UNC School of the Arts: Fostering Creative Innovation

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) established its Alumni Artpreneur of the Year Award to support alumni who generate creative projects of the highest merit, artistic excellence, or innovative potential.

photo by Stacy Van Berkel, courtesy of UNC School of the Arts

With a three-year grant of $75,000 from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation (MDBF), three UNCSA graduates will each receive one-time funding of up to $25,000. The awards will go to generative/lead artists actively working on a creative project with a screening, opening, or publication scheduled within one year.

This award is part of the Chancellor’s Artpreneur Initiative, which also includes grants for graduating students and for creative enterprises undertaken by faculty, staff, current students, or alumni. UNCSA defines an Artpreneur as “an artist who is not defined by what is, but inspired by all that could be; who is business savvy and technologically aware; who is devoted to creating value and impact through their creative practice; who reaches beyond existing disciplines to create new ways to connect with others; who is willing to take creative risks in order to positively transform our world.” The Artpreneur awards are part of the university’s strategic goal to establish itself as an incubator for arts-based innovation and entrepreneurship by increasing student and alumni opportunities for artistic and entrepreneurial exploration.

Founding MDBF trustees Dr. James H. and Mary D.B.T. Semans were instrumental in establishing UNCSA, the nation’s first state-supported conservatory for the arts. They nurtured a relationship between the foundation and the school that continues to this day.

Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle: Building Capacity for Artistic Expansion

A three-year capacity building grant of $75,000 will support organizational capacity to achieve ambitious artistic and operational goals of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle.

courtesy of The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle

Based in Chapel Hill and founded in 1982, the orchestra is expanding its programming and its role in the region's art's community. Four advanced music students at Triangle universities will get a special opportunity, as fellows, to train and perform with a professional orchestra. Five new works drawing inspiration from African-American songs and spirituals will be commissioned over five years. A young professional string quartet will get a three-year contract for a 12-week residency each year, and will participate in 40 or more outreach events at local public schools, retirement communities, universities, and other civic settings.

COT will use the grant to cover part of the salary of one of three new full-time positions it is creating to expand its programming and its role in the region's art's community. All three positions provide the staffing capacity essential to achieve the Chamber’s artistic goals.

The orchestra expects to realize an increase in attendance and income; more successful marketing; a more unified "look" for the orchestra' printed and online materials; and more effective communication and a deeper relationship with patrons. In so doing, it seeks to be a more relevant regional force for great music and advocacy for young performers.

Full Frame School of Doc: Afterschool Program

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is adding an after-school program to its highly successful School of Doc summer program, with support from a three-year grant of $75,000 from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

Kevin Seifert Photography

Established in 2011, the School of Doc brings Durham public high school students together to work as a crew to produce a PSA for a local nonprofit organization, free of charge. Coursework includes all technical elements of the craft: camera, lights, sound, editing, and special effects, as well as pre- and post-production considerations such as rights and clearances, graphics, and credits. Part of what makes the School of Doc distinctive is that students create a team and learn valuable skills beyond filmmaking, such as conflict resolution, compromise, and collaboration. School of Doc students requested an afterschool program to continue to develop skills and build competitive portfolios that can be used to apply for film schools, internships, or jobs.

Through this program, students will refine their skills and delve into more advanced techniques to produce a short documentary film. Additionally, the program schedules speakers and field trips that connect students with professionals who hire interns or film-making staff. It works with students to develop their job-seeking skills, including how to approach professionals and pitch themselves and their work. By the end of the program, students will have identified a local connection to serve as a potential employer or mentor.

East Durham Children's Initiative: Preventing Summer Learning Loss

Since 2011, the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) has provided a comprehensive pipeline of programs and services for low-income children and families living in distressed neighborhoods in Northeast Central Durham. A key focus is connecting students with high-quality out-of-school learning programs that produce measurable results in reading and math proficiency and also provide critical social-emotional supports.

Kevin Seifert Photography

Given the correlation between poverty and school performance, it is critical to engage students in East Durham in these programs, particularly to prevent summer learning loss. In 2017, EDCI started the STEAM Summer Camp, a full-day, six-week academic enrichment program for public school students in grades three to five. A three-year grant totaling $75,000 from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation will allow EDCI to increase enrollment by 20 students, bringing total enrollment to 180.

In the summer camp, students receive full-day, small-group instruction (1:10 teacher to student ratio) in reading, writing, and math, as well as immersive workshops and field trips that focus on science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. Small group instruction enables teachers to identify students' individual learning needs, academic strengths, and personal interests. Evaluation results from the 2017 Camp indicate that this highly individualized form of instruction yields significant increases in reading fluency and comprehension for students with a wide range of academic proficiency levels.

Grant Programs, Application Procedures, and Eligibility

photo courtesy of Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and Todd Tinkham Photography





The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation is not conducting our usual open-submission grant cycles for K-12 Education or the Arts in 2023.  We are embarking on a year-long process to redesign our grantmaking approach and find ways to become a stronger partner to arts organizations, artists, and K-12 education partners. The new framework will take effect in 2024.

Of course, multi-year grants that have already been committed will continue to be paid throughout 2023, as scheduled.

2022 proved to be a pivotal year of reflection for MDBF. The changes we made in our grantmaking and reporting processes, beginning in 2021, resulted in more opportunities to engage with nonprofit partners. The Board and staff considered what we were learning and began thinking about how we could help nonprofits thrive, not just survive.

We’ve heard and seen a great deal of progress and a lot of potential. After a stressful couple of years—when many nonprofits were struggling and some were at serious risk of closure—the environment is feeling more stable and nonprofits are looking forward. They’re seeking collaboration, flexibility, and investments to meet their goals.

For nearly 70 years, we have remained committed to a tradition of carrying out Mary Duke Biddle’s goal of sharing resources in a way that improves people’s lives and responds to evolving community needs. As we look ahead, we want to remain responsive and forward-thinking, ensuring that we’re incorporating best practices and learning as we adapt to better support our nonprofit partners.

As we progress with our planning, we will share updates on processes and deadlines when they are available. We hope to have all the details worked out in fall 2023. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions.

We are grateful for all the ways you make your communities a better place to live, work, learn, and play.

With best regards,


Mimi O’Brien, Executive Director