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The Roots of the Doris Duke Performing Artists Initiative

A Letter from Program Director for the Arts

*Please note that since the orginal publication date of the letter below, the Doris Duke Artist Residencies have been renamed the Building Demand for the Arts grants and the program has been restructured. For more about the changes, visit the Building Demand for the Arts' Overview page. 

Greetings, friends.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) is thrilled to announce the creation of a special initiative to support artists in the fields of jazz, theatre and contemporary dance. For DDCF, the Doris Duke Performing Artists Initiative represents a significant, additional commitment in our support for artists, a true investment in the individuals who drive their fields forward. We believe the initiative will be of great value, not only to the recipients but to the larger community of artists and arts supporters. We also hope that it will provoke deeper questions about how funders can, but often don't, invest in artists or respond to artists' needs, and how we can become more thoughtful about artists' immediate and long-term needs.  

This special three-part initiative has been a long time in the making. While you can find the details about how it will work in the fact sheet and FAQ posted on our site, this message explains how and why it came to be—as well as how we hope it will help artists and the creation of their work.

Roots of the Doris Duke Performing Artists Initiative

In 2006, the Board of Trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation approved large funding allocations, above and beyond ongoing program budgets, for both the Environment and Medical Programs, to support the creation of special initiatives focused on combating global warming and improving healthcare systems in Africa. Following his appointment as President and CEO of the foundation, Ed Henry asked the DDCF Board of Trustees to consider a comparable special initiative in the arts—an area that has increasingly needed support as funding in general has retracted.

Since then, we and our board had a number of discussions about the unique challenges that creators in the performing arts field face and the limitations of traditional grant making to address those challenges. Over time, both staff and trustees came to the conclusion that a large allocation of funds should be used in an innovative fashion to support the field and go beyond our more traditional, project-based grants for individual artists. Based on lessons learned from our previous successes, the example of Doris Duke's own support of artists in her lifetime, and an awareness of the special challenges artists face today, we developed the three-part Doris Duke Performing Artists Initiative, which is united by three common goals: Invest. Celebrate. Empower.

The inspiration for this initiative dates back to conversations between DDCF staff and artists Ain and David Gordon in 2006. Ain and David both expressed frustration with existing support systems for artists. While many foundations enter long-term relationships with organizations, few seem to enter comparable relationships with performing artists.  How many times must an artist prove him/herself worthy of support?  With so much support restricted to specific artist projects (including commissions and premieres), where could artists find support for the reflective time, study, travel, exploration and host of other creative needs that are often interstitial and do not translate neatly into specific projects?  Is project support a kind of "hamster wheel" that forces artists to create project after project simply to survive?

Those questions resonated powerfully with us and provoked additional questions about artists' needs and our traditional grant-making model to support the arts:  Does project support force an artist to follow through with the production of a work that may be, after exploration, of less interest or less feasible than originally envisioned? Do regrant programs by their very nature favor projects that can garner consensus from a panel (a sort of comfortable middle) and disadvantage less conventional, more extreme or riskier work that an artist might wish to do?  How can programs encourage more artistic risk while still acknowledging and supporting "failure" or "dead ends" that can be celebrated for their lessons, without necessitating further investment of production resources? With so many grants offered at nominal levels, how can an artist piece together a life of economic dignity? And now, with so many artists approaching their latter years, financially unprepared for retirement, have we been derelict in not supporting longer-term artist life needs and more aggressively helping artists prepare for this phase of life?

As a result of those conversations with Ain and David, we decided to launch a Creative Explorations Fund in conjunction with our support of the Multi-Arts Production (MAP) Fund.  Artists in jazz, dance and theatre (the three fields in which we focus our support) who had received three MAP grants within a 10-year period were, at the end of a third grant, were awarded an additional $10,000 "no strings attached" grant, which involved no application or competition, to support precisely those creative and life needs unaddressed by traditional project grants.  The response from recipient artists was overwhelming—humbling in the gratitude expressed, inspiring in the powerfully creative way artists used those funds, and, frankly, depressing in the knowledge that an unrestricted grant of $10,000 could be both so extraordinary and so life-changing for so many.

With the opportunity before us to expand support for artists through a special allocation, we studied a number of other grant programs, which inspired us in multiple ways. The USA Artists grants demonstrated the power of a sizeable unrestricted amount of money ($50,000) to make a powerful difference in artists' lives. The MacArthur Fellowships demonstrated the power of large, multi-year support—creative, psychological and material power. Creative Capital Foundation, our primary partner in this effort to help artists consider how to best maximize this opportunity, demonstrated the value of individual self-assessments, professional development programs, financial counsel and other support outside the realm of specific projects. And our own Creative Explorations Fund proved that wonderful things could come from programs that did not ask artists to jump through even more hoops.

With deep gratitude for what all these and many other programs do and have done, we tried to embrace the lessons of each while stretching our funds as far as possible. 

Explanation of Each of the Three Separate Parts of the Performing Artists Initiative

Doris Duke Artists (2012-2016)

Candidates for a Doris Duke Artists award will be "harvested" from a pool of our past grantees who have already received national support for at least three different projects during the last 10 years (including support from Doris Duke programs for at least one but not necessarily all three of those projects)—an indication of ongoing artistic vitality and commitment to the field.

These grants are not open for application. An anonymous panel will be charged with reviewing all eligible candidates and determining a class of 20 artists each year, beginning in 2012—100 artists in total who, by their selection, will be identified as exemplary artists, committed to work in the nonprofit sector and deeply worthy of investment. Panelists will be asked to assess the quality of the artist's work, the maturity of the artistic voice, the value of a grant at this moment in their careers, and the dedication of the artist to continue to move forward with creativity and curiosity.

Recipients will receive an unrestricted grant of $225,000 over a three- to five-year period—a schedule to be determined by the artist recipient. An additional $25,000 will be available to the artist specifically to support work around audience connections or development. And a final $25,000 (which must, however, be matched by the artist) will be available for retirement purposes, bringing DDCF's potential investment to $275,000 per artist.

We'd like to make clear that there are things these grants are not: They are not life-time achievement awards. They are also not "genius" grants, nor are they project grants. They are investment grants, designed to offer support with minimal administrative burden to exemplary professional artists who are dedicated to work in the nonprofit sector and with maximum flexibility and empowerment for the grantees.

Doris Duke Impact Awards (2014-2018)

We also asked how these same principles of empowerment, multi-year support, investment and celebration might positively affect artists who have yet to receive the level of recognition in national competitions that the Doris Duke Artists have achieved.  We were inspired as always by the example of Doris Duke, who frequently recognized and invested in talent or artistic genres, such as jazz, certain forms of modern dance and traditional Islamic art forms, long before others in the United States recognized the value of such work.

Doris Duke Impact Awards acknowledge the value in embracing the new and yet-to-be-celebrated creators.  This initiative is not about "emerging" or "young" or even "mid-career" artists.  Rather, these awards acknowledge that there are artists who have yet to achieve the same level of recognition as their colleagues in the Doris Duke Artist category, but who nonetheless might have significant impact on their fields.  These grants also recognize the paucity of programs for particular kinds of artists (e.g. actors, dancers, designers, etc.) who may not be the focus of most national grant programs but whose potential impact on their respective fields is significant. 

These awards will not be open to application.  An anonymous panel will submit nominations from which 20 grantees will be chosen annually beginning in 2014, a timeline that allows the eligible pool of nominees time to be developed and for information to be assembled and site visits conducted.  One hundred artists will be chosen over the course of five years.  While the grants share many of the same priorities as the Doris Duke Artists noted above, these awards will be of shorter duration (two to three years) and smaller in size (a potential $80,000 in total, comprised of $60,000 of unrestricted, $10,000 for audience connection, and $10,000 for matching retirement).

It is possible that a recipient in this category will have received one or two national grants for his or her work, although this is not a requirement.  It is also possible that an artist will, after being chosen for a Doris Duke Imact Award, be recognized with national support for a third project and be chosen by that panel as a Doris Duke Artist at a later date.  Should that happen, the amount received to date through the Doris Duke Impact Award initiative will be deducted from the total to be awarded through the Doris Duke Artist initiative, ensuring that the maximum investment in any one individual is $275,000.

For DDCF, these two award programs represent a new step in our support for artists, moving us beyond project support to deeper, long-term investment.  We hope that the visibility accorded these artists through the selection will be a celebration of their work, that the flexibility of both the payout structure and the use of funds will empower artists and promote a longer sense of planning and reflection, and that the awards will be recognized as a significant form of investment.

Doris Duke Artist Residencies (2013-2017).
Please note that the Doris Duke Artist Residencies are now known as Building Demand for the Arts grants.

As we considered the needs of artists for their own lives, we remained acutely aware that the artists with whom we work—those in jazz, theatre and dance—need healthy, sustained relationships with organizations to nurture, present and produce their work.  Recent conversations around the country among those in the arts—including but not limited to ones sponsored by Doris Duke—indicated a fraying of those relationships, a sense of palpable frustration on both sides of the proverbial table.  Indeed, many  of those conversations seemed locked in an adversarial dynamic, even while both sides acknowledged the huge challenges involved in engaging audiences and communities around new and unknown work, especially work that might challenge traditional forms.  

Our own belief is that this issue of how to reach audiences and communities is the critical challenge for the performing arts today, and the most important factor that underlies the need for all support for artists, charitable giving, government giving, etc.  Could artists and organizations move beyond traditional points of contention to examine how artists and audiences might work together in new ways to nurture and expand the audience for the new work they felt called to do?

Those of us who came from the theatre field, as I did long ago, were powerfully aware of the enormous impact of the National Theatre Artist Residency Program, supported for a decade by the Pew Charitable Trusts. This program—the brainchild of Marian Godfrey—was designed in part to offer artists a better standard of living and the opportunity to create new work in new environments.  But quickly, these grants revealed that artists were among the most inventive, the most rigorous and the most inspiring agents of organizational change, especially in dealing with audiences. Anne Bogart and her work in opening the creative process in Louisville; Charles Randolph Wright and Robert O'Hara and their success in forging new relationships and new work with the African American community in San Francisco; and playwright James Still, who has for 14 years worked to be a "dramaturg of the institution," helping the Indiana Repertory Theatre critique and modify its own behavior, even while fostering new levels of trust and understanding between artists and organizations, were all powerful examples of what could be accomplished.

Pew ended their landmark program in 2001 as they shifted the focus of their arts giving solely to the Philadelphia area. The program, for all of its many merits, was not available to the jazz, presenting or dance fields, and it ended before the rise of social media, new technologies and the staggering changes in audience behavior and demographics that confront the arts community today. But the lessons Pew learned and the successes they had continued to resonate with us today. Pew's program not only continues to benefit the grantee organizations where many of those relationships and programs began, but has rippled out to the wider fields, where many have replicated their efforts.

It was Pew's program that we used to form the basis of the Doris Duke Artist Residency program, which will begin with a first round of grantees chosen early in 2013.  Eligibility will be extended to professional nonprofit organizations in dance, jazz and presenting as well as to theaters.  All of these organizations can create residencies for artists, not only from within their fields but for artists from outside their disciplines.  While a theater can clearly request support for a playwright or actor, a dance company can request a dancer or choreographer, and a jazz organization can request a musician, a theatre could instead request a dancer, a dance company could request a playwright, or a jazz organization could request a videographer. This flexibility allows for the possibility of important, cross-disciplinary learning. 

While we are cheered and inspired by the emergence of new residency programs to support artists in their creative explorations, including significant playwright residency programs at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and the Public Theatre in New York, ours is not a residency program designed to support creative artistic time as its primary intent.  Ours is instead about supporting a partnership between an artist who wishes to explore and reimagine institutional life and behavior, and an organization willing to open itself to that exploration.  It is also about reimagining how an organization and an artist connect to their community and supporting a pilot effort to behave in new ways.  And, they are about the creative engagement of audiences in ways which give the organization and artist an equal stake.

As such, we recognize that these residencies will not be of interest to everyone.  Those looking for a traditional artist in residency program will inevitably be disappointed that this initiative does not support those efforts, even while we support them through other initiatives in our grant portfolio.  But, we hope that this special residency initiative will lead to the creation of new ways of reaching audiences that will not only find life at grantee organizations but that will resonate with non-grantees as well.  Furthermore, we hope it will nourish the artistic imagination in new ways and lead to long sustained relationships between artists and organizations—just as the two-year grant from Pew nourished the now 14-year relationship between James Still and IRT as mentioned earlier.

This program will be open to applications, filed jointly by artists and organizations which have at least some history of working together.  Grants will be $75,000 or $150,000 to support four months of residency over two to three years, with 50 percent of funds going directly to the artist, and 50 percent to the organization to support both residency costs and the launch of pilot efforts that may spring from the residency. Guidelines will be published in winter/early spring 2012, with applications accepted later that fall and the first round of grantees announced in early 2013. Ten grants will be announced annually, and a minimum of 50 residencies supported.  DDCF will administer these grants directly, and we encourage you to check our website for more information in February 2012. (Doris Duke Artist Residency guidelines are now available on the Foundation's web site.)

In Gratitude

It bears repeating that these programs are supported by a special allocation of $50 million, above and beyond our ongoing Arts Program budget, which will continue to support Creation and Distribution of New Work, Organizational Transformation, and efforts to Build the National Sector (each of which is described more fully elsewhere in this website).

While the Arts Program had the great honor of thinking about artist needs and structuring this special initiative, the real credit for these programs must go to DDCF President Ed Henry – and to the DDCF Board.  It was Ed Henry who opened the path with the board for this initiative to be considered, asked probing questions which led to continual refinement and changes of thought, and whose fingerprints are on every part of these programs.  And, it was the DDCF Board who inspired us at every turn by the rigor of their thinking, the specificity of their concerns and the depth of their passion.  Especially in a time when one hears so much about increasing indifference to the arts, the DDCF Board is to be commended: They are passionate advocates for the work that artists create and the value they offer our society. It is our honor and joy to work with them in trying to improve the lives of artists and the health of arts organizations.

I am happy to answer any questions about our initiatives and can be reached most easily at

Yours truly,

Ben Cameron

Program Director for the Arts
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation