Jerome Foundation

Claire Peeps

Filmmaker, painter, and composer Jerome Hill established the Jerome Foundation in 1964, and was active in its operation until his death in 1972. The Foundation makes grants to support the creation and production of new artistic works by emerging artists, and contributes to these artists' professional advancement. The Foundation states its "belief in the vigorous and distinctive voices of artists whose works challenge our thinking and add meaning to our lives. [It] advocates for support of individual artists; upholds the principle of freedom of expression; encourages new paradigms for arts support; embraces risk; and contributes to the creation of a vibrant critical context for contemporary art."

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Foundation makes grants in Minnesota and New York City. In 2000, the Foundation gave approximately $5.3 million. Roughly 60 percent of the annual budget is allocated to Minnesota, and 40 percent to New York.

The Foundation provides support directly to individuals through its Media Arts Production Grant Programs in New York and Minnesota. Grants ranging from $7,000 - $20,000 support the production of documentary, narrative, experimental, or new media/computer-based work in which an emerging artist is the primary decision-maker. Approximately thirty-five of these grants are made each year.

Artists in Minnesota may also apply for Travel & Study grants of up to $5,000. The grants, which are supported by Jerome in partnership with the Target Foundation and the General Mills Foundation, are intended to offer artists the opportunity to be exposed to new experiences. This may involve expanding their understanding of other cultures, artists, and arts organizations, or facilitating collaborations. More than half of the recipients have used the funds for international travel. Foundation President Cynthia Gehrig reports that, of all the Foundation's giving programs, the Travel & Study grant program has been one of the most rewarding. "It's remarkable how adventuresome people are when they think about travel," she says, noting that many of the travel grant recipients have had life-changing experiences as a result of their Jerome-sponsored travel, often resulting in the creation of new work.

The Jerome Foundation also provides support to arts organizations — primarily small and mid-size — through a general grants program in media arts, dance, visual arts, theater, and music. In fact, because of the scale and number of these grants — approximately 100 grants annually ranging from $5,000 to upwards of $50,000 — they comprise the bulk of Jerome's giving. The focus of Jerome's organizational grants, however, is still on individual artists. Organizations may seek support to include emerging artists in their programming. Within this realm, regranting has proved to be an effective strategy for the Foundation.

The fastest growing area of grantmaking at Jerome is in providing grants to fiscal agents, where an individual artist or collective comes to the Foundation under the aegis of a nonprofit with whom the artist or group has developed a relationship. Making grants in this way is a very freeing thing to do, notes Gehrig, as long as you're educated about it. It allows you to support artists in a range of ways, which is what Jerome is aiming for.

Indeed, in its nearly forty-year history, Jerome has developed an extensive tool box of grant processes to help individual artists. They've been willing to try anything that's legal and effective, according to Gehrig. And they've tried just about everything: open call for applications with peer panel review, artists nominate artists, artistic director selections, confidential nominations, and, my personal favorite, a lottery — which Gehrig says was beautifully democratic but lacked quality assessment that ultimately made it unworkable. Gehrig notes that each of the strategies has strengths and weaknesses, and that the Foundation has learned a lot along the way about how to be helpful to artists.

Being educated about grants to individuals is very important, Gehrig stresses, adding that it's not as complex as many suppose to get an IRS ruling or meet the reporting requirements. She encourages interested funders to seek education through fellow funders and through their regional associations of grantmakers. She also suggests that foundations contemplating support to individuals consult a couple of attorneys for opinions regarding strategies best suited to their operational needs and organizational culture.