Hewlett Foundation Celebrates 50 Years with $8 Million Grant Initiative

The Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, one of the many Bay Area arts organizations to have benefited from the generosity of The Hewlett Foundation over the years. (Photo: via Facebook)

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary by giving millions of dollars to Bay Area organizations for the purpose of making more art.

The Hewlett Foundation announced its Hewlett 50 Arts Commission Tuesday -- a five-year, $8-million initiative aimed at commissioning "50 exceptional works of performing arts."

Starting this year, 10 grants per year will be awarded to local nonprofits that work with artists to create new work. The nonprofits applying for the grant program do not need to be arts organizations themselves. For example, an environmental conservation organization might commission a site-specific musical piece to premiere in a regional park.

Each year the grant-making will focus on a different performing arts discipline: music, theater, dance, folk and traditional arts, and film and media. This year, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission is accepting applications for music compositions.

A major initiative

The new program is one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the United States. But as John E. McGuirk, the director of Hewlett's performing arts program, puts it: "You don't turn 50 every day."

Sponsored

"We thought that the commissions were a good way to honor the foundation’s long commitment to supporting vibrant performing arts as well as local communities," McGuirk says. "Bill and Flora Hewlett were devoted to the arts here in the Bay Area, and we’ve continued that commitment for our entire 50-year history."

The Hewlett Foundation has a long legacy of supporting arts organizations. The San Francisco Symphony was one of the first beneficiaries of a Hewlett Foundation grant, in 1967. (KQED was another recipient that first year.) Since then, the foundation has given more than $330 million to support the performing arts in the Bay Area, providing an average of $17 million each year to hundreds of local organizations.

Sizeable grants

The new initiative will hand out grants of around $160,000 apiece. That's a significant size for an arts grant, according to Marc Vogl, a consultant to nonprofits working in the arts.

"Nationally, fewer people are attending live performances in every discipline, and a key reason is that they’re not seeing thrilling, daring work on the stage and in the concert halls," Vogl says. "This initiative may have many positive impacts. Betting big on artists to make work that brings audiences in the door to see something original is particularly inspiring.”

Applications for the first round of grant-making are due by Saturday, Apr. 14, 2017. Nonprofit organizations seeking to apply must be based in one of the 11 Bay Area counties. For more information, visit hewlett.org/50Commissions.

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