What Explains the Biller Family Foundation's Shift In Its Theater Funding Priorities?

In a recent post, we looked at the emerging popularity of "artist as activist" grant opportunities.

We admit, our analysis is mostly anecdotal, but we've seen a subtle but nonetheless significant uptick in the last six to 12 months around new grants that financially reward artists or organizations that drive social change. 

As we noted, the idea of the "artist as activist" can be relative. A dance performance or a commissioned theatrical work may not shout their respective political goals from the rooftops; nonetheless, one can argue that a good deal of such work has at least some undercurrent of political or social awareness.

And while a specific piece of work may not be overtly political, a shift in funding priorities at foundations is afoot. Take the Seattle-based Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. According to the foundation, its theater enrichment work "fosters the art form by expanding access to inspiring productions and immersive educational experiences." What's more, it endeavors to "support excellent artistic content that promotes important conversations around timely social issues."

We'd like to draw your attention to that last part, which dovetails nicely with news involving the foundation's shift in funding focus.

Previously, the foundation focused primarily on "organizational excellence in small and mid-sized theaters," allotting over $275,000 in funding to 17 Los Angeles-based theater companies in the last four years through its BEST Awards. But that was then. "Recognizing that theatre has the power to address important and somewhat provocative issues," Biller is now shifting to a model of production-specific support. This shift is attributable to the foundation's desire to "support shows that take on relevant social issues," with preference given to musical theater productions. 

Makes sense, doesn't it? If you're a foundation looking to foment change and catalyze conversation around pressing social issues, directly funding productions that achieve these aims is a far more effective use of your money than supporting organizational excellence (not that there's anything wrong with organizational excellence).

We won't be shocked if more foundations have a similar epiphany.

We figure it's worth noting that grants will range in size from $10,000 to $35,000.  Funds can cover artistic, production, and overhead expenses for one production that will occur between November 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Awards are limited to nonprofit organizations based in Los Angeles County.