by Peggy Anderson
Programming, management, size: all factors in winning one kind of Pew grant. Not everyone finds that level.
One September afternoon in 1995, a meeting took place in the Delaware Room at The Pew Charitable Trusts that marked a watershed in the Trusts' funding of arts and culture in the Philadelphia region.
Guests included about 100 arts professionals, most representing organizations that were or had been recipients of operating grants from the Trusts, the region's largest single supporter of arts and culture.
Some of these organizations had enjoyed close relationships with the Trusts dating back three or four decades.
Well aware that their impending message was revolutionary, Marian A. Godfrey, director of the Trusts' Culture program, and Doug Bauer, then a program officer in Culture, had prepared carefully for this meeting.
They were at pains to lay out the rationale for radical change.
They told their guests about a recent evaluation of the Trusts' whole culture effort. The evaluation had been unprecedented in both scope and approach. Some of its findings were highly unsettling to Trusts' staff.
The evaluators found serious weaknesses in the structure of the Trusts' grantmaking to the local arts and culture community. In particular, the grantmaking failed to either protect the organizations from financial vulnerabilities or help them address management issues. In an era of flat or decreasing government and corporate support for the arts, the
evaluators concluded that the Trusts' generosity might actually be discouraging local organizations from protecting their own futures by aggressively seeking funds from other sources.
In fact, the evaluators thought the Trusts might be unintentionally inhibiting the development of other resources for the arts, creating within the cultural community an undue dependence on Trusts support.
While recent Trusts efforts to improve grantee operations had helped significantly, the evaluators reported, the overall strategy had been directed more toward managing weakness than rewarding strength.
In response to the issues raised by the evaluators, Godfrey and Bauer continued, the Trusts had decided to take an essentially holistic approach to cultural funding: to strengthen the cultural community as a whole by supporting excellence within it and to focus the Trusts' resources for maximum leverage.
The centerpiece of this new strategy would be the Philadelphia Cultural Leadership Program (PCLP). Each year, Godfrey and Bauer told their listeners, PCLP would offer substantial, three-year, unrestricted grants for operating support to arts and culture organizations in the five-county Philadelphia area that demonstrated high levels of programmatic, administrative, and fiscal performance. In making grants to well-run organizations, the Trusts would be attempting to stimulate leadership and reinforce best practices in the entire arts community.
In addition to the grants, PCLP would offer ongoing learning
opportunities-workshops, training, retreats, and small, one-time grants of risk capital for new ventures-intended to strengthen individual organizations and serve the cultural community as a whole.
Although the Trusts had traditionally given operating support only to a small roster of generally large organizations, PCLP would be open competitively to arts and culture groups with annual budgets over US $ 150,000. The pool would be bigger, the requirements far more stringent, the assessments more objective, the whole process more professional.
Because the goal was to encourage leadership by rewarding excellence in management as well as programming, only organizations operating in the black would be eligible to apply.
In certain respects, the arts professionals listening to Godfrey and Bauer that day were hearing wonderful news. Because they may be used for any purpose, operating grants are prized among nonprofits in any field. Such funds for arts and culture have been diminishing nationally since 1983 and now constitute only about 17 percent of all support in this field.
The Trusts were going to continue that support regionally and make it available over periods that would enhance organizational capacity and peace of mind.
The Trusts had given multi-year arts support in the past only occasionally.
On two counts, however, the announcement given by Godfrey and Bauer that day rocked many of their listeners: the open competition, which had serious implications for everyone present, and the no-deficit stipulation.
With this latter point, Gerry Givnish took issue aloud. Givnish is artistic director of the Painted Bride Art Center, an organization he co-founded in 1969 to "create and present work that affirms the intrinsic value of all cultures, the healing power of the arts and their ability to effect social change." Givnish was respected by Godfrey and Bauer as one of the few people who might stand in a meeting in the offices of a longtime major funder of his organization and question that funder's intentions.
Though thinking PCLP a good idea that day, Givnish had, he says now, "problems with some of their criteria". At that time, the future of the National Endowment for the Arts was in doubt. Givnish admired the NEA's emphasis on the accessibility of the arts, the diversity and match of audience and program.
To him it seemed that PCLP stressed organizational
self-sufficiency. Givnish rose among his colleagues to express hisreservations. "This approach might reduce our penchant for risk-taking," he said. "If you can't have a deficit of any kind or other, you'd be loath to try something risky."
"You should do both," Godfrey replied, arguing that creativity can be better sustained when it is unencumbered by debts and poor cash flow.
Believing this himself, Givnish thought her answer a good one.
As discussion on this point continued, Sara Garonzik, producing artistic director of the Philadelphia Theatre Company, sat thinking it "a little scary" that PCLP applicants "couldn't have a penny of debt." But she felt far more scared at the thought of not being in the program.
For nearly two decades, the Philadelphia Theatre Company had been introducing the work of new American playwrights to regional audiences-one of the few companies in the nation with this mission. With the Trusts' help, the company successfully reorganized after hard times in 1989. In the 1994-95 season,
it staged the world premiere of the hugely successful Master Class, with Zoe Caldwell, which went on to Broadway. After years in rental space, the company was looking for a theater of its own.
"I was excited," Garonzik recalls. "PCLP was a leadership program. Getting in would be a distinction, a signal to the community of what we were all about. We're competitive and ambitious by nature. We want the brass ring. I felt challenged, definitely."
Which is exactly the kind of response the Philadelphia Cultural
Leadership Program is meant to engender.
PCLP was inaugurated in 1996. After two special rounds of transition grants, the program was fully implemented in June 1997.
The application process is rigorous. Organizations are assessed against an Index of Organizational Health tailored specifically for this enterprise and must submit mission statements, recent financial audits, strategic plans, proof of plan use, and complete and accurate operational data, among other documentation.
Groups funded receive grants reflecting either a percentage of their budgets or past levels of Trusts support. To date, 50 organizations have received PCLP grants ranging from US $ 24,000 (a transition grant to the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts) to US $ 2.4 million (Philadelphia Museum of Art)-a total of US $ 20 million since 1996.
Notwithstanding this exceptional level of support, the program has not settled smoothly into the local cultural community. Organizations that had regularly received Trusts funding but failed to meet PCLP standards have been stung by both the rejection and the loss of income.
They include two of the city's largest performing arts institutions: The Philadelphia Orchestra, funded in '98 but not in the first transitional round in '96, and the Pennsylvania Ballet, funded in '96 but not in '98.