The Heinz Endowments refurbished the 31st floor of EQT Tower, Downtown, as a nonprofit meeting space in 2016. The renovation included this a nine-foot high, 3,200-pound wall made of reclaimed metals some of which came from the Liberty Bridge and some that came from a support beam for one of the former H.J. Heinz Co. condiment factories on the North Side. (Post-Gazette)
Typical throughout the nation, foundation funding is especially key in Pittsburgh. In a 2020 study by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, Pittsburgh ranked highest of 10 comparable cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and San Diego in foundation support for the arts. Philanthropic organizations like the Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Hillman Foundation and others drive arts organization budgets forward to the tune of millions of dollars a year. The Heinz Endowments alone contributes about $16.5 million a year to the city’s arts organizations.
The Steel City’s foundations provide essential funding for small organizations like the Chamber Orchestra of Pittsburgh, as well as contributing to large ones like the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which produces dozens and dozens of concerts a year with a $32.7 million budget.
Maestro John Williams leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2022. (Julie Goetz)
There is an important distinction. While foundation support accounts for only about 6.5% of the symphony’s budget, about 30% of the Chamber Orchestra’s budget comes from such support. For some organizations, that percentage is much higher.
This funding is crucial for small organizations’ ability to put on performances.
Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that as foundations have adjusted their funding priorities to increasingly emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in recent years, Pittsburgh’s classical music organizations have been increasing their efforts to program more composers and performers from underrepresented backgrounds. The results can be heard in the region’s concert halls.
The Chamber Orchestra of Pittsburgh, for example, used funds from a $19,542 grant specifically to commission Wang for her February concert as part of a series supporting the “performance of works by culturally diverse women composers during the 2022-23 program year,” according to Heinz.org.
The Heinz Endowments announces its summer 2022 grant winners, including the Chamber Orchestra of Pittsburgh's proposal to "support performance of works by culturally diverse women composers during the 2022-23 program year." (heinz.org)
The Renaissance City Winds in 2022 received funding to support a performance of Music of Black Composers, including a commission of new music and a premiere performance in April. The ensemble Kamraton received $20,000 in 2020 to support the Featured Composer Project: Composition and curation by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) women artists. The list continues.
The Renaissance City Winds website announces its Music of Black Composers on its website. (http://rcwinds.org/themed-programs/)
Following the money isn’t a new trend in the arts. Hundreds of royal or rich patrons have supported chosen artists for centuries, from French King Francis I purchasing the Mona Lisa from da Vinci or his heir for 4,000 gold ducats to the Russian business tycoon Nadezdha von Meck paying the composer Tchaikovsky an allowance to support his work. Historically, patrons exercised varying degrees of influence over the artists they employed.
The modern version of that practice comes in the form of grant writers building relationships with small arts organizations with both sides hoping to achieve greatness while keeping the bills paid.
Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra talks with the media in 2021 about restarting in-person rehearsals after the pandemic. (Post-Gazette)
“There’s a long history here,” said Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. “[Smaller] nonprofits chase funding, and then the foundations change their priorities. It can be exhausting.”
The question is: Are these organizations adjusting their programming because they believe in the mission, or are they adapting to ensure that the foundation funding keeping their organizations afloat continues?