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William Penn Foundation Unveils New Strategic Vision

Over 300 representatives of the cultural community packed Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Nov. 13 to learn more about “Capitalizing Change,” the William Penn Foundation’s new strategic vision and priorities for the next decade. Hosted by the Cultural Alliance and led by foundation president Jeremy Nowak, the convening revealed how William Penn’s recent strategic-planning process will affect its support of cultural organizations.

Cultural Alliance president Tom Kaiden framed the presentation by stating that the foundation had reaffirmed its commitment to Philadelphia and to arts and culture. Jeremy Nowak then explained that arts and culture support is part of a newly named grant center titled “Creative Communities,” one of three centers including “Watershed Protection” and “Closing the Achievement Gap” that represent the  primary passions of the Haas family and the foundation’s board (culture, the environment and young people). In the first year, funding will be evenly allocated among the three grant centers.

The goal of the “Creative Communities” grant center is to “advance Philadelphia as a leading center of creativity by promoting sustainable arts organizations, artistic work, great public spaces and neighborhood hubs of creativity, and arts education for school-age children.” Nowak explained that specific investments will fall into one of four areas:
  • Capacity Building: over the next three years, approximately 40 high-performing cultural organizations with budgets between $500,000 and $10 million will receive multi-year support to build audiences through improved management, capitalization, operations, infrastructure, research and planning.
  • Creating Art: through a new competitive panel-review process the foundation will support the creation of work across the visual and performing arts, starting with dance in 2013 and anticpated to be music and theatre in 2014.
  • Public Spaces and Creative Hubs: outside the downtown corridor, the foundation will invest in parks, trails and other public spaces and in neighborhoods with high concentrations of creative activity.
  • Arts Education: the foundation will support high-quality education programs offered by cultural organizations to low-income children.
Nowak said that cultural organizations will be able to pursue funding across the various areas within “Creative Communities” and that the foundation is looking for projects that operate across the three primary grant centers. Laura Sparks, the foundation’s vice president for philanthropy, added that support for capital projects will be rare, unless it’s an essential element of a programmatic or audience-development strategy.
The foundation has also created two new funding streams that cut across the three grant centers: a Transformation Fund to enable existing institutions to adapt to shifting environmental conditions and an Innovation Fund to develop and test new solutions to social issues.
Guidelines for “Creative Communities” will be released in January or February. Sparks stated that the process will involve initial letters of inquiry then full proposals from organizations selected to advance.
For more information on “Creative Communities” and the William Penn Foundation’s new strategic vision, go to