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Recipients call Presser Foundation awards of more than a half million dollars ‘amazing’ at a critical time

The foundation's awards are going to 85 music groups in the region to ease financial pressures set off by the COVID-19 crisis.

Play on Philly founder Stanford Thompson works with trumpeter Andre Rollins. The group is among the recipients of a special round of funding from the Presser Foundation.
Play on Philly founder Stanford Thompson works with trumpeter Andre Rollins. The group is among the recipients of a special round of funding from the Presser Foundation.Read more

The Presser Foundation, the venerable local music philanthropy, has awarded a special round of grants to music groups as they struggle with the disappearance of ticket sales and challenging fund-raising in the COVID-19 era.

The awards, which range from $750 to $30,000, are going to 85 groups, mostly in the Philadelphia area, with the total coming to $521,250.

Presser Foundation president Jeffrey Cornelius referred to the emergency funding as a chance to “extend potentially lifesaving support to a broad swath of music organizations.”

Each of the recipients is a previous Presser grantee. Groups did not have to apply for the money, but instead learned of the news through a round of emails Tuesday that arrived as a surprise.

“It’s amazing. To get that email was such a morale boost as well as a ‘thank God,’ ” said Margo T. Drakos, CEO and a founder of ArtistYear, which received $2,500. The group has spent the last several weeks moving online the teaching of its 57 artists serving thousands of students in Philadelphia, New York City, and rural Colorado.

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For Symphony in C, which received $12,500, the news comes at a critical juncture.

“The cancellation of two concerts, curtailed educational programs, as well as postponing our annual gala until next year, meant a significant decrease in the symphony’s earned and contributed revenue,” said Pamela Brant, president of the orchestra, which performs at the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts. “With our fiscal year ending June 30, this special grant may very well make the difference between ending in the red and ending in the black.”

The list of recipients ranges from big players like the Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia, and WRTI-FM, to educational groups like Play On Philly and the Academy of Vocal Arts, to more niche operations like Bowerbird and the Lyra Society.

Philadelphia-based Presser also announced that nine additional grants totaling $795,000 ($545,000 in new commitments, plus $250,000 to satisfy previous commitments) would go toward capital projects like restoration of Historic Lansdowne Theater and renovations at Lafayette and Swarthmore Colleges.

The emergency funding from Presser is on top of the foundation’s normal grant-giving, and that means taking a larger percentage of this year’s investment income on the endowment. Rather than the usual 5%, the money paid out this year will likely push that amount to around 5.5%, said Presser executive director Teresa Araco Rodgers.

Moreover, the move does not represent Presser’s final response to the damage the COVID-19 crisis is causing to the financial condition of music groups.

“I think foundations need to think about phases of providing support,” said Rodgers. “We are in a good position this fiscal year to free up this money to provide for immediate need. But we are thinking about the extended need for when the doors open.”