “leading artist” grants and emerging-artist fellowships are on a don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you basis, with the winners decided by anonymous groups of experts. The first calls will come in March or April to 20 “leading artists,” who’ll receive their money over the course of three to five years (the timing is their choice). The emerging-artist fellowships will begin in 2014.

While MacArthur Fellowships come with no strings attached, the Duke Foundation specifies that while winners can use $225,000 however they want, an additional $25,000 will be reserved for the artists’ efforts in arts education or helping to build a bigger arts audience. The last $25,000 is reserved for their retirement  -– but they’ll only get as much of it as they’re willing to match with their own money (which can include part of the $225,000). Similarly, the emerging-artist fellowships, paid out over two or three years, provide for $60,000 that recipients can use however they choose, with an additional $10,000 for audience development and $10,000 for retirement, on a matching basis. Along with the grants comes free financial advice from the Creative Capital Foundation about how to use the windfall.

To narrow the field for “leading artist” grants, the Duke Foundation will only consider artists who have had at least three projects funded by national arts grantmakers over the past 10 years, including at least one project that indirectly received money from the Duke Foundation. Until now, Duke had confined its arts giving to organizations that then mainly used their own discretion to hire or provide grants to artists while carrying out a Duke-funded project.

The boost for jazz, dance and theater isn’t coming at the expense of environmental conservation, medical research and child-abuse prevention, the other areas in which the Duke Foundation makes grants. Roth-Schrefer said it will simply draw more from its endowment over the coming 10 years, spending 5.2% to 6%, rather than the previous, IRS-required 5%.

RELATED:

Doris Duke, 'richest girl in world,' is remembered as philanthropist

MacArthur 'genius' grants go to cellist, architect, jazz musician

United States Artists announces $2.5 million in awards to 50 winners

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Mark Taper Forum in 2008. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times


 
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