Hearst Foundations: Grants for Visual Arts

OVERVIEW: The Hearst Foundations have an overarching mission to “build healthy, productive and inspiring lives.” They seek to achieve this by supporting well-established nonprofit organizations that operate in the realms of culture, education, health, and social service.

IP TAKE: Grants from the Hearst Foundations are for already high-achieving organizations; you have much more chances of getting a grant if you budget is over $10 million. Their focus on culture includes a substantial commitment to visual arts, and museums in particular. Like all of their arts funding, this support is shaded towards outreach into underserved communities.

PROFILE: The goal of the Hearst Foundations, inspired by its founder William Randolph Hearst, is to “ensure that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to build healthy, productive and inspiring lives.” To this end, the foundations give 25 percent of their coffers to cultural institutions throughout the United States.

First, to clear up why they are the Hearst Foundations, plural: Technically speaking, William Randolph Hearst established an east coast foundation in 1945 and a west coast foundation in 1948. Their missions were (and remain) the same, as are the granting stipulations. Whether your organization resides east or west of the Mississippi River is the only difference.

Regardless of what side of the Mississippi you fall on, these foundations are staunchly committed to supporting culture, including the arts, specifically as it relates to developing artists and exposing underserved communities to both artistic output and artistic training. Support of visual arts is of paramount importance to the foundations.

As the foundations themselves put it, they prioritize “cultural institutions” that “enable engagement by young people and create a lasting impression” and “fund select programs nurturing and developing artistic talent.” If this sounds like the Hearst Foundations like to give their cash to organizations that create arts education programming, you’re right. But as you’ll see, there are other opportunities here as well, so long as you’re mindful of the foundations’ larger framework.

And speaking of large frameworks: It’s all a moot point if your visual arts organization’s annual operating budget is less than $1 million, the bottom cut-off for grant eligibility. Your position is most advantageous if you’re annual operating budget is over $10 million; the foundations report that in recent years, 60 percent of the culture organizations it has funded are operating in that rarefied range.

One more potential red flag before you continue: Notably, given Hearst’s business dealings, the foundations do not fund “organizations involved with publishing, radio, film or television.” Involved is a key word here; though you’re reading this because you’re a visual arts organization, be sure you’re unattached to any work in these other mediums.

As you might expect given the operating budgets of eligible organizations, the Hearst Foundations also look large in terms of scope. They want to fund organizations that serve “large demographic and/or geographic constituencies”—which further reinforces that in the culture and visual arts realm, they are looking for organizations that engage with underserved populations.

The Hearst Foundations are also looking for organizations that differentiate themselves from their peers—not just in an approach to programming, but also in terms of results. The foundations also place importance on results by expecting “evidence of sustainability” for your program beyond their own support of it.

Enough of the theoretical. Here is a snapshot of visual arts organizations that recently received support from the Hearst Foundations:

  • $1,500,000 to Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, FL "toward the creation of a new, state-of-the-art Education Center, as part of a comprehensive campaign to strategically expand and reconfigure" the museum;
  • $1,000,000 to the Whitney Museum in New York, NY "toward the Campaign for the Whitney of the Future, and to name The Hearst Artspace;"
  • $500,000 to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC to support its construction;
  • $250,000 to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, CA in support of Where Art Can Take You: The Campaign to Transform SFMOMA;
  • $250,000 to the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, NY for its "new, interactive Process: Lab space for experiential design;"
  • $200,000 to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, NM to establish the William Randolph Hearst Series of Art Exhibitions;
  • $100,000 to Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, PA "to support its RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition and related arts education and public programming, including the creation of a Community Voices Gallery;"
  • $100,000 to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC for exhibitions and programs that serve Latino residents;
  • $100,000 to the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City, MO "to increase the impact and breadth of ExhibitsUSA programming;"
  • $100,000 to the Anchorage Museum Association in Anchorage, AK for educational programming;
  • $100,000 to the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, PA for its Youth & Arts Apprenticeship Training Program;
  • $100,000 to the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Springs, CA for its new Architecture and Design Center;
  • $75,000 to the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, NV for its Youth Art Initiative "to engage local teens and young adults in community and studio based art experiences;"
  • $50,000 to the Perez Miami Art Museum in Miami, FL "to expand arts programming at the museum’s newly-opened, state-of-the-art facility;"
  • $50,000 to the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, WY for "general operating support to help plan exhibits, marketing and programming;"

Remarkably for a funder working on such a large playing field, the Hearst Foundations has an open online application process. In terms of culture giving, they do, however, alert potential new applicants that 80 percent of their culture funding goes to previous recipients. On the flipside of this daunting statistic, if you do make the cut for initial visual arts funding through the Hearst Foundations, the odds are in your favor that you’ll continue receiving it. 

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