What Does the Doris Duke Charitable Trust See in Jacob's Pillow?

When we first came across news that the 2016 Jacob's Pillow Dance Award, a prestigious honor that carries a $25,000 cash prize, will be presented to contemporary choreographer, dancer, and artistic director Camille A. Brown, we paused for a second to consider the organization's unique name.

Jacob's Pillow. For some reason, it evokes austere, Biblically-oriented Puritans, as if the name was lifted from a 19th century Washington Irving story. Jacob's Pillow. And wouldn't you know, we weren't that far off the mark.

The Western Massachusetts-based dance organization, which provides programming, education, internships, and America's longest-running international dance festival, traces its roots all the way back to 1790, when a rugged mountaintop farm was dubbed "Jacob's Pillow" by its devout New England settlers due to its proximity to a nearby road called "Jacob's Ladder." (For a crash course in these specific Old Testament allusions, please refer to Genesis 28:10-17.)

Fast forward to the 21st century. The Dance Heritage Coalition included Jacob's Pillow on its list of America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures in 2000. That same year, the site was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Three years later, the federal government named Jacob's Pillow a National Historic Landmark for its importance in America's culture and history, thus distinguishing the Pillow as the country's first and only Landmark dance institution.

The Jacob's Pillow Dance Award was created in 2007 through an annual anonymous gift of $50,000, of which $25,000 is given to an artist of exceptional vision. In honor of the prize's 10th anniversary, this year's award also bestows upon Ms. Brown a committed engagement for the 2017 Festival and a Creative Development Residency. The donor's annual gift also provides for $25,000 of annual support for Jacob’s Pillow commissions, presentations, and the residency program.

As for its not-so-anonymous donors, Jacob's Pillow receives support from grantmakers like the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Harkness Foundation, and the Mertz Gilmore Foundation.

In fact, Jabob's Pillow's relationship with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation goes back decades. The Doris Duke Studio Theatre, one of the space's three theaters, was built in 1990. Almost 20 years later, in 2008, the Pillow was invited by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, with support from Duke, to participate in the five-year Leading for the Future: Innovative Support for Artistic Excellence Initiative. And just last year, we published a post asking "Do The Winners of Doris Duke's Leadership Grants Point to the Future of Dance?"

Grantees distinguished themselves by "the quality of their choreography, the impact of their touring on communities across the country, and the successful expansion of their own initiatives and educational programming." One of the recipients was Jacob's Pillow, which scored a $500,000 grant.

The takeaway here? Don't be entirely surprised to stumble across a forward-looking foundation awarding a grant to an organization whose lineage dates back to the administration of George Washington.