What's Behind Knight's Massive Charlotte Give?

Tax season is upon us and many of us here at IP are eagerly awaiting a robust refund. Robust, of course, is a relative term. A $245 refund check is enough to make most of us audibly hoot from behind our cubical walls (actually, we don't have cubes). But would Michael Bloomberg high-five his accountant upon receiving a refund of equal value? Of course not. These things are relative.

The same logic applies to the world of arts funding. For further context, we turn today to news out of Charlotte, NC, where the Knight Foundation has doled out $16 million to Charlotte-area arts groups in recent decades.  

Analysis of the giving underscores Knight's preoccupation with scale. Or to envision it another way, let's steal the linked article's use of its nifty bouquet analogy. "Sometimes the foundation hands out massive bouquets," the article notes. For example, Charlotte Ballet netted a $1.1 million Knight grant last year. The Actor's Theatre of Charlotte and Opera Carolina will receive the biggest bouquets this year. (We can't confirm if Dennis Scholl, Knight’s vice president for the arts, turned his back to the jittery applicant organizations and tossed the bouquets in the air.)

But as anyone who's received a mere handful of flowers can attest, small bouquets aren't so bad. Such is the case with the Oneaka Dance Company. It received a comparatively paltry $5,000 to revamp its Dances of the Soul Program. But that money will go a long way for Oneaka, which proportionately speaking, has a far smaller operating budget than the Theatre of Charlotte and Opera Carolina.

The gift will allow Oneaka to expand its innovative dance workshops targeted towards community members with little or no access to the arts. For example, the group held a workshop series at a Salvation Army Center of Hope last fall.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Actor's Theatre of Charlotte netted $80,000 to bring new works to the stage through the NuVoices for a NuGeneration play festival for two years. Other winners include IP-favorites the 100 Words Film Festival, which scored $20,400 to launch a festival that "challenges professional directors and student filmmakers to focus on the essence of storytelling," and Blumenthal Performing Arts, which received $20,000 to bring the arts to a wider audience by providing seats for the performance of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis.

Ultimately, arts nonprofits don't need us to tell them that $5,000 can go a long way. But the news out of Charlotte nonetheless reminds us that large organizations like Knight consciously attempt to scale their giving with an eye toward optimizing impact. As a result, smaller organizations shouldn't feel intimidated or deterred from vying for funding from foundations with a proclivity for tossing enormous, allergy-inducing bouquets or smaller ones in equal measure.