New Jersey's Two River Theater recently received a $40,000 grant from the Doris Duke Foundation through its Building Demand for the Arts program. This inevitably raises the following question: What exactly about the Theater's mission and programming helps to "build demand" for the arts that made the foundation cut them a check?
Before we answer that question, it's important to contextualize the funding. Building demand for the arts is perhaps the most critical role for philanthropic organizations. After all, demand leads to participation which (ideally) leads to sustainability. But there are challenges across this continuum. Many arts groups can testify to having rolled out a hugely popular opening night only to see support and interest wane in subsequent months. "Consumers" are a fickle bunch, and with so many entertainment options vying for their attention these days, arts organizations and their philanthropic backers need to formulate a plan to keep people coming back. It's like what your business school professor said about Coca-Cola: They don't want you to just drink it once—they want lifetime customers.
Of course, philanthropic organizations are very well aware of this imperative for creating and sustaining demand. The James Irvine Foundation's Exploring Engagement Fund recently awarded a multi-year grant to the San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora to support a two-year storytelling project. And then there's the Doris Duke Foundation's Building Demand for the Arts program, launched just last year. As noted in the foundation's grant guidelines, three types of organizations are eligible to apply—producing organizations, presenting organizations, and service organizations that have a track record of producing a significant body of work in jazz, theater, and/or contemporary dance.
But what do these organizations actually do that makes them worthy of funding? Having analyzed the program offerings of the recipients of these engagement grants, certain common characteristics inevitably emerge, and Two River Theater is no exception. Some of these common traits include:
- Recognizing and responding to demographic trends. Like most of the country, southern New Jersey is seeing an influx of Latino residents. Two River Theater is wisely responding to this trend by creating programs targeting this demographic.
- Embracing interactive programming mediums. Like the aforementioned Irvine grant, a portion of Doris Duke's funding towards Two River Theater will go to storytelling workshops. Storytelling is a great way to directly engage users and integrate the arts into their lives.
- Developing new and original material. The theater produces an eight-play season on two stages, including classics, new plays, and musicals.
For more insight on the Doris Duke Foundation's Building Demand for the Arts program, click here.