On the Money: New Music Funding in the United States

Founded in 1913 by the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, the Rockefeller Foundation has a broad enough mandate: “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.” While the bulk of its resources have gone to health initiatives, many for depressed areas of this country and the third world, the Foundation began making grants to the arts as early as the 1930s. Its first large-scale arts support was to 100 American playwrights, in 1965; choreographers received support in a 1967 round.

The first large-scale support to new music came when Howard Klein, then director for Arts and Humanities, created an initiative to commemorate the Bicentennial with a Recorded Anthology of American Music, everything from Southern Harmony to atonality, 200 sides to mark 200 years. The project, directed by Herman Krawitz, developed into New World Records, which continues today as a major issuer of contemporary music.

It was also Howard Klein who called John Duffy, President of Meet The Composer, to ask what could be done about the lack of contemporary music in orchestras. Rockefeller Foundation support combined with Exxon support to create the Orchestra Residencies Program, which between 1982 and 1992, sponsored 29 composers in 33 residencies with 21 orchestras, primarily the largest orchestras. Sixty-five works resulted including John AdamsHarmonielehre, John Corigliano‘s Symphony No. 1, and Bernard RandsCanti dell’Eclisse.

The Foundation also supported the Meet The Composer/Rockefeller Foundation/AT&T Jazz Program, which from 1989 to 1992 commissioned jazz composers to go beyond their own ensembles and write for orchestras, opera, and music theater.

In the 1990s, the Foundation began to look increasingly to international work in the arts, across all disciplines. It created the US-Mexico Fund for Culture and Fund for US Artists and International Festivals, in which composers among others may take part.

The Foundation’s other thrust has been collaborative productions, often large-scale, and often involving avant-garde artists. The Multi-Arts Production Fund, created in 1988 and operated in-house, originally sought projects that would “negotiate culture differences;” in time, that well-intentioned but vague formulation gave way to the idea of collaboration among artists of different disciplines (like composers and choreographers)–which is hard enough in itself.

From On the Money: New Music Funding in the United States
by Theodore Wiprud
© 2000 NewMusicBox