A Closer Look at the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations' Extensive Support of Public Television

Editor's note: The following is to be read aloud in a slow, southern drawl with a mournful violin playing in the background. "Dearest IP Reader—It has been a long time since I had an opportunity of writing to you, and I gladly avail myself of the present opportunity. We are heading north from Richmond to join up with the boys in Lee's regiment. In the meantime, I come bearing news of a new round of grants to one Mr. Ken Burns..."
OK, thanks for bearing with us on that one. You may not realize it, but there's an unwritten rule in the media that any reference to Ken Burns must be presented as a cinematic Civil War-era love letter.
For the sake of brevity, we'll transition back toward a more modern approach to communication. The Jacksonville-based the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation gave a $500,000 grant to public television station WETA in Arlington, Virginia to support the production of Ken Burns' six films in the "Telling American's Stories" series. It's the fourth of ten planned grants the foundations will be making for the series, which began production in 2011 and is slated to wrap up in 2020.


Remember the recent buzz around the documentary "The Roosevelts," which examined the lives of Teddy, FDR, and Eleanor? That was part of this project.

Upcoming projects include films on:

  • Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier (mid-2015).
  • The Vietman War, which will comprise of 10 episodes, approximately 18 1/2 hours in length (2017).
  • Country music, which will include interviews with musicians, songwriters, and producers (2018).
  • Ernest Hemingway, which is in the earliest stages of production (2019).

While we've typically looked at Davis' funding priorities through the lens of private higher education, it remains active in the area of public television.

In fact, the grant represents the foundation's 10th, and presumably final, gift to the public television field in 2014, totaling approximately $24 million. The next largest grant public television grant across the year was $250,000.

The the foundation's site notes that since 1974, the trustees’ focus has been on national broadcasts for “evergreen” programs with lasting educational value. Their partnership with Mr. Burns dates back to 1987, but that certainly prevents producers from exploring the foundation as a funding source. Just remember:

  • Grants support "capstone" funding to complete production for major series assured of national airing by PBS. These should include innovative uses of technology to enhance community outreach and contribute to teaching in grades K-12 and beyond.
  • Preference is given equally to children's series and programs of enduring value on subjects such as history and science.
  • Programs whose primary purpose is advocacy, topical news coverage or entertainment may not be competitive.

Click here for more information on applying for a public television grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.