New philanthropic organization to give $3M to Philadelphia arts

The Forman Art Initiative is launching, with a 5-year grant program focused on BIPOC artists and community-based arts organizations.

Michael Forman, of the Forman Arts Initiative (Courtesy of The Philadelphia Foundation)

Michael Forman, of the Forman Arts Initiative (Courtesy of The Philadelphia Foundation)

A new Philadelphia philanthropic organization has launched with a focus on the arts.

Art Works will distribute $3 million to artists and small- to medium-sized arts organizations over the next five years, focusing on artists of color and arts organizations with neighborhood-based programs in Philadelphia.

It is the first program of the Forman Arts Initiative, or FAI, an organization run by Michael Forman and his wife Jennifer Rice. The pair have sat on the boards of many educational and cultural institutions, including the Franklin Institute, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Fund for School District of Philadelphia. They have contributed to numerous arts and education programs in the city.

Forman, the chairman and CEO of the financial firm FS Investments, says the bulk of the funding for Art Works comes from him and his wife, with additional support from the Philadelphia Foundation and the Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnership at Drexel University. Applications are being accepted now through April 23. The selection process is expected to take a few months.

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“There aren’t specific institutions we’re looking to focus on,” said Forman. “It’s very much an open process with a few guidelines: [Applicants] need to serve the community, need to serve underserved parts of the community. We’d like them to serve Black and brown folks, and principally be run by Black and brown folks, but we’re going to be fairly flexible in our approach.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for Art Works. According to a recent survey of regional arts organizations by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, 41% of responding organizations do not expect to survive the pandemic, based on current contributions and earned income.

The Art Works funding will favor individual artists and smaller organizations that are financially vulnerable.

“The larger institutions, while definitely suffering, they’ll figure out how to make it through. I don’t worry that the [Philadelphia Museum of Art] or the Franklin Institute or the Barnes will get to the other side,” said Forman. “I do worry about really good, important smaller organizations that are an important part of the communities that they serve. That’s where we’re going to focus.”

Forman expects to distribute grants of about $200,000 to institutions as unrestricted funding, and smaller amounts to individual artists.

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“As this city tries to recover from the pandemic, we believe that the arts and cultural institutions play a significant role in this city and in our recovery,” said Forman. “So whether it’s tourism, whether it’s the convention business, whether it’s serving in the inner city, whether it’s education — all of these institutions that we expect to support will play a role in helping the city get to the other side of this.”

The FAI is considering additional funding programs, including grants to support brick-and-mortar art and performance spaces, which may emerge in the near future.

Disclosure: WHYY has received funding from Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice.

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