Behind the Doris Duke Foundation's Recent "Fund for National Projects" Give

If there's one we thing we can all agree on, it's that the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is an ambitious bunch.

You'll never find its PR department roll out a release saying, "This recent round of funding will support gradual, incremental, and ho-hum developments in the field of jazz." That's not how they roll.

The foundation embraces big words and bigger concepts, like its Audience (R)Evolution grant program, with a goal is to, well, revolutionize how audiences interact with theater companies. And the same audience-boosting logic applies to its multi-million dollar grants to dance organizations like Dance/USA.

The foundation is in the paradigm-shifting business. Or wants to be, anyway. 

So it should come as no surprise that DDCF just announced another round of funding—$1.6 million, to be exact—to 14 organizations spanning the fields of jazz, contemporary dance, theater, and presenting fields. The funding comes under the umbrella of the foundation's Fund for National Projects.

A majority of the funding, approximately $1.3 million, is going to nine organizations for newly conceived projects. The foundation is awarding the remaining funds to five national organizations to support Phase II implementation. That's another thing about Doris Duke: It likes to see things through.

Each grant contains funds for project costs, plus, perhaps even more importantly, general operating support, which will certainly warm the hearts of certain folks here at IP.

A cursory glance at the nine winning, newly conceived projects reveals a window into Duke's thinking. Specifically, we couldn't help but notice that the foundation loves the idea of sharing. That's the guiding principle behind its aforementioned Audience (R)evolution, where the foundation acts as a kind of "best practices" consultant, disseminating effective strategies for boosting audience engagement to theater companies nationwide.

And the foundation's "sharing is caring" philosophy is reflected in its recent funding decisions.

The American Theatre Wing in New York, for example, netted funding to create an interactive digital media hub to help "share educational media content that engages audiences through various digital platforms." AXIS Dance Company in Oakland, meanwhile, will convene a national meeting to focus on—wait for it—"best practices... for the field of physically integrated dance."

Then there's the "Culture Across Communities" initiative, developed by Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. This effort will "examine the cultural sector's health, breadth, and diversity across 11 regions" and "disseminate those findings nationally to peer organizations, civic leaders, and funders."

Of course, the foundation supports other types of initiatives, like DANCECleveland's feasibility study for a National Center for Choreography in Northeast Ohio and the development of the first National Institute for Directing and Ensemble Creation, courtesy of the Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis.

But we were struck by Duke's laser-like focus on best practices sharing and dissemination.

So all arts nonprofits with a great idea that could benefit other organizations should make a note of it.