Profiles of Arts Grantmakers

The Allen Foundation for the Arts

Claire Peeps

The Allen Foundation for the Arts is one of six foundations that make up the Paul G. Allen Foundations, a family of foundations established by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen. The other Allen foundations focus on medical research, health and human services, forest protection, virtual education, and most recently, music.

The Allen Foundation for the Arts was established in 1988 as one of the first four Allen family foundations. Overall, giving to the arts makes up approximately one quarter of the family of foundations' charitable activity. Last year, the combined grants of the Allen Foundation for the Arts and the more recently founded Allen Foundation for Music totaled nearly $8 million in the five-state region of Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. The Allen Foundation for Music, which was established in 2000 with the opening of the Experience Music Project (an interactive music museum in Seattle), has an emerging focus on education related to popular music.

According to Sue Coliton, foundations director of the Paul G. Allen Foundations, the Allen Foundation for the Arts' giving is primarily dedicated to strengthening the capacity of regional institutions through infrastructure-building and capital grants, and supporting the creation and presentation of new work. Grants can range from $5,000 to over $1 million, with average grants being about $25,000. The Foundation reviews applications in two cycles each year. In the most recent semi-annual cycle, the Foundation reviewed 157 requests and awarded 69 grants totaling $3.7 million.

The Allen Foundation for the Arts is distinct among philanthropic institutions in that its funding is provided annually by the donor according to need. It maintains no endowment, and consequently has no annual required payout. "It gives us the luxury of not having to make either-or decisions," says Coliton of the unique funding policy.

A user-friendly application process was recently launched within the Paul G. Allen Foundations Web site that allows potential grantees to submit applications online or by mail. The evolution of the Foundation's administrative policies and giving programs in the arts has been ably guided by Coliton, who brings to her work at the Paul G. Allen Foundations an extensive background in the arts. Coliton previously served in leadership positions with the Cultural Facilities Fund in San Francisco (now the Nonprofit Finance Fund), the GAP Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts program.

Claire Peeps is executive director, Durfee Foundation.