On the Money: New Music Funding in the United States

On the Money: New Music Funding in the United States

Corporate philanthropy for new music has been spotty, except for sponsorship of major jazz festivals by companies like JVC and Newport. These commercial deals, coming out of marketing budgets, do put a great deal of new and old jazz before the public, but the primary consideration for the sponsor is reaching mass markets.

Corporations also sponsor orchestra concerts and opera performances, of course, sometimes providing venues for new music. More modest contributions are also made at the request of executives. And then there are employer matching contributions, through which most employees of many companies can direct small corporate contributions to charities of their choice.

Then there are contributions from corporate foundations, which are like ordinary foundations except that they have an ongoing stream of income from their corporate parents. These foundations, though, have increasingly accepted a mandate to support marketing, at least where the arts are concerned, making them harder to distinguish from marketing departments.

Modern dance evidently can supply the right kind of people in sufficient numbers for Phillip Morris Companies to justify its extraordinary, long-term support to dance companies and choreographers, including both commissions and production money. But most of what we call new music does not attract a mass audience, and there is generally little interest in its marketing potential.

A few exceptions are illuminating.

In 1981, Leonard Fleischer, then director of arts giving at Exxon Corporation, telephoned John Duffy, then president of Meet The Composer, to ask what could be done about the lack of contemporary music on orchestra programs. The same week, Howard Klein of the Rockefeller Foundation had called with the same question. Duffy met with the two, along with Ezra Laderman, the composer who then directed music at the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Orchestra Residencies Program was born.

Midway through the ten-year program, however, Exxon abruptly decided to terminate all national arts funding. The New York office moved to Dallas and the Orchestra Residencies were in trouble. Fortunately, a coalition of a half-dozen foundations stepped in to cover Exxon’s multi-million-dollar pledge.

In another case at Meet The Composer, the AT&T Foundation joined with the Rockefeller Foundation to support the Jazz Program, providing opportunities for jazz composers outside their usual ensembles. The AT&T Foundation could not continue supporting the program when peer review panels consistently selected relatively unknown musicians. Without the big names drawing big crowds to fancy places, the Foundation could not justify its support.

But the AT&T Foundation staff keep trying. They supported the first Chicago residency of Meet The Composer’s New Residencies during a time when the parent company was beginning to offer local telephone service there. And their recent grants list shows that they continue to identify glossy arts projects (seldom new music) that do attract an audience.

Across the border in Canada, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has developed the largest orchestra new music festival in North America. The primary sponsor is none other than DuMaurier, the Canadian equivalent of Phillip Morris. If the mass market can come to a high plains town in February for new music, why not in this country too?

It’s a potentially significant question. Corporate philanthropy has been growing fast. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that company giving budgets (including corporate foundations) have risen in double-digit percentages each of the last four years, to about $8 billion in 1999. That’s not really to say they are getting more generous–giving has remained flat at 1% of pre-tax profits. But the fact remains: there is a lot of money for contributions officers to move, and they will be looking for the next big thing.

From On the Money: New Music Funding in the United States
by Theodore Wiprud
© 2000 NewMusicBox

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