How corporate largesse has helped resident, professional theatre
Like the American arts community as a whole, the not-for-profit theater has been looking more and more to the corporate sector to help bridge the gap between rising costs and needed revenues.Skip to next paragraph
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The corporate Medicis have responded to varying degrees and in varying ways - though not to the extent foreseen by President Reagan when his administration tightened the federal purse strings.
Corporate contributions to the nation's resident professional theaters range from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands. The money comes from the coffers of the Fortune 500 as well as from many smaller enterprises, all concerned with supporting ''culture'' and polishing the corporate image.
Viewed from a passing satellite, the panorama of corporate funding would resemble a patchwork of philanthropy. There are one-shot gifts and continuing subsidies. Some donations are unconditional; others come with strings attached, such as requiring the recipient to raise matching amounts elsewhere. There are grants for such special purposes as the presenting of new plays or the support of a playwriting program.
Perhaps the most illuminating way to indicate the present state of corporate theatrical subsidy in the United States is to consider some specific examples.
A conspicuous group effort to encourage corporation generosity has been made by the National Corporate Theatre Fund. Headquartered here in New York, the fund was incorporated in 1977. It is said to be the only national channel for major corporations ''to visibly invest in a vital national cultural resource.''
From an original membership of five playmaking groups, the fund's constituency has grown to include the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco, the Arena Stage of Washington (D.C.), the Cleveland Play House, the Goodman Theatre of Chicago, the Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis, the Long Wharf Theatre of New Haven, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Each theater in turn receives an equal share of all corporate contributions, distributed twice annually.
To date, 87 large and small corporations have contributed an aggregate of more than $1 million to the fund. Major donors have included Warner Communications Inc., General Electric, CBS, AT&T, Exxon Corporation, General Foods, and Time Inc.
One of the longer-range funding commitments has been Exxon's $500,000 five-year program to assist resident professional theaters outside New York City. Grants are allocated in amounts of $25,000 each. By raising $25,000 on its own in the year after receiving the grant, a company can qualify for a second $ 25,000 from Exxon. Since its beginnings in 1981, the program has assisted the Mark Taper Forum of Los Angeles, the American Repertory Theatre of Cambridge (Mass.), the Alley Theatre of Houston, and the Guthrie.
Other Exxon theater grants have gone to the National Playwrights Conference at the O'Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut ($35,000 a year for the past several years), the Young Playwrights Festival sponsored by the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild ($10,000 a year), and the National Corporate Theatre Fund (
Corporate support of another kind is provided by the Business Volunteers for the Arts, a project of the Arts and Business Council. Founded in 1975 by Sybil C. Simon and expanded in 1979 with a $166,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the program now operates in seven cities. It has assigned corporate volunteer specialists to provide advice and develop procedures for nonprofit organizations in all areas of the arts. To date, the program has assisted some 500 groups, about a third of which have been theaters.
Here are some of the ways in which the country's resident professional theaters have been benefiting from corporate largesse:
* The Cleveland Play House, which inaugurates its new $12.5 million theater complex this November, received a total of more than $1.2 million from 52 corporations. Another 11 corporate donors were among the benefactors contributing $250,000 each. Eaton Corporation, Standard Oil of Ohio, TRW Inc., and Republic Steel all gave generously to the ambitious renovation and construction project by the nation's oldest resident theater company.