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Performing Arts

Program Staff

Susan Feder, Program Officer
Katie Steger, Senior Program Associate
Liz Alsina, Program Associate
Hannah Durack, Program Associate
Sunita Iqbal, Administrative Assistant



The Foundation’s Performing Arts program provides multi-year grants on an invitation-only basis to a small number of leading orchestras, theater companies, opera companies, modern dance companies, and presenters based in the United States.  Although the Foundation does not confine its support to large organizations with national visibility, it does seek to support institutions that contribute to the development and preservation of their art form, provide creative leadership in solving problems or addressing issues unique to the field, and which present the highest level of institutional performance.  Grants are awarded on the basis of artistic merit and leadership in the field, and concentrate on achieving long-term results.  Special consideration is also given to programs supporting generative artists—US composers, playwrights, choreographers, and artist-led theatrical ensembles.  In conjunction with regular program grants, the Foundation also makes a limited number of grants to research and service organizations that are doing work closely related to program goals, particularly in the area of professional development.

The Foundation concluded a decade-long orchestra program in 2009.  In it, a dozen orchestras addressed four primary areas of concern:  leadership, the role of musicians, changing community expectations, and programming.  In addition to receiving direct grants, the orchestras participated in an Orchestra Forum, semiannual retreats that formalized a new model for discussion among the musician, trustee, and administrative constituencies of orchestras and encouraged learning within orchestras and among them.  A subgroup of the Forum, the Elephant Task Force (ETF), studied the relationship between orchestras’ economic strategies and missions, and worked to develop financial modeling tools.  Its final report may be accessed here:  ETF Report

Going forward, the Foundation will concentrate its support on direct grants to leading orchestras to help ensure that their vitality be realized through the quality and distinctiveness of their artistic aspirations.  As orchestras face the ramifications of the severe economic downturn, preference will be given to institutions whose long-term strategic initiatives include the development of diverse, artistically ambitious models of performance and presentation, strategies for broadening orchestras’ reach through dissemination of their work via new technologies, wider-ranging roles for their musicians, new approaches to creating participatory experiences for audiences within and beyond their communities, and synergies among orchestras through partnerships or the licensing of artistic presentations.  These orchestras demonstrate leadership not only of benefit to their own institutions, but also to others by testing models that may serve to make orchestras sustainable in the future.

The opera program has placed a particular focus on a small number of companies demonstrating a longstanding commitment to advancing the art form through the presentation of ambitious new works or those rarely heard.  It has also provided selected support for national radio and television broadcasts.  Future grants are expected also to provide funding to companies that are consistently at the forefront of finding ways to improve the developmental process for creating, producing, revising, and reviving new operas; developing collaborative partnerships with their peers and with other community and cultural institutions; and exploring new uses of technology in opera production and in audience engagement. 

From 2004 to 2007, the Performing Arts program staff undertook an inquiry into new play development and production in the US.  As a result of this four-year investigation, the priorities and goals of the theater program have shifted.  An overview of the findings and links to the four reports that were generated from this process, may be accessed at http://www.mellon.org/grant_programs/programs/performing-arts/new-plays-initiative.  In brief, the theater program now seeks to fund leading theaters of all sizes that contribute to the advancement or preservation of theater as an art form and which are characterized by distinctive and ambitious artistic programming, a commitment to artists, intellectual relevance, and the capacity to engage audiences.  Its goals are to help artistic leaders who are “swimming upstream” to continue to take artistic risks; to support processes that will improve the quality of work being produced; and to support collaborations between organizations that develop, premiere, and mount second and third productions of a work.  It also endeavors to support long-term commitments to artists by institutions.  In addition to support for theaters, the program provides direct support to a handful of leading playwriting centers that are critical to the development of artists and new work.  Finally, the Foundation’s efforts are not exclusively focused on new work.  Recognizing that such activities as remounting difficult classical works, translations, and international collaborations are both important and challenging, the program also supports organizations that have a record of doing important and exemplary work in these areas. 

Since 2000, the Foundation has also made awards to producing theaters in New York City through a regrant program.  The New York Theater Program (NYTP) is administered by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA).  A competitive program reviewed by a panel made up of theater practitioners, it is for theaters with budgets between $300,000 and $3.5 million that do not have a "K–12 Arts Education" or "Youth and Family" focus.  Click here to download a press release announcing the 2008 recipients.  Theaters being considered for the 2011 round have already been notified.  For more information about the New York Theater Program please visit www.nyfa.org.

For many years the Foundation’s dance program has principally supported a small group of single choreographer modern dance companies and a handful of dance-specific presenting institutions.  In 2008, in an effort both to extend its reach to support a greater number of dance companies and respond to natural evolutions in the field, the Foundation shifted the majority of its support for the creation and touring of dance to the National Dance Project (NDP), a panel adjudicated program managed by the New England Foundation for the Arts.  In addition, the Foundation’s support for choreographers and the dance field is extended through two principal organizations:  (1) the Center for Creative Research, http://www.centerforcreativeresearch.org/, which fosters interdisciplinary connections between choreographers, scholars, and students at institutions of higher learning and (2) Dance Heritage Coalition, http://www.danceheritage.org/, an organization focused on documentation and preservation issues in dance.  The dance program is currently focused on strengthening and improving the infrastructure, networks, and processes to support the creation, development, touring, documentation, and preservation of dance.  While direct grants will continue to be made to a small number of leading dance presenters and companies, much of this work is currently, and will continue to be, supported through intermediary organizations. 

In 2010 the Foundation commissioned a study to assess New York City dance rehearsal space needs and availability.  The study focused on the needs of mid-career, single-choreographer-led companies.  Professional choreographers and rehearsal facilities were surveyed in order to assess the existing supply of dance rehearsal facilities, barriers to access by professional dance artists, and possible solutions.  The resulting report, We Make Do, researched and prepared by Exploring the Metropolis, Inc., may be viewed here: We Make Do.

While the Foundation has historically funded a small number of leading dance-specific presenters, in recent years it has made exploratory grants to a handful of leading multidisciplinary presenting institutions (stand-alone organizations, as well as those associated with museums, colleges, or universities).   The majority of the grants awarded thus far, and those pending for 2010, provide support for pilot programs that will be completed and assessed over the next few years.  There are no plans to expand this program until the pilot period ends; thus presenting institutions are discouraged from contacting the Foundation in search of support. 

Although not within the guise of a formal program, the Foundation has also recently made several grants in support of technological initiatives that will provide infrastructure improvements to performing arts organizations.  In 2008, it surveyed performing arts organizations to understand how they develop and execute Information Technology (IT) plans, what IT barriers and needs they are experiencing, and whether IT is helping or hindering the achievement of goals such as audience growth, donor outreach, and program innovation.  The Foundation subsequently contracted with Callahan Consulting for the Arts to undertake additional analysis of the qualitative data captured in the 2008 survey.  The final report, Technology and the Performing Arts Field:  Usage and Issues, may be accessed by clicking here: Technology Report.

Through a number of regranting programs, the Foundation is also able to extend its support for the performing arts into the following areas:

I. Leadership training and professional development

DANCE USA/DANCE NYC: Dance "101 and 201" seminars

League of American Orchestras: Learning and Leadership Program

National Arts Strategies: Executive education programs for arts leaders, administrators, and board members

Opera America: Learning Laboratory

Theater Communications Group: New Generations Program: Future Leaders (in collaboration with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation)

II. Commission and Production Support

American Music Center: Live Music for Dance (LMD)

Chamber Music America: Commissioning program

Meet the Composer: Music Alive (orchestral residencies for composers) and Fund for Musical Creativity/Commissioning Music/USA

New England Foundation for the Arts: National Dance Project

III. Cultural Exchange

Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP): The Cultural Exchange Fund (CEF), an international travel subsidy program that provides US presenters with overseas travel funds.

Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, (MAAF): USArtists International (USAI), which supports the travel expenses of US theater, dance, and music ensembles that are invited to perform at important international festivals.

Theater Communications Group: New Generations Program: Future Collaborations

The Performing Arts Program by-and-large refrains from making grants for conferences, festivals, administrative capacity building, or to organizations outside of the US.  Requests for funds to support fees paid to consultants are discouraged in most cases.  It does not support:

  • Individual artists
  • Conservatories
  • Schools of the arts
  • K-12 arts education programs
  • Capital campaigns
  • Expansion or renovation of buildings and facilities



Program Contact Information

Application to the Foundation’s Performing Arts Program may be made by invitation only.


You will find a list of past grantees of the Performing Arts program in the Foundation’s annual reports, which you can access on this Web site.  We encourage you to review these reports prior to submitting an inquiry.  Organizations that wish to inquire about the possibility of future funding should not call the Foundation.  Instead, they should send a 2-3 page letter providing an overview of the organization, its history, mission, and goals, and the relevance of its work to the priorities and programs of the Foundation.  Please refrain from sending additional materials — including brochures, press articles, education materials, etc. — unless subsequently requested by program staff, and do not request a grant from the Foundation unless requested to do so by the program staff.  While we will review and respond to all letters in time, please bear in mind that the Foundation is rarely able to respond positively to unsolicited requests.  At this time, all of our funding for 2012 has been allocated.

Please direct all inquiries in writing (not email) to:

Katie Steger
Program Associate
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
140 E. 62nd Street
New York, NY 10065

Before writing, please review the Foundation’s general requirements for grant proposals in the Grant Inquiries section of this Web site.


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