The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is a grantee of the Henry Luce Foundation’s Museum Partnerships for Social Justice initiative. LnP images/shutterstock
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is a grantee of the Henry Luce Foundation’s Museum Partnerships for Social Justice initiative. LnP images/shutterstock

IP Funder Spotlights provide quick rundowns of the grantmakers on our radar, including a few key details on how they operate and what they’re up to right now. Today, we take a look at a foundation launched 85 years ago by Henry Luce, a man considered by some to be America’s most influential magazine magnate.

What this funder cares about

The New York City-based foundation’s mission is “to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding.” It has traditionally backed programs in the support of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art and public policy.

After President and CEO Mariko Silver took the helm in 2019, Luce began to refine its approach and explore new directions that align with the foundation’s mission. Under Silver’s leadership and in response to urgent societal challenges, the foundation has rolled out new initiatives that amplify underrepresented voices and allow a wide range of people to contribute to public discourse.

The foundation has awarded more than $1 billion in grants since its inception, $350 million in the past decade, and nearly $14 million in emergency pandemic-related support since April 2020. As of January 2021, it is no longer making new grants through its Higher Education program.

Why you should care

The foundation is a case study of an established legacy institution that deftly pivoted to meet growing calls for social justice and equity in recent years.

In 2020, the foundation issued a call for proposals from communities and organizations around the world that explore the challenges of building just, equitable and inclusive societies. The foundation will ultimately select 10 to 15 partners to support and learn from as it designs a new grantmaking initiative.

At the same time, the foundation has also revisited existing grantmaking programs through a social justice lens. Its American Art Program recently launched the Museum Partners for Social Justice Project, an initiative that supports a cohort of museums as they develop and disseminate anti-racist project models. Later this year, its Religion and Theology Program will announce the first grants from a competition, Advance Public Knowledge on Race, Justice, and Religion in America.

The funder also amplified its long-held advocacy for understanding the diversity of experiences lived by Asian Americans, as anti-Asian violence surged throughout the pandemic.

Where the money comes from

Henry Robinson Luce was born in Shandong, China, in 1898, the son of Presbyterian missionaries. After moving back to the states and graduating from Yale University, he became one of America’s most influential and wealthiest magazine magnates, launching evergreen rags like Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated.

In 1936, Luce established the foundation that bears his name and made its first contribution—38 shares of common stock in his General Publishing Company. For the next 30 years, Luce continued to add to the foundation’s assets with stock donations.

The foundation was a significant beneficiary of Luce’s estate upon his death in 1967. Twenty years later, Luce’s widow, Clare Boothe Luce, passed away, leaving $60 million to the foundation “to encourage women to enter, study, graduate and teach in the natural sciences, in engineering, in computer science and in mathematics.”

Where the money goes

According to the foundation’s most recent available financial statement, as of December 31, 2019, it had $898 million in total net assets and awarded $32 million in grants that year.

Historically, the foundation’s largest grantmaking interest was higher education. However, as noted, it will no longer be making grants through this program, although it will continue to provide support to universities for projects that align with other program areas.

A search of the foundation’s grants database provides valuable insight into the foundation’s priorities since removing higher ed from its portfolio. The foundation made 92 grants for a total of $19.2 million from January 1 to September 15, 2021.

The Asia program received the highest percentage of funding (36%), followed by American Art (31%), Religion and Theology (12%), Religion in International Affairs (10%), Native American Leadership (6%), Public Policy (3%), Special Projects (2%), and STEM Convergence (1%). It made 33 grants earmarked for American Art, 20 for Asia, and an average of seven grants for the remaining six program areas.

Sample grantees include the Center for Global Asia, Seattle’s Burke Museum, and the Native American Rights Fund.

Open door or barbed wire?

U.S.-based organizations will be happy to know that the foundation accepts unsolicited inquiries on a rolling basis. Grantseekers interested in a specific program area are encouraged to visit that program’s page on the foundation’s site to read up on goals and guidelines, recent grants, news, and administrator biographies.

Grantseekers will then complete an eligibility quiz on the site and, if eligible, create an account online and submit a letter of inquiry. The foundation will then ask selected applicants to submit a full proposal. The foundation’s board selects proposals in March, June, and November. The process can take three to four months, so not bad.

The foundation’s site also includes a grants database, biographies of board members and staff, annual financial reports dating back to 2008, an up-to-date news page, and multiple links to its grant administrator email.

Latest big moves

Building on the work of the Clare Boothe Luce Program for Women in STEM, the Luce Foundation recently launched the STEM Convergence Initiative to focus on broadening participation of women of color and creating opportunities for systemic change in STEM spaces.

The Native American Leadership Initiative was launched in 2018 and funds fellowships for knowledge makers and keepers across a broad range of areas who are working to preserve their cultures and empower their communities. It has also begun making grants—such as a recent award to the Native American Rights Fund—that support these leaders by strengthening knowledge infrastructure in Indian Country.

The foundation just completed grantmaking under its 16-year initiative on Religion in International Affairs and has integrated some of that initiative’s work into the newly reconfigured Religion and Theology Program. Lastly, the foundation is developing a new effort that will focus on cultivating greater understanding of the complexity and diversity of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

One cool thing to know

A grant in 2015 to the New York Historical Society funded creation of the Time Inc. archives, which contains approximately 7 million artifacts documenting the history of the media empire, including a collection of papers related to the personal and professional life of Henry Luce and his foundation.

Bonus cool thing: The Foundation’s Luce Scholars Program—a one-year fellowship program that provides cultural immersion and professional placement experiences in Asia to young professionals and recent graduates—counts four alumni in the current Biden administration.