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 grantmaking—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, and theater is a big player within this realm.

PROFILE: Wells Fargo Foundation, the philanthropic offshoot of the banking and financial services institution seeks to create “long-term, strategic, relationships with nonprofits and other organizations to create innovative, sustainable solutions to meet local needs.” By its own accounting in past years, Wells Fargo granted $281 million to 16,300 nonprofits and schools nationwide through its Community Investment program.  

The Community Investment program is a combination of the Wells Fargo Foundation’s grantmaking across 44 states (plus the District of Columbia); thirty-eight of those states give grants in the arts and culture realm. The program’s website provides a helpful map, but in short, the places that do not support arts-giving are Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. And the states where Wells Fargo gives nothing at all: Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

The Well Fargo Foundation website gives each state and region 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.” Another popular directive is to support arts and culture initiatives that “enhance a community's quality of life” and those that make “communities strong, diverse, and vibrant.”

Community is important here. Unlike many other corporate-based funders, Wells Fargo Foundation is far more likely to support a city or town’s community theater program than one that is 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.

Well Fargo Foundation also gives to city and community arts centers and councils, many of which incorporate theater into venues and agendas. Past grantees include: $90,000 to Lee Street Theater (Salisbury, NC); $75,000 to Berkeley Rep (Berkeley, CA); $44,000 to the Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis, MN); $25,000 to The 5th Avenue Theater (Seattle, WA); $15,000 to Dallas Theater Center (Dallas, TX); $12,000 to Hartford Stage (Hartford, CT); $10,000 to South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa, CA); $10,000 Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, NJ); $7,500 to Florida Studio Theatre (Sarasota, FL); $5,000 to Atlanta Shakespeare Company (Atlanta, GA); $3,500 to Musical Theatre Southwest (Albuquerque, NM); $2,500 to Reptertorio (New York, NY); $1,000 to the ZACH Theatre (Austin, TX).

The vast majority of Wells Fargo Foundation’s theater funding supports theater companies, but the foundation also gave a $10,000 grant to the Festival of New American Musicals in Culver City, CA, which is a hybrid producing/development organization.

Well Fargo Foundation also gives to city and community arts centers and councils, many of which incorporate theater into venues and agendas. Past grantees 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).

Again, grant seekers should remember that this is a portion of the foundation's aggregate theater grantmaking. 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 that a paper proposal be submitted to grant seeker’s 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.

Needless to say, it is important for grant seekers to check out the foundation’s Community Investment search engine for their state. There is certainly grant money to be had here for theater; just be sure the application is tailored to the structure articulated by the state/region.

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