Thursday, April 14, 2011
Ken Burns, the best of PBS, looks to individual and foundation funding for future projects
New England Council members got a sneak preview of “Prohibition” yesterday morning, Burns’ compelling new series that will air on PBS later this year. His planned projects stretch out to 1919 and include The Dust Bowl, The Roosevelts(Teddy, FDR and Eleanor), Vietnam, Country Music and two American biographies (Jackie Robinson and probably Ernest Hemingway). Burns is prolific, smart, and, as he displayed today, personally charming and articulate.
So, what was an intellectual, albeit a celebrity intellectual, doing in the midst of this gathering of corporate types? As Willy Sutton said in response to the question, “Why do you rob banks?” “Because that’s where the money is.” Burns’ remarkable films don’t come cheap. Projects in the pipeline will cost nearly $100 million. And they have to be supported not just by public dollars (e.g., public broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities), but also by corporations and individuals, particularly individual foundations.
Bank of America is the sole corporate sponsor. Public funding is under attack, and foundations that have been traditional sources have been hit by the recession. So, while Burns has already raised some $70 million, he is casting his net wider and is looking to raise the rest. Hence, the formation of The Better Angels Society, dedicated to “helping Ken Burns tell America’s stories.” The Society is seeking “significant” philanthropic donations, as in $100,000-$1,000,000. (A spokesperson confirmed that they wouldn’t turn their backs on smaller amounts. More information is available on www.thebetterangelssociety.org.
Burns’ work is very important, enhancing the ability of a diverse culture to understand what we, whatever our background or political philosophy, have to bind us together. As one retired executive in the audience observed, he intends to stay healthy and take care of himself so he’s around in 2019 to witness the fruits of Ken Burns’ labors.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Posted by Margie Arons-Barron