POV, StoryCorps get $1 million each from MacArthur Foundation

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

Eight teams of filmmakers and developers participated in “POV Hackathon 2” Jan. 12 and 13 in Brooklyn. The documentary series hopes to use a $1 million award from the MacArthur Foundation to expand its work into digital storytelling. (Photo: American Documentary)

Eight teams of filmmakers and developers participated in the POV Hackathon 2 Jan. 12 and 13 in Brooklyn. The documentary series hopes to use part of a $1 million award from the MacArthur Foundation to expand its work in storytelling in digital media. (Photo: American Documentary)

The grants help ensure the long-term sustainability of the winners, 13 organizations in five countries, 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 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.”

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

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

The rest of the money will go into POV’s cash reserves, which will increase 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. We’ll experiment a bit.”

David Isay, StoryCorps founder and president, called the award “amazing,” adding that 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.

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

Some money also will go toward “taking the first steps” toward putting all 45,000 interviews online. Currently, the oral histories are preserved in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. “There are a lot of issues to work through” to share the massive library on the Web, Isay said.

POV and StoryCorps are also continuing 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.

The other recipients of the Award for Creative and Effective Institutions make up a varied group and include Ushahidi in Nairobi, Kenya, which is developing free open-source software to track information to advance human rights; the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., which builds bipartisan support for pragmatic approaches to world security; and Family Care International, headquartered in New York City, working to make pregnancy and childbirth safer worldwide. Read the full list.

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