Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945

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Philanthropy and Theatrical Development

In the 1950s and 1960s private American foundations, especially Rockefeller and Ford, expended considerable sums of money and provided expertise and advice to developing countries in the area of theatre. In this period high culture, especially theatre, was on the agenda of international development thinking.The Rockefeller Foundation alone was involved in funding theatrical activity in sixteen ‘developing’ countries and provided assistance ranging from study trips for individuals to large scale institutional funding (especially in Nigeria and Chile).

Preliminary research based on the analysis of the annual reports of the Rockefeller Foundation reveal patterns of assistance that extend throughout the developing world but which reveal a particular emphasis in West Africa with Nigeria being the second largest recipient of theatre-related funding after the USA itself. Recent biographical research into the two Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott has provided some indication of the depth and complexity of Rockefeller’s importance in not only supporting but actively building a professional theatre scene in the Caribbean and Nigeria, which went beyond mere travel grants for ‘promising’ young writers. In 1962 for example Rockefeller awarded the University of Ibadan a major grant of $200,000 for the ‘development of the drama program’. On the basis of the archival holdings of Rockefeller Foundation, which also holds the Ford Foundation archive, a postdoctoral project will investigate the policies and direct influence exerted by such bodies, how support of professional theatrical activity was organised via academics, theatre artists, government bodies. The cited research into Soyinka and Walcott has revealed that the archive contains extensive correspondence, policy documents, and grant applications which can provide the basis for a major monograph.

Preliminary research indicates that apart from Nigeria, Chile and the Middle East are productive sites for reconstructing the techno-politics of Cold War theatre funding. For India, the Ford Foundation’s field office attained considerable influence on Indian development policy, including the fine arts, its involvement in theatrical activity remains, however, under researched. Today, the Ford Foundation has identified Media, Arts and Culture as one of top funding priorities in African and the Middle East. A large amount of this funding is now going into the performing arts, such as the Young Arab Theatre Fund.