Partnering with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to Bring a New Program to Life

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) has been a major supporter of Creative Capital’s core grantmaking program since 2000, and has been the largest single funder of all our classes of Performing Arts grantees. DDCF is also the lead funder of the MAP Fund, an ancillary program of Creative Capital, and recently selected Creative Capital to partner with them to launch and oversee the new Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards Program, which announced its first class of grantees today. This program offers significant funding—up to $275,000 per selected artist—that is not tied to individual projects and is instead available for extended professional and artistic development, audience development and retirement planning. Creative Capital’s President & Executive Director, Ruby Lerner, sat down with Ben Cameron, DDCF’s Program Director for the Arts, to talk about this exciting new program and the partnership between Creative Capital and DDCF.
Ruby Lerner:  This partnership to launch the Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards (DDPAA) is an extraordinary expansion on our long-standing relationship, and it’s an honor for Creative Capital that DDCF would entrust such an important program to us. Why did DDCF choose Creative Capital as a partner?
Ben Cameron:  As you know, all of us at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation have long admired the work of Creative Capital. We have been especially moved by Creative Capital’s ability to work with artists on an individually tailored basis, responding to each unique set of artistic needs; the way in which your organization listens to its grantees; its responsive, rather than proscriptive, orientation; and the value it places on learning. Panelists we have gathered over the years to review funding applications from Creative Capital have consistently described your work as “transformative philanthropy”—words that perfectly encapsulate our own hopes with this program. Your openness to learn, to evolve and to adapt as you learn more perfectly align with the learning adventure that we know lies ahead with this program.
With so much on your plates already, why did you agree to take this program on?
RL:  Great question! Well, I should start by saying how I felt when you first spoke to me about partnering with DDCF on this new awards program for performing artists. I couldn’t believe it; I had to hold onto the building when I left your office, I was almost shaking—with excitement. I was so moved by how thoughtfully you had designed the program. Of course, I felt incredibly honored that you would choose us as a partner; I started calling board members immediately and they were equally thrilled.
When I thought about it, it did seem quite logical for Creative Capital to oversee this program, given the professional opportunities you wanted to build into the program. We have spent the past 14 years developing tools and resources and identifying individuals who can be helpful to artists. I thought, wow, we are going to learn SO much from the fantastic artists who will be supported by this program, and perhaps learn things that might be a bit different than what we have learned from our grantees. Who could pass that up?!
What about you? What most excites you about this program?
BC:  Initially I was excited by the program itself in many ways—the fact that we were addressing retirement for artists, that we were putting such incredible resources at their disposal, and that we were doing this in a way that let us build on earlier grants and investments without encumbering the artists with yet more applications and more projects and more deadlines, etc. That said, we just called the first class of awardees this week—and I am so, so moved by their responses. Some burst out laughing and couldn’t stop; some burst into tears (and couldn’t stop); one hyperventilated so heavily that I thought we had induced a heart attack and found myself imagining the headlines: “Doris Duke Announces Grants; One Artist Dead.”
RL:  Ha! You know, we have sometimes called artists who have said that they had been thinking about leaving the field, and then have gone on to do glorious work. The validation of these awards is powerful in ways I am not sure we think about as much as maybe we should.
BC:  That’s true. In this moment, my excitement is about the possibilities that lie ahead for the artists—the possibilities to create, to relax, to dream, to ponder, to move forward and to continue what distinguished them in the first place—a relentless, rigorous, curious drive towards new possibilities and new challenges.
You’ve work so long with artists to help them in precisely this way. What are the things you think we should be on guard about even amidst this excitement?
RL:  I think one of the biggest things we have learned is that, in spite of the significant financial commitment and the additional non-financial support we hope to provide, everything still may not be smooth sailing. One of the things we now say in our orientation with new grantees is that we are here to celebrate your successes with you and we are also here when you just need to talk, when you might be facing a rough patch in your work or personal life. That has been one of the features of our “full service” approach. You have to be willing to be there for the tough stuff.
Beyond that, I say once we are supporting someone, we are in the “yes” business. We want to go on a journey with each artist wherever it might lead. And you can’t always know that at the beginning of the relationship!
BC:  Any new program of course has surprises. Are there things you learned in the launch of Creative Capital [in 1999] that you think would be good for us to think about?
RL:  I think you’ll see that the launch isn’t necessarily where the surprises come! The learning comes day by day as you work with the artists directly and have to recognize (only occasionally, hopefully) that something you thought was brilliant just isn’t working!
So, as we embark on this journey together, what do you hope for in the coming years? What is the impact you hope the program will have when we get to the end and look back on this ten-year initiative?
BC:  As you know, in our orientation, we’re asking the artists to be thoughtful, not only about where they are now, but where they would like to be in five years—personally, financially, artistically, etc. The program will be a success for us if the artists have been able to move towards that future vision and realize the individual goals they have set for themselves—and if other funders begin to make longer term investments in artists, make funding processes less onerous, and fund retirement and/or other life needs in addition to project funds.
And you, oh wise one, who have learned so much already through Creative Capital—what will constitute success for you and Creative Capital in this partnership?
RL:  All of the same things for the Doris Duke Artists. We ask artists to define success for themselves and we then see our job as helping them along their individual paths. Even though it isn’t the explicit goal of the program, I know that the result of the artists’ explorations will yield some great and unexpected new artistic work. I cannot wait to see what happens!
It is also staggering to think about in more mundane ways: The awards will have a profound direct impact on 200 artists—that is pretty great right there! But it will also have an impact on their many collaborators, dancers, actors, designers who work with those artists and that number will be in the thousands. It will have an impact on the audiences who get to experience the results of the artists’ inquiries, and that number will be in the tens of thousands. And personally for Creative Capital’s own work, I know it will have an impact on our work with artists across all of our programs.
What I hope DDPAA inspires philanthropically is some zero-based thinking. Should we be using resources in different ways than they were used in 1980 or 1990, or even last year? I don’t think it is only about more general support rather than just project support; our grant is a project support grant, but it’s multi-year and multi-faceted, and we have tried to shake up what a project grant means. It is really about tearing things up and trying to think in new ways. That’s what I feel you and your Duke colleagues have achieved with the program and I hope it will inspire others to rethink things in their own contexts.
You and Cheryl Ikemiya and the Foundation are to be congratulated for your willingness to think anew about artist support. We try to do that every day too! I think our shared curiosity and willingness to constantly adjust to make things more effective makes this an exciting partnership. We are proud to go on this adventure with you!
BC:  Thank you, Ruby. While I appreciate the words of thanks to me and Cheryl, the real champions in this are Ed Henry, our President, who asked the Board whether they would consider an additional allocation for the arts, and our Board themselves whose response—especially in these difficult times—was inspiring!


More Interviews