It’s hard to overstate the challenges facing performing arts organizations. Audience levels haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, production costs are through the roof and fundraisers are grappling with a shrinking donor pool. Funders are doing all they can to keep organizations afloat in this tenuous environment.
But grantmakers also remain committed to following through on a host of post-2020 equity-oriented goals, such as strengthening ties with historically undercapitalized organizations led by and/or serving communities of color and democratizing the grantmaking process. This can be complicated work, so whenever an influential performing arts grantmaker assesses its efforts to become more equitable, it’s worth taking a closer look.
The funder in question here is technically a regrantor — the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), which has disbursed over $11 million to theater ensembles since 2010 through its National Theater Project, thanks to support from the Andrew W. Mellon and Doris Duke foundations.
In mid-August, NEFA published its “National Theater Project Evaluation Report,” which examines the National Theater Project’s impact over the last 10 years. Conducted by McNeil Creative Enterprises, the findings, which came less than two months after the project received renewed three-year commitments from Mellon ($4.4 million) and Doris Duke ($1.7 million), include some compelling takeaways for funders looking to embed equity across their grantmaking.
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