Another Hopeful Sign: About That New Hewlett Funding for the Performing Arts

With rents soaring, these are difficult days for arts organizations and artists in an increasingly expensive Bay Area. It hasn't helped matters that the region's wealthy tech philanthropists show little interest in supporting the arts. Some—enthralled with effective altruism—even scoff at such funding as a waste of money when people are dying of malaria and other preventable diseases. 

Are the arts doomed to wither on the vine in a soulless Bay Area? Not if some funders have their way. 

Recent IP coverage has examined funder-backed initiatives in San Francisco and Oakland to provide affordable spaces for artists and organizations. We've also explored recent grantmaking in the field of public art. As well, we've looked at how “highbrow” arts organizations—think opera and ballet—are working to appeal to the region's "nouveau riche." 

All of which is to say that there may be hope after all for arts in the Bay Area. In fact, the rich funding ecosystem of this region includes plenty of foundations and philanthropists who care deeply the arts. 

Among them is the giant William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which has long been a local funder of the arts, along with its sister foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Both these foundations, of course, were started by early tech titans. 

Earlier this month, Hewlett announced a new five-year, $8 million commissioning initiative that, according to the press release, will be "one of the largest of its kind in the United States."

The Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions will support the creation of 50 works of performing arts and their premiere in the Bay Area through grants to local nonprofit organizations working in partnership with prominent artists.

Ten commissions will be awarded annually in each of five performing arts disciplines from 2017 to 2021. For 2017, the commissions will support music composition in a variety of genres, including jazz, contemporary, and classical music. Future years will focus on theater, dance, folk and traditional arts, and film and media.

New work is the lifeblood of the region's arts scene, so this initiative is important. What's more, in making the announcement, Hewlett's president, Larry Kramer, offered a nice counterpoint to the effective altruism rap that the arts are a luxury. “We believe strongly that the arts are vital for individuals to flourish and neighbors to forge new bonds of understanding,” said Kramer.

To apply for a Hewlett 50 Arts Commission, nonprofit organizations must submit a brief letter of inquiry describing the proposed project by April 14, 2017. The most competitive applicants will be asked to complete an in-depth proposal for their project this summer. Recipients of the first 10 commissions will be announced in November 2017.

Applicants must be nonprofit organizations based in one of the eleven Bay Area counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, or Sonoma), but they do not need to be arts producers or presenters. The Hewlett Foundation encourages nonprofits working on diverse issues and those that serve disadvantaged or historically marginalized communities to apply.

Full details about the program are available on the Hewlett Foundation’s website.