The Foundation's Program in the Arts and Culture
1991 Annual Report
Rachel Newton Bellow
As Mr. Bowen has observed, this is an especially difficult period for the arts in the United States, and a time also of many opportunities. It is particularly important then to provide a general account of how the Foundation's arts programs evolve (in Section I, below); a reasonably detailed description of recent grantmaking patterns in the fields in which we are active (Section II); and finally, some reflections on a few broader issues confronting American arts institutions (Section III).
I. BACKGROUND: DEVELOPING PROGRAMS IN THE ARTS AND CULTURE
In each of its program areas the Foundation has tried to develop ways of operating that seem best suited to that area's demands and characteristics. In the arts and culture, one of the largest challenges is the enormous number and variety of institutions. In 1989, there were more than 40, 000 organizations in the "arts, culture, humanities" group listed on the Internal Revenue Service's Master File of Nonprofit Entities. Most of these organizations were of course very small, with only about 6,000 of them having annual expenditures of $100,000 or more. (Note 1)
In an environment of so many competing demands, it is especially important that we make our grantmaking programs focused and purposeful, with an eye to how a particular field can benefit most fully from the Foundation's resources. By restricting criteria for selection, the number of qualified institutions can be limited and the program objectives neatly described. The obvious danger is that this approach can be overdone, and can lead to programs that are too tightly constrained. Narrowly-defined programs rarely respond adequately to the complex goals and needs of either single institutions or whole fields. We also recognize, even more clearly, that the opposite approach--provision of ad hoc grants within generally described thematic areas--rarely has impact on a field beyond the institutions that benefit directly from the infusion of funds.
Thus, an effort has to be made to put in place a structure that is encompassing enough to address the major problems in the field while still sufficiently constrained to permit the effective channeling of scarce resources.
We seek to occupy what Isaiah Berlin, in describing the travails of Russian writers, described as that treacherous "middle ground . . . a notoriously exposed, dangerous, and ungrateful position."
In designing programs, we consider the following:
- Whether the field provides special opportunities for intervention at this time;
- Whether providing funds is an effective way to intervene;
- Whether the Foundation's involvement would benefit a significant number of comparable institutions;
- How best to nurture the long-term development of institutions beyond providing support for individual projects or productions; and
- Whether other funding sources are active in this area, and how they might influence the focus of our grants.
In the course of investigating these questions, we are often led to key individuals and institutions already concerned with the specific issues in which we are interested. Since the Foundation's arts programs generally provide large grants to a small number of institutions (our current program of support for 27 theaters being one exception), we must make difficult decisions when selecting institutions that will be invited to submit proposals. We view institutions not as anonymous or monolithic entities, but as changeable enterprises in which individual leadership and talent are of paramount importance. Therefore, in assessing institutional strength, we look first for creative individuals with the capacity to accept responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable.
The Foundation has a small staff in relation to the size and scope of its grant programs, and we depend heavily on research and outside consultation. We often convene panels, not to review proposals, but to help refine a program's definition, and to help make distinctions among institutions.
It is surprising how rarely we are asked directly about the rationale for our programs: how we select the fields in which we are active, identify specific opportunities within them, and choose the institutions that will receive grants. The scarcity of such inquiries--and of the exchange of ideas to which they often lead--can be traced, we think, to the understandable preoccupation of most arts organizations with challenges to their very survival. Discussing broad program themes or proposing new programs the Foundation might develop may appear to be luxuries that arts organizations cannot afford. Furthermore, those seeking grants may be reluctant to risk offending potential benefactors by criticizing their decisions.
It is true, in any event, that the most fruitful discussions often result from thoughtful objections from prospective grantees to conclusions we have reached or to papers and ideas that we have circulated. All of the Foundation's arts programs ultimately depend upon partnerships with institutions in the field--before, during, and subsequent to the actual awarding of grants. None of these programs is ever beyond the need for refinement.
Arts institutions can help to enhance efforts already underway and to create new initiatives by gathering and sharing reliable data, proposing ideas for future programs, and offering candid reactions when the Foundation seems headed in the wrong direction. Our part of this bargain is to remain curious, to listen, and to use what we learn to improve our work.
II. CURRENT PROGRAMS
The Foundation has supported nonprofit theaters since 1974. During its first decade, the program focused on developing artistic leadership through discretionary grants to artistic directors and grants in support of classical productions.
During the period when nonprofit regional theaters grew and proliferated (roughly between 1965 and 1975),many developed similar features: subscription systems, staff organization, basic repertory patterns, multiple uses of performance space, and the dual leadership structure of artistic director/managing director. While corresponding methods and policies among theaters created a common vocabulary and led to the efficient growth of an entire sector, they also led to somewhat homogeneous institutions, usually focused on gaining visibility in New York.
Over the past decade, however, partly as a natural consequence of decentralization, theaters have evolved indirections increasingly influenced by their specific circumstances and communities. Many of the most interesting nonprofit theaters today have no intention of transferring their work to New York. Some are rural theaters that develop talent within their own communities; others are internationally oriented; some emphasize the avant garde; and still others focus on the work of particular racial or ethnic groups.
This diversity should be encouraged. We have therefore been reluctant to confine our program to a single kind of institution, artistic style, or grant purpose (the classics or new plays, for example). We further recognize the variety among theaters by permitting them to use the Foundation's grant funds flexibly. Most theaters must organize fundraising around specific productions or find ways of conforming to single-issue grant programs, both of which limit their ability to consider long-range plans for the use of contributed income. Grants that are not restricted to single projects offer theaters greater freedom to plan their future directions imaginatively, considering the needs of the whole institution.
In both 1990 and 1991, the Foundation invited groups of theaters to submit proposals that identified obstacles to achieving their artistic goals and described strategies for overcoming them. A wide range of initiatives was proposed. Some theaters submitted plans for preparing a transition to new artistic leadership (the New York Shakespeare Festival and the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco); others were concerned about the artistic and administrative implications of new performance venues (La Jolla Playhouse). A few theaters proposed to reorganize their existing programs--Center Stage in Baltimore submitted plans to redesign its education programs and Actors Theater of Louisville intends to reconceive its resident company, its repertory, and the uses of technology in production design.
Grants totaling $3,295,000 were awarded to 18 theaters in 1990, and grants totaling $1,425,000 were awarded to an additional nine theaters in 1991. At any given time, a small number of theaters which otherwise would be included in the program are without an artistic director or are otherwise in transition. In such instances, the Foundation will typically make an "off-cycle" round of grants in the year following the main grant cycle. We plan to invite theaters to submit proposals again in 1993 and 1994.
The Foundation is currently supporting three distinct programs in dance: ballet training; dance companies (formerly referred to as the "modern dance" program); and dance preservation and documentation. Grants are generally awarded in three-to-four-year cycles, with occasional off-cycle rounds of grants.
Ballet Training.--Professional training in ballet has not been systematically reviewed in this country since 1960, when George Balanchine, with support from the Ford Foundation, investigated the state of American dance training nationwide. Ballet is unique among the performing arts in that virtually all of its creative participants have passed through much the same training program, though at a variety of institutions. Thus, there is an unusually strong link between the quality of training and the quality of artistic leadership, especially in choreography.
Balanchine's death in 1987 underscored growing concerns about the scarcity of talented young ballet choreographers and the quality of new work. Although the connection between training and choreography is self-evident, it is less clear which exerts the stronger influence. Do changes in training occur only when the leadership of ballet companies perceive a need for new kinds of dancers and choreographers? Or must training institutions take the lead in developing a broader educational base so that emerging choreographers will have the tools necessary to develop their talents? These are unsettled questions, but, in principle at least, there is general agreement that ballet training should emphasize better education in music and other art forms in addition to enhancing technical and physical virtuosity.
It is not necessarily true that fundamental changes are needed in the way dancers (and by extension, choreographers) are trained. However, we do believe that an inquiry into modes of training, undertaken by individual institutions over a limited period, is a necessary step in any broad consideration of how American dance is likely to develop over the coming decades. To this end, the Foundation awarded six grants in 1989 to major academies affiliated with companies, and to the Carlisle Project, an advanced training center for ballet choreographers. Four off-cycle grants were made in 1991, and the full slate of grants will be considered for renewal in 1992.
Dance Companies.--The Foundation was an early supporter of modern dance companies, beginning its programs in 1975. In the past decade, increasing costs and, more generally, the changing economics of domestic touring have resulted in severe revenue losses, even for the most established companies. Although systemic measures to improve the situation are being designed by the National Endowment for the Arts and a few private foundations, it is unlikely that companies will ever again be able to amortize he costs of developing new work, including the costs of rehearsals, with revenues from domestic tours. With this in mind, the Foundation is helping a few companies to sustain their creative work (largely by covering the costs of rehearsals) while they reconfigure their approaches to domestic touring over the next several years. In 1989, the Foundation initiated a new program of three-year grants for six single-choreographer companies, totaling $1,000,000 to help them increase the efficiency of their rehearsal and touring schedules.
Since the Foundation's budgetary allocations are not likely to grow in this area, our strategy is to award substantial grants to a few companies rather than a larger number of grants of smaller size. In this way, these companies can develop a realistic, multi-year approach to protecting their most important artistic assets.
Dance documentation and preservation.--Performing-arts libraries frequently fall outside the domain of both academic and arts institutions, and dance collections are no exception. Understandably, some individuals in dance have ambivalent reactions to a funding program aimed at documenting and preserving dance when money is so scarce for creating new work. But good archives enhance the creative capacities of performing artists and their institutions. Without texts or scores, and no records of performance, even the most important dances cannot be studied or reconstructed. The absence of such records poses problems for artists who are making new work, since creativity in dance is, in part, a response to traditional forms and earlier choreography.
Since the Foundation's first grants in this area in 1988, our focus has been on assisting a small group of important institutional collections and on developing systems of inter-library communication. Rather than support individual projects, the Foundation is likely to continue to encourage a more efficient division of labor among large dance collections and closer collaboration between them and the professional dance field--companies, schools, and individual artists.
In 1991, the Foundation awarded a grant toward the costs of forming a new coalition of American dance libraries. Planning for the coalition is being undertaken by the New York Public Library's Dance Collection, the Harvard Theatre and Dance Collection, the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, and the Library of Congress. If the coalition is successful, it will encompass a variety of dance holdings and will design methods for providing better access to them. The coalition is intended to be a model in the arts for improved interaction between national collections and local communities, as well as between libraries and performing arts organizations.
The field of music consists of three main sectors. One includes large, established institutions such as symphony orchestras, opera companies, and conservatories. At the other extreme is the vast number of small, less established organizations, including performing ensembles and organizations that serve specific needs of composers and performers. Music institutions that lie in a middle realm--those that have achieved high artistic standards but often are chronically underdeveloped in other respects--are of increasing interest to the Foundation. Many of these were founded in the 1970s and are not burdened by the need to contract over the coming decade, as are many older institutions that have evolved over a half century or more. The performance venues of these "middle realm" institutions have always been modest, and they have not been distracted by efforts to gain large audiences in a highly competitive musical environment.
In 1989, the Foundation initiated a program of matching grants to fourteen period-instrument orchestras to help them increase both earned and contributed income. A new program was developed in 1991 for small orchestras whose repertoire and institutional "careers" are quite distinct from those of the traditional symphony orchestra. Fifteen such orchestras received three-year grants totaling $2,380,000 in support of new or extended artistic initiatives which would help them clarify their artistic goals and develop long-term fiscal or administrative strategies that promise to sustain artistic growth.
Creative writing, like reading, is usually a solitary occupation, a fact that may account for the literary field's failure to develop a nonprofit institutional infrastructure comparable to that existing in other art forms. Now, however, nonprofit publishing seems well positioned to benefit from the kind of assistance the Foundation can provide.
The pattern of rapid and uneven growth of small presses during the past decade has left many of them unprepared to exploit the opportunities likely to arise over the next five years. The convergence of several factors--a fundamental shift of priorities in commercial publishing that favors fast-selling titles with large print-runs, improved technology for book production and distribution, and the growing success of nonprofit publishers in the international market--presents an excellent opportunity for the Foundation to make a sustained investment in a small group of literary presses.
In 1990, the Foundation initiated a multi-year program to help strengthen nine not-for-profit literary presses--cf. 1990 Annual Report for a listing of individual presses. In the first 16-month phase of the program, the presses are experimenting with new approaches to editorial development, marketing and distribution, and the use of more sophisticated administrative and fiscal systems. In 1992, the Foundation's Trustees will consider a cycle of multi-year grants, intended to prepare each of these presses for the infusions of capital that they may well attract in the future. Through staff development, technical assistance, and perhaps the extension of some form of working-capital line of credit, it may be possible to help these nine presses become prototypes for an increasingly important sector within the publishing industry: fully professional, small-scale companies whose ends are aesthetic and cultural, and whose profits (if any) are reinvested fully in the enterprise.
Museums and Conservation
The Foundation has a long history of substantial support for museums. From 1970 to 1987, some 60 museums were awarded approximately $100 million in support of activities related to their core collections--curatorial work, scholarly publications, and conservation. In this period, the Foundation regularly helped a small group of museums--perhaps twenty to thirty. Grants have tended to be large in this field, since they support several facets of a museum's operations over three to four years. The Foundation encourages museums to link grants to specific endowment goals, with a view toward their achieving long-term financial stability.
In 1988, Neil Rudenstine, then responsible for the Foundation's museum program, studied the needs and priorities of 19 of the country's most important art museums. His findings--partially summarized in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research Conference Report (Note 2)--have served as the basis for the Foundation's museum program over the past three years.
An additional $26 million was appropriated to 40 museums from 1989 through 1991. Grants have helped to enhance and extend the work of curators, both in the context of the needs of their own museums and in relation to their professional development as scholars. The Foundation also helps museums increase the number and range of scholarly publications and comprehensive catalogues related to their permanent collections.
Following Mr. Rudenstine's departure, Jean S. Boggs was appointed the Foundation's Senior Advisor in the museum and art conservation fields. Ms Boggs' distinguished career has included professorships at the University of California at Riverside, Washington University in St. Louis, and Harvard University; and she has served as Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Canada.
As her first undertaking at the Foundation, Ms Boggs has completed work, initiated by Mr. Rudenstine, on a program aimed at helping a group of college and university art museums. It will be presented to the Foundation's Trustees in April 1992.
The movement of most academic museums away from their original educational function can be traced in part to the growing gulf between art history, on the one hand, which has become increasingly theoretical, and connoisseurship, on the other, which focuses on an examination and appreciation of the object. That gulf has been enlarged by the growing complexity of campus museums. The old pattern of "borrowing" museum personnel from academic departments has been replaced by one of employing directors and curators whose professional careers lie outside academia. Given the current economic difficulties of most universities, their museums are evident targets for retrenchment. It seems timely, then, to help academic museums and universities to develop mutually enriching programs.
The Foundation proposes to help these museums become more effectively integrated into their academic communities--particularly in relation to departments such as art history, classics, literature, anthropology, and history. Greater interchange of ideas and resources would be beneficial to all parties.
Over the longer run, we plan to consider the future of museums in the context of broader issues affecting the entire nonprofit sector--their shifting economic circumstances as well as issues of accountability, mission, scale, and governance. Given the Foundation's current and future initiatives on behalf of research libraries (both independent and university-based), museum libraries may also warrant support in the coming years. A number of museums have already brought to our attention the difficult circumstances of their libraries, including increasing acquisition costs, lack of funds for automation, and preservation needs.
Art conservation.--Conservation activities at museums, regional laboratories, and training institutions have been supported by the Foundation since 1972. The Foundation continues to help institutions sustain training and internship activities, and to foster collaborations within the field. In 1990, endowment challenge grants were awarded to nine regional conservation laboratories, the income to be used to support advanced-level internships and other educational programs. In the future, stronger linkages will be encouraged between art history and conservation-related technical analysis, two fields in which important advances have been made over the past decade.
Other Grantmaking Activities
In a few selected areas within the broad field of the arts and culture, the Foundation sometimes makes grant sas special opportunities present themselves. In the last several years, grants have been made to help improve the quality of arts criticism and public commentary. In 1991, grants were awarded to: the California Institute for the Arts, for an arts criticism fellowship program; National Public Radio, to help support a restructuring of its cultural programming and commentary; the New York Public Library's panel debates on arts issues; and the American Repertory Theatre, for a seminar series on theater criticism in association with the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.
The Foundation occasionally supports research projects in the arts, when the topics are closely linked to our primary programs. To date, the Foundation has funded several field-specific service organizations (Theater Communications Group, Dance/USA, Chamber Music America, Opera America, the American Symphony Orchestra League) to undertake individual studies or improve their capacity to collect and analyze data. Mindful of the potential conflict of interest inherent in situations in which membership/advocacy organizations carry out research in their own fields, we intend to complement these efforts by supporting occasional arts research projects by scholars at universities and independent research institutes.
III. BROADER QUESTIONS
Ultimately, major cultural movements are more affected by changes in their social, intellectual, political, and economic environment than by particular grant programs. It is sobering to witness first hand the limits of what funding alone can accomplish. We must remain alert, therefore, to questions raised by such changes in order to make sure that our efforts are neither misguided nor ephemeral. We raise these questions not to suggest that we have answers--they are often controversial and not likely to be settled soon--but to indicate our general predispositions.
(1) How can the vitality of American arts institutions be enhanced by our increasingly diverse society and serve it more effectively?
The audience for the arts has changed greatly in the last 20 years. A decade from now, strong institutions will have found ways of adapting to a world quite different from the one in which they were formed. To remain vigorous in a changing environment, many arts institutions will need to broaden their artistic range, and attract and assimilate new audiences, staffs, and governing boards. These efforts necessarily raise questions about how arts professionals determine and apply artistic standards. In an article in the April 1992 issue of Smithsonian magazine, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Robert McCormick Adams, writes: " We can and must both continue to broaden our audiences, taking a frankly tolerant and experimental approach to traditional standards and canons as we do so, and at the same time continue to respect and embody those traditions in much of what we continue to present to the public." Balancing the demands of artistic integrity with social goals is not simple, and all institutions should not be expected to proceed in the same ways or bear equal responsibility for change.
The Foundation does not consider the issue of pluralism in the arts or the development of minority institutions to be separate from its other programs. In the process of defining all our programs, we assess whether institutions are adapting realistically to the changing society, and we are eager to include minority institutions with demonstrated artistic excellence. All of our programs are thereby enriched.
(2) What effects will the contracting economy have on the arts?
For the next five years or more, most arts institutions will find it necessary to lower their expectations for growth and scale of activity. In many instances, these changes are likely to be painful and priorities will have to be altered. Institutions generally are seeking strategies that reduce expenses without strangling important institutional or artistic ambitions. At issue is not only survival, but how survival strategies will affect the arts in the next generation. We have already begun to see how eliminating arts education in the schools has affected arts institutions and the surrounding culture. How will contractions in other aspects of the arts compromise their future? As mentioned earlier, research is now underway at the Foundation on the nonprofit sector. Results of these studies should help us understand better the current economic condition of cultural organizations and their prospects for the future.
(3) What are the best means of persuading the public that the arts matter and that arts institutions contribute to the public good?
Professional arts advocates often bolster their case with utilitarian claims, citing the effects of the arts on tourism and community development or the effectiveness of arts education as a tool in cognitive development or in psychological therapy. Many of these claims can be substantiated. But it is far from clear that the best long-term interests of arts institutions are served by emphasizing their pragmatic value. Too rarely are claims made for the arts that focus on their intrinsic worth rather than their extrinsic uses.
Much the same situation holds in the sciences. For years, basic scientific research has been justified in large part by citing its contribution to technological development and national defense. In the arts as in science, this strategy is a double-edged sword. It does convince some of the need for support. But it also leads to misrepresentations of what artists and scientists do (and why), and leaves rationales for support seriously weakened when extrinsic justifications collapse--for example, when arts events cease to attract tourism, or the threat of imminent nuclear war dissipates.
Despite the similarities between the arts and the sciences, an important difference between the two is that it is easier to demonstrate that science is socially beneficial. By contrast, the social value of the arts is not readily measured, either quantitatively or by the quality of art that is produced.
The odds are poor that the majority of Americans will soon achieve a high level of familiarity with artists and arts institutions or have much sympathy with them. But efforts to improve those odds should be made--in schools, concert halls, museums, books, the press, and through public discussions. Some institutions and individuals are better at more subtle persuasion through long-term public education efforts. Both approaches--education and direct advocacy--should be encouraged; lasting gains depend on a successful balance of the two.
This Foundation does not engage in political advocacy on behalf of the arts. Instead, our efforts are aimed at identifying and encouraging artistic excellence, and enhancing the long-term stability of arts institutions.