Nationwide program gives fiscal boost to the arts

Often last in line for corporate funding at home, arts institutions here in Boston find themselves first in a national program designed to make fiscally sound organizations even sounder. After 18 months of study, the National Arts Stabilization Fund (NASF) program -- a joint effort initiated by the Ford, Andrew Mellon, and Rockefeller Foundations -- has announced its first grants. Three local arts institutions, a music school, a repertory theater, and a classical orchestra will receive a total of $2.2 million, with $3.8 million more waiting in the wings, expected to be donated over the next year.

This marks the opening gun of an ambitious national program, which will spread to an undisclosed number of cities across the country.

Boston's selection in December 1983 as the pilot city for the program came as welcome relief to arts institutions here, many of which have languished in a funding drought from corporate sources.

These grants -- seeded by $3 million from the NASF foundations, augmented by $1.5 million from local corporations and another $1.5 million provided by local foundations and the state government -- will help a select few overcome this obstacle to survival. The purpose of the NASF grants is not to bail out beleaguered arts institutions, but to reward those that have shown sound fiscal management and staying power.

The Handel & Haydn Society -- a 170-year-old dowager noted for its longevity even among this city's august musical institutions, and the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the country -- qualified under these terms, as did the respected and adventurous American Repertory Theatre and the New England Conservatory of Music.

All three institutions have demonstrated progress in wiping out standing debts and will have to engage in aggressive fund raising to secure the provisional awards.

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