Wallace Foundation: Grants for College Performing Arts


OVERVIEW: The Wallace Foundation was started more than 50 years ago by the founders of Reader’s Digest as a number of separate organizations that eventually merged into a single foundation. It seeks to nurture the arts in large part by expanding their audiences and reaching new communities. In addition to funding for postsecondary theaters and performing arts administrators, the foundation also places a strong emphasis on research.

IP TAKE: Where Wallace gives, it often gives big, and audience outreach is often key to this funder's higher ed performing arts agenda. Most grant applications are by invitation, but the foundation does accept email inquiries.

PROFILE: More than half a century ago, the Wallace Foundation was established as four separate organizations by DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, who amassed their fortune as the founders of The Reader's Digest Association. Over time, the foundations merged into a single entity and expanded their scope from a local focus to supporting initiatives nationwide.

The Wallace Foundation recently reported assets of nearly $1.5 billion, and carries on with a mission “that seeks to improve learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of the arts for everyone.” Its five main funding areas are in school leadership, after-school programs, arts education, summer and expanded learning time, and “building audiences for the arts.”

Wallace's funding strategy has three specific types of grantees in mind, which it describes as organizations that:

  • work with the foundation to "develop and test potential solutions to important public problems";
  • "conduct research to contribute to field knowledge and evaluate what is and is not working"; and  
  • engage collaboratively with the foundation "in communications by getting issues and solutions before those who can help effect change."

    Making the arts widely available is one key areas in which higher ed comes into play. A key concern, as Wallace puts it, is that arts institutions are struggling to stay afloat "[a]s the population ages, demographics shift, funding for arts education wanes and other activities pull audiences away from the arts." Hoping to reverse this decline, Wallace "seeks to help arts organizations adapt to these trends so more people can experience the benefits of the arts."

    While postsecondary organizations make up but one slice of the foundation’s overall giving, those aligned with its mission have benefited from windfalls well into the six figures in support of their work. Importantly, as reported here in IP, the foundation recently announced a “$52-Million Audience-Building Initiative” in which performing arts organizations would be studied in order to evaluate and share effective “audience work.” Of the 26 awardees, four higher ed performing arts venues are:

    • ASU Gammage, “a performing arts organization...located on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus”;
    • Cal Performances, a “multidisciplinary performing arts presenter” based at U.C. Berkeley;
    • The La Jolla Playhouse, based on the campus of U.C. San Diego; and
    • The University Musical Society, which is affiliated with the University of Michigan and billed as “one of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country.”

      In addition, to fund the study Wallace awarded $3.5 million to the University of Texas at Austin, with the award being “administered by the LBJ School of Public Affairs through its RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service.”

      Wallace is also a supporter of individuals working at the intersection of higher ed and performing arts through its support of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters' Leadership Fellows Program, which works in conjunction with USC’s Arts Leadership Program. As per the APAP, the 20-month program starts “with a five-day summer intensive at USC, followed by ongoing peer-based mentoring, annual gatherings at the APAP/NYC conference in New York City and continuous engagement in an online resource and discussion platform.” Fellows in this program, which launched in 2015, have included independent consultants, leaders at theaters, and high-level staff at colleges and universities including Luther College (Decorah, IA), Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts, and the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.

      One resource for potential grantseekers is Wallace’s grants database, which catalogs its giving over the last two decades. Unfortunately, while the database does provide basic information like year, recipient, and funding amount, project descriptions are not included.

      It is important to note that this funder values projects rooted in sound research, and Wallace often cites the work of the RAND Corporation as part of the research that informs its grantmaking activities. Organizations seeking Wallace Foundation support should therefore familiarize themselves not only with the foundation's sizeable staff, but also with RAND research to ensure their projects and activities are consistent with the funder's priorities.

      The Wallace Foundation identifies most prospective grant recipients through a pre-selected invitation process. However, organizations can submit inquiries "briefly describing your project, your organization, the estimated total cost of the project and the portion requiring funding" to grantrequest@wallacefoundation.org.


      • Search for staff contact info and bios in PeopleFinder (paid subscribers only.)