Wells Fargo Foundation: Grants for Theater

OVERVIEW: Wells Fargo Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the banking and financial services company. The foundation supports a wide range of needs, including education, housing, community development, the environment, and arts and culture. Specific focuses and agendas vary by state and region.

IP TAKE: Functionally speaking, Wells Fargo Foundation’s giving—and the agendas therein—is subdivided by state, and sometimes also by regions within those states. Of the 44 states where the foundation gives, the vast majority of them place arts and culture giving squarely on the agenda, with theater a major player within this realm.

PROFILE: Wells Fargo Foundation, the philanthropic offshoot of the big banking and financial services institution, by its own accounting in 2015, granted $281.3 million to 16,300 nonprofits and schools nationwide.

When Wells Fargo Foundation is giving you that number, what it’s really doing is adding up the giving across the 44 states (plus the District of Columbia) included in its Community Investment program. Thirty-eight of those states give grants in the arts and culture realm.

This is the point where you’ll want to know if your state is one of those 38. There’s a map on the program’s website that will help you find that out.

On the Well Fargo Foundation website, each state and region is given the opportunity to articulate the focus of their arts and culture giving. The most popular directive is that arts organizations work to enhance “community diversity” by creating work that reflects its specific community’s diversity, and by providing access and participation for “low- and moderate-income individuals.”

The other popular directives amongst the states is to support arts and culture initiatives that “enhance a community's quality of life” and those that make “communities strong, diverse, and vibrant.”

If the key word isn’t obvious to you yet, it’s community. Create to reflect it and create for it. Unlike many other corporate-based funders, Wells Fargo Foundation is far more likely to support a city or town’s community theater than one that’s in the national spotlight. Regional theaters split the difference—those that are known around the country but also create for and serve a more localized population; this seems to be the foundation’s theater sweet spot. 

Here’s a sampling of the theater companies that have recently received grants from Wells Fargo Foundation:

The vast majority of Wells Fargo Foundation’s theater giving goes directly to theater companies, but the foundation has also recently given a $10,000 grant to the Festival of New American Musicals in Culver City, CA, which is a hybrid producing/development organization. The foundation also gave $500 to the North Carolina Theater Conference in Greensboro, NC.

Well Fargo Foundation also likes giving to city and community arts centers and councils, many of which incorporate theater into venues and agendas. Recent giving examples here include $20,000 to the Business Consortium for Arts Support (Norfolk, VA); $10,000 to the Arts Council of Princeton (Princeton, NJ); $5,000 to Bass Performance Hall (Fort Worth, TX); and $2,500 to Arts Memphis (Memphis, TN).

Also of note is Wells Fargo Foundation's recent $250,000 gift to the Spoleto Festival USA (Charleston, SC), which presents 17 days of a range of arts performances (including theater) throughout the city.

Again, remember that this is a sliver of the foundation's aggregate theater giving. Each state/region makes its own grant selections.

Just as grant selections are determined by state and the regions within, so too is the application process. Most are executed online, but some states require a paper proposal. . . that you bring over to your nearest Wells Fargo location. Each state, and sometimes each region within, has its own program officers. They all also do a good job answering FAQs, dispensing contact information, and sharing their deadlines.

There is certainly grant money to be had here for theater; just be sure to tailor you application to the structure articulated by your state/region.


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