Between 1965 and 1980, much of my professional attention was directed toward problems of support and development in the arts, particularly classical music. I spent over five years as an Associate of the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music; served on the boards of two important service organizations, Affiliate Artists and the National Opera Institute; and for several years was under contract to Douglas Richards, Inc., a consulting firm that conducted field studies for the National Endowment for the Arts.
The MBR Fund was one of the smallest of the Rockefeller philanthropies, but it had a disproportionate influence because it was dedicated solely to classical music. We maintained an individual grant program for young musicians (predominantly singers), and an organizational one for regional opera companies, chamber groups, etc., where our modest funding levels could have significant impact. I helped administer both programs, which on the individual side meant auditioning most of the promising young singers in New York and on the West Coast, and on the organizational entailed considerable on-site travel to evaluate both the artistic and business aspects of companies applying for aid. My work for the Endowment through Douglas Richards was very similar.
Affiliate Artists was also devoted to the support of young performers. Funded largely through corporate foundations and other private sources, it placed artists with presenting institutions (most often, though not exclusively, colleges, who used them for performing, teaching, and outreach purposes) on a non-resident basis, leaving them free to pursue their careers for much of the year in exchange for a stipend healthy enough to keep them afloat during their early career years. At its height, AA supported an extensive nationwide network of such appointments. The National Opera Institute was founded by Roger L. Stevens to augment the work of the National Endowment with funding earmarked exclusively for opera. It gave grants, sponsored conferences and reports, and played an important catalytic role for a few years.
I learned a great deal through this work. It gave me an overview of the field I could not have attained via my experience as performer, teacher, or critic, as well as insight into the realities of funding and development. In particular, it acquainted me in depth with the regional opera scene as it existed at that time–a time, very unlike the present, when rapid expansion was taking place, fueled by Great Society initiatives in both the public and private sectors, and it seemed that the country was ready to accord the arts (including those of the high culture) among its accepted social responsibilities. Finally, though, it strengthened my conviction that, important as the problems of development are, they are secondary to the artistic ones, namely, the creation of better new works, and better ways of performing the old ones. We need to restore some political will for the support of opera and classical music. But first, opera and music must find their way out of the artistic wilderness.