About The Wallace Foundation:

Based in New York City, The Wallace Foundation is a national philanthropy dedicated to fostering improvements in learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children, and the vitality of the arts for everyone. The foundation, with assets of more than $1.5 billion, traces its origins back more than a half century to DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, the founders of The Reader's Digest Association. During their lifetimes, the Wallaces contributed to a wide assortment of artistic, cultural and youth-serving causes. In 2003, a collection of small family foundations that were the philanthropic legacy of DeWitt and Lila Wallace were consolidated into The Wallace Foundation, which primarily focuses on education, afterschool and the arts.

Over the past dozen years, the foundation has honed its approach to working in the arts by gathering and sharing lessons and insights with the field to meet the difficult challenges facing arts organizations. We do this both by working with a select number of arts organizations to test promising solutions to some of these challenges and by commissioning research and investigating our grant recipients' work. In all, we have published some 50 reports, practical guides and journalistic accounts based on these findings, to help inform those in a position to make change happen – thereby helping people and organizations we may never be able to support with a direct grant. These resources can be downloaded for free at www.wallacefoundation.org.

History of Arts Funding:

The Wallace Foundation’s commitment to the arts evolved from co-founder Lila Wallace’s conviction that “the arts belong to everyone.” Since 1990, we have made grants totaling approximately $335 million to more than 700 programs in the arts (not counting arts education), especially in the creative disciplines surveyed regularly by the National Endowment for the Arts: classical music, jazz, the visual arts, opera, theater and dance. Specifically, Wallace grant recipients included arts organizations (theaters, museums, dance companies, jazz ensembles, literary groups, opera companies, symphony orchestras), community art centers, arts service organizations (such as the Association of Performing Arts Presenters or Opera America) and media outlets (National Public Radio). The following is an abbreviated history of funding over the past 25 years:

  • The 1990s
    During the 1990s, the foundation invested more than $175 million in theaters, museums, dance companies, literary groups, community art schools and centers that were equally committed to artistic excellence and service to people. Here is a sampling of projects, all of which were funded by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, a precursor fund to The Wallace Foundation:

    • Jazz, 1990-2000: This $24.3-million effort provided 12 grants to seven organizations that supported jazz concerts, coordinated tours, educational residencies and related activities. It was organized with the National Jazz Service Organization and the New England Foundation for the Arts. Also funded was National Public Radio to produce and broadcast jazz programs to increase public awareness and appreciation. In 1992, a $7-million grant sponsored America’s Jazz Heritage, A Partnership of the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund and the Smithsonian Institutions, a 10-year project to research, preserve, interpret and present the story of jazz through traveling exhibitions, performances, recordings, publications and educational programs.

    • Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Awards, 1990-2003: This $12.5-million program encouraged 92 exceptional poets, playwrights, novelists and nonfiction writers to develop new work and to partner with community-based organizations to foster wider appreciation for literature. See The Art of the Possible (2000).

    • Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Opera for a New America Program, 1991-1994: With a $5 million grant, Opera America awarded $230,000 grants to 52 opera companies to help them build audiences through the creation and production of new works that illuminated contemporary American issues and culture.

    • Resident Theater Initiative and Theaters for New Audiences Program, 1991-1998: These two initiatives, funded for $27 million, helped 46 nonprofit theaters use new work or marketing programs to build audiences, as documented in the three-part Building Audiences: Stories from America’s Theaters.

    • Arts Partners Program, 1991-2003: Led by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, grants of $14.6 million were awarded to 99 performing arts presenters, supporting more than 100 artist residencies that encouraged interaction among presenters, artists and audiences.

    • Community Cultural Development Program, 1993-1996: Four community organizations received $725,000 to use the arts to provide educational opportunities and enhance community-building and economic development.

    • Leading Dance Centers, 1996-1999, and Leading Dance Companies, 1997-2001: A combined $5.2 million was awarded to 15 modern dance and ballet companies to perform in their home locations and other selected cities.
  • The 2000s
    By the late 1990s, The Wallace Foundation had refined its strategy to focus on making four-to-five year investments to fewer arts organizations that were intentionally working to increase access to their communities and engaging new, often underserved audiences. We commissioned studies from the RAND Corporation and the Urban Institute to better understand why people participate in the arts and what institutions and communities can do to encourage greater participation. In 2001, Wallace launched a “national Arts4AllPeople campaign for building effective arts participation” — with a website and conferences — to broadly reach arts and cultural groups across the country (arts4allpeople.org was absorbed into the main Wallace website in 2004). This began ongoing efforts to capture significant, practical lessons from the work of funded organizations, and to share those lessons with arts leaders nationwide.

    • Community Partnerships for Cultural Participation (CPCP), 1996-2004: Nearly $12 million in 23 grants enlisted 12 community foundations to expand audience-building programs and provided support to cultural organizations and artists. The Urban Institute’s five-year evaluation documented the effects of these efforts both on foundation policy, programs and operations and on local arts participation in the following studies:

    • Audiences for Literature Network (ALN), 1997-2001: Grants of more than $2.4 million helped nine literary centers create programs with other community organizations to build audiences for literature. Their lessons, relevant not only to literary centers but to performing arts presenters as well, are captured in, Increasing Cultural Participation: An Audience Development Planning Handbook for Presenters, Producers and Their Collaborators.

    • Community Arts Partnerships (CAP), 1998-2003: Six partnerships between arts colleges and community-based organizations received $5 million to give quality arts training to young people in urban settings and to help the art students who were instructors and mentors of young people – develop skills in teaching.

    • Leadership and Excellence in Audience Development (LEAD), 1998-2002, and Leadership and Excellence in Arts Participation (LEAP), 2002-2008: Both initiatives helped arts and cultural organizations — art museums, performing arts organizations, literary groups and community arts centers — engage their communities. Grants of $44 million were given to 60 organizations for programs and marketing. A landmark study commissioned by the foundation — the RAND Corporation’s A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts (2001) — offers arts organizations a way to avoid efforts at audience-building that waste scarce resources.

    • State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation (START), 2001-2008: This nearly $12.5-million initiative helped 13 state arts agencies (SAAs) broaden public arts participation. In a Wallace-administered survey of SAA staff, 82 percent of respondents said that START spurred them to fund new grant programs aimed at increasing participation. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies included ideas from START in its programing to benefit other state arts agencies. See From START to Finish: Lessons from The Wallace Foundation’s Work with State Arts Agencies (2010).
  • The 2010s
    In its work in this decade, The Wallace Foundation continues to gather evidence and lessons on effective ways arts organizations can expand their audiences, through accessible research that is distributed to leaders in the nonprofit arts field. In this way, we seek to promote widespread understanding and application of useful practices in audience building among arts practitioners and those who influence them, including policymakers and arts consultants and funders.  

    • Wallace Excellence Awards (WEA) Initiative, in two phases: 2003–2005 and 2006–2014: A total of 121 grants for $68.6 million was awarded to 91 arts organizations, from dance companies to pottery studios, to help them reach more and different kinds of people. In WEA II, $45 million supported a range of innovative and effective projects in 54 arts organizations in six cities – Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle – that emerged from using data to understand their prospective audiences and the barriers they faced. The results of their work were promising for the 46 arts groups for which Wallace obtained reliable data:

      • Across the 11 organizations that sought to increase the overall size of their audience, the median gain was 27 percent over an average of three years.

      • Across the 35 organizations seeking to increase the size of a particular audience segment, such as teens or families, the median gain was 60 percent over an average of three years.

To date, seven of ten case study evaluations of the WEA participants’ successful efforts have been released, with three more to follow in spring/summer 2015. A related publication, The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences, outlines nine practices for audience-building distilled from the WEA case studies. A guide for arts organizations on how to undertake audience research Taking Out the Guesswork: Using Research to Build Arts Audiences will be released in May 2015.

  • Building Audiences for Sustainability, 2014–2020: Under this new, $52-million initiative, 26 outstanding performing arts organizations — for which audience-building is integral to their  mission — will receive grants and technical support to attract new audiences while at the same time retaining their current ones in ways that can be both effective and sustainable. Over a period of four years, the arts organizations will design and carry out audience-building projects that range from developing new programming to offering performances in novel ways or in alternate venues. Each organization will complete at least two projects, with the second cycle of work incorporating lessons learned from the first cycle. Wallace will provide assistance in audience research so organizations can develop a clear understanding of existing and prospective audiences and the impact of their projects on them. Independent researchers will produce a series of public reports that will draw on the experience and evidence generated by the participating arts organizations — with the goal of helping all arts organizations strengthen their own efforts. The evaluation will culminate in 2020.

Building the Arts Knowledge Center

Over the past 15 years, Wallace has produced a number of publications on the importance of audience engagement to the overall success of arts organizations:

All publications noted above are available to download for free at The Wallace Foundation’s Knowledge Center, www.wallacefoundation.org.