WETA secures its first-ever NEH grant for infrastructure

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An architectural rendering of the three-story addition to WETA's headquarters in Arlington, Va.

WETA in Washington, D.C., has received a $750,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete an upgrade and expansion of its headquarters in Arlington, Va. 

The grant is part of $24.7 million that the NEH awarded to humanities projects nationwide and one of 13 committed to infrastructure and capacity-building projects. NEH allocated a total of $5.2 million in this grant category, which aims to “strengthen and sustain humanities infrastructure and capacity-building activities at cultural institutions,” according to its Jan. 11 announcement.

The NEH funds build on WETA’s ongoing $50 million capital campaign for the facilities upgrade, according to Mary Stewart, VP of external affairs.  The construction project, which has already broken ground, will consolidate WETA’s offices and production facilities into one building. 

“We know we’re going to be … the news and public affairs producer of record for public media moving forward. We needed to have facilities equal to our editorial ambitions.”

Mary Stewart, WETA

WETA, one of the top producers of national programs for PBS, currently maintains two separate  facilities in Arlington, a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington ⁠— its headquarters in the Shirlington neighborhood and a production center on 27th Street South, where PBS NewsHour, Washington Week and other programs are produced. When the new building is completed next year, all operations will move to the Shirlington facility. 

“We know we’re going to be … the news and affairs producer of record for public media moving forward,” Stewart said. “We needed to have facilities equal to our editorial ambitions.” 

The building design includes spaces for community events and screenings, new studios and spaces for digital production, and an integrated newsroom. 

The NEH’s grant is structured as a four-to-one match, challenging WETA to raise $4 for every $1 committed by the endowment. With $3 million from other sources, WETA will receive NEH’s $750,000, securing a total of $3.75 million. 

Rich Bland, VP for foundation and government development, is confident WETA will meet the challenge. Funding commitments by governments and foundations are increasingly combined with matching challenges that leverage the grantmakers’ money, he said.  

While WETA’s fundraisers are experienced in securing grants for media projects, this is the station’s first NEH grant for infrastructure, Bland said. WETA’s first application for capacity-building challenge funds was rejected because the process is so competitive, he said. 

WETA’s capital campaign is in its “quiet phase” and has raised more than $40 million of its $50 million goal, Stewart said. The NEH funding supports the campaign while also signaling that  WETA is a cultural institution that supports the humanities, not just a media company, she added. 

Humanities-focused programs that WETA produces for PBS and the nation include Ken Burns’ documentaries and the prime-time series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, which uses DNA research to explore family histories and culture. 

In its NEH grant proposal, WETA made a case that building state-of-the-art production studios and moving its workflows onto digital platforms provides more flexibility for the station’s content creators, Bland said. The upgrade will expand and enhance WETA’s capabilities for remote production work beyond what staff have already developed during the coronavirus pandemic. 

He expressed hope that NEH and other funders recognize the important role that NewsHour and other WETA productions play in documenting “not just what’s going on today, but how we got here.”

This article has been updated to clarify that Shirlington is a neighborhood within Arlington, Va. 

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