The Disappearing Donor Blues/Weisberg Has Plans for Cultural Center!/Ghostwriter Story/Deficit Reduction | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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The Disappearing Donor Blues/Weisberg Has Plans for Cultural Center!/Ghostwriter Story/Deficit Reduction

Corporate donors are tightening their belts and adjusting their priorities in these tough economic times. Citibank's Betsy Howland, for example, is focusing more on educational efforts and less on cultural extravaganzas.

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The Disappearing Donor Blues

On July 1 the Borg-Warner Foundation quietly ceased accepting proposals and making new grants. Though it technically still exists and will honor current grant commitments, its grants-making mechanism is out of service for the time being, according to a source close to the foundation. At a time when other corporate foundations are redefining their rules for making grants to arts organizations or reducing the amount of money they're willing to give, Borg-Warner's inactivity gives money-hungry cultural organizations one less place to turn.

Established in 1953, the Borg-Warner Foundation fund totaled around $12 million at its peak in 1985, awarding around $2 million in grants annually. Though it wasn't the city's largest philanthropic organization with an interest in the arts, Borg-Warner made small but important seed grants to arts groups that helped establish their credibility and enabled them to seek larger amounts of money elsewhere. The Borg-Warner Foundation was the first to make a grant to the International Theatre Festival of Chicago, back in December 1984. Over the years, the foundation also made small contributions to larger cultural institutions such as the Field Museum and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The beginning of the apparent end of the Borg-Warner Foundation can be traced back to July 1987, when the parent corporation opted to go private to avoid what management perceived as a hostile takeover. (Chairman and CEO Jim Bere was unavailable for comment.) The company assumed a huge debt to finance the buyout, and then began selling assets to pay it off. As Borg-Warner's senior management changed, so did the names on the foundation's board of directors and the focus of the foundation's efforts. According to its last president Ellen Benjamin, Borg-Warner began to trim its arts giving and focus on education-related grants. Years passed, the parent corporation was unable to maintain the foundation's assets, and the foundation slowly but surely slipped into its present near-moribund state.

Other corporations with a local history of giving to the arts, such as Continental Bank and Inland Steel, have greatly reduced their cultural grants. Still other corporations and foundations have altered their grant-making guidelines or redirected funds. Citibank, for instance, has gradually focused more and more on education; it gives general support to arts organizations depending on their emphasis on educational programs, though money still is available from the bank's marketing department for sponsoring individual projects. "In a time of belt-tightening, doing something that focuses on educating our children makes more sense than underwriting a musical extravaganza," says Betsy Howland, Citibank's national director of educational and cultural giving. The McCormick Tribune Foundation is expected to significantly trim its contributions for the next few years while it pays off more than $60 million in recent grants made primarily to educational institutions, including a $30 million grant to Northwestern University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "The first time we will be able to look at new grants of much substance will be 1993," adds McCormick executive vice president Claude Smith.

Weisberg Has Plans for Cultural Center!

Bit by bit, Cultural Affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg is trying to raise funds to keep the Cultural Center afloat now that the Chicago Public Library is departing. In addition to $2 million Weisberg expects to wrangle out of the federal government to renovate the building, she is putting the finishing touches on a request to the National Endowment for the Arts for $1 million over three years that would be matched two to one by city funds. The request proposes that the Cultural Center serve as the first stop for programming that would travel to other venues around the city; the NEA funds would be used strictly for programming purposes, not for renovation. "The matching funds would come from money already in the budget for Cultural Center programming," says Weisberg. A source familiar with the proposal said Weisberg will probably have to settle for a sum somewhat lower than $1 million.

Ghostwriter Story

Chicago-based writer Judith Lin Eftekhar has completed a crash course in the grueling art of writing a travel guidebook. Eftekhar, a frequent Reader contributor, was the chief researcher and writer for the newly released Chicago Access guide, the latest in a series of travel books (published by New York-based Harper Collins) in a walking-tour format devised by New York architect and writer Richard Saul Wurman. Wurman's name appears alone on the cover of the Chicago guide despite his minimal involvement (which consisted of reviewing the finished work). Chicago Access covers the city by neighborhoods and offers considerable information on its architectural history, among other information. Eftekhar spent six months doing the leg work and writing the guide with input from friends and a couple of consultants. She also was responsible for locating most of the landmarks, restaurants, hotels, and other sites on the many maps in the guidebook. "The maps were a hellish part of the process," says Eftekhar, who had to send them into her editor covered with scores of orange-dot stickers marking specific locations. Eftekhar only heard from Wurman once, after he had reviewed her completed manuscript. "He said it was a first-rate job," she says. But Wurman also sent the manuscript to a few of his local friends, including architect Stanley Tigerman, who returned the manuscript a day later with one suggestion. "Tigerman wanted us to add the rest of his buildings we had left out of the guide," says Eftekhar.

Deficit Reduction

Last week's column misreported that Chamber Music Chicago's deficit in the last fiscal year was $76,000. Actually that figure is the group's accrued deficit since June 1988, when the organization left the Civic Theatre and began using larger and more expensive venues such as Orchestra Hall. A potential $17,000 deficit for the justcompleted fiscal year was eliminated by last-minute contributions from Chamber Music Chicago's board of directors. Executive director Susan Lipman and her board are working to retire the accrued deficit by the end of 1991.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.

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