What Does The Lincoln Financial Foundation See In Philadelphia's Lantern Theater Company?

As my colleague Alyssa Ochs noted in her piece on the Lincoln Financial Foundation's (LFF) funding priorities, the foundation puts a high priority on improving education in the City of Brotherly Love. In 2013, the most Philadelphia-specific grants went to education—38 grants totaling $836,569.

And unlike other foundations in the region, rather than award grants directly to the schools, the LFF funds youth education programs that "close the achievement gap and help high school students earn their diplomas." For an example, look no further than the Lantern Theater Company, an organization committed to an "authentic and intimate exploration of the human spirit in its choice of classics, modern, and original works."

Lantern Theater Company recently received a $10,000 grant from the LFF for fiscal year 2016 in support of the Lantern's Illumination program, which "engages local students in the world of theater and nurtures their artistic expression, reaching the Greater Philadelphia region through discount matinee performances, in-school residencies, and after school drama clubs."

We found this gift encouraging because LFF, at least indirectly, acknowledges that good, old-fashion theater performances and workshops can help close the performance gap. In this era of standardized testing, foundations and nonprofit organizations alike may be tempted to frame their offerings through the lens of improved test scores and hard-and-fast quantitative education performance metrics.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with this approach. As I've frequently noted, the Common Core is here to stay, and organizations are adapting accordingly. But LFF's gift has an old-school flavor, particularly when framed within its larger goal of improving the academic performance of Philadelphia school children.

Then again, making the connection between the company's offerings and LFF's goals doesn't exactly bend the rules of logic. The company's Illumination program includes a theater school, classroom residencies, and a "Teaching Shakespeare" offering. Its most direct interface with local public schools comes in the form of its Student Matinees, which lets local teachers bring their kids to the theater for special weekday morning performances that will—and we're quoting its website here—"enrich your classroom curriculum."

Behind it all is Illumination's three-person Education Committee, comprising professionals with experience in both the public and private sectors.

Click here for a deeper dive into Lincoln's philanthropic priorities.