POV and StoryCorps each receive $1 million from MacArthur Foundation

By Dru Sefton

American Documentary, home to PBS’s independent film showcase POV, and StoryCorps, the oral history project heard on NPR, are each receiving $1 million from the MacArthur Foundation’s latest round of Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions.

The grants, awarded to 13 recipients in five countries, help ensure the long-term sustainability of each organization, according to the foundation. “The award is not only recognition for past leadership and success but also an investment in the future,” the Chicago-based foundation said in the Feb. 28 announcement. “Organizations will use this support to build cash reserves and endowments, develop strategic plans and upgrade technology and physical infrastructure.”

Organizations do not apply for the awards; rather, MacArthur nominates and selects them. To qualify, the foundation said, nonprofits must “demonstrate exceptional creativity and effectiveness; have reached a critical or strategic point in their development; show strong leadership and stable financial management; have previously received MacArthur support; and engage in work central to one of MacArthur’s core programs.”

Simon Kilmurry, executive director of POV, told Current “everyone is thrilled” at the Brooklyn doc house. “This is definitely one of those rare moments that you wish for and hope for and never really expect to happen,” he said. “This will really help us move to the next level, the next stage in our evolution.”

MacArthur has provided programming support to POV for 25 years. This infusion is different, specifically benefiting the show’s infrastructure and financial stability.

POV plans to use part of the cash to build a screening room and workshop facility to engage more deeply with emerging producers, Kilmurry said. “This will increase the pipeline of people interested in working with public media and also help in our collaborations with other organizations.” POV also will create postproduction facilities for those producers, “something we’ve never had before.”

The rest of the award will be deposited into POV’s cash reserves, increasing those by 132 percent, he said. “Then we’ll use revenues generated by that to support programs we wouldn’t have resources for otherwise, such as expanding work in digital media and new ways of storytelling.”

David Isay, StoryCorps founder and president, said it is particularly satisfying for the nonprofit to be recognized as effective. “We’ve been around nine-and-a-half years, working like dogs to create a well-run organization,” he said.

StoryCorps, also based in Brooklyn, plans to use much of the cash to establish an endowment. “Nonprofits always need money in reserve,” Isay said.

Some money also will go toward “taking the first steps” toward putting all 45,000 StoryCorps interviews online. Currently, the oral histories are preserved in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

POV and StoryCorps also plan to continue their own collaboration: CPB is funding a 30-minute animated StoryCorps Special produced by Mike and Tim Rauch featuring six stories from the first decade of StoryCorps, including Isay chatting with his 9-year-old nephew, Benji. That will run on POV this fall.

This article was published in Current, March 11, 2013 in the Output column. Current first reported it online Feb. 28, 2013.
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