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Just about anyone who raises money for a dance company, a museum or a theater knows the name Altria. In addition to being the parent company of Philip Morris, Altria is one of the biggest corporate sponsors of the arts.
But that is about to end as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: In 2006, Altria doled out about $7 million in grants to more than 280 arts organizations. More than a third of that money went to dance.
CHARLES REINHART: I don't think it had anything to do with dancers being the greatest smokers of all.
BLAIR: Charles Reinhart is head of the American Dance Festival, one of the most important showcases for modern dance in the U.S. Reinhart says Altria-Philip Morris has been a steady source of funding for about 15 years. He's been happy to take the money and he says Altria's been happy to support adventurous work.
REINHART: New work by choreographers. That's the hardest money you can get, which is that money, which gets a little risky artistically.
BLAIR: Most of the money Altria has given to the arts and will continue to give through 2008 goes to dozens of groups in New York City where the company is based. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and El Museo Del Barrio, among others.
Spokeswoman Lisa Gonzalez says Altria is ending its charitable giving because it's downsizing and reorganizing, so its individual companies can manage themselves. She says it began letting arts groups know about two years ago. But Altria also tried to help grantees find alternative sources of funding.
LISA GONZALEZ: We've held the corporate (unintelligible) for some of our grantees and brought in some peers from other Fortune 100 corporation to come in and introduce them to the heads of these non-profit groups.
BLAIR: The Altria Group was formed in 2003 as the parent company of Kraft Foods, Philip Morris USA, and other subsidiaries. According to its Web site, the name Altria comes from the Latin word altus, which means reaching ever higher.
RICHARD KLUGER: Isn't that attractive? I'm not quite sure will higher powers they are reaching to, except of greater profits.
BLAIR: Richard Kluger is author of the book, "Ashes to Ashes: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, The Public Health, And The Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris." Kluger says by calling itself Altria, the company distanced itself from tobacco in the public mind. He believes Altria is ending its support of the arts because it got what value it could out of the relationship.
KLUGER: They were very smart originally when they went into this and started trying to get the public to associate their company not with smoking and deaths but with life, and the arts of course were a perfect venue for them to do that. The interesting question, of course, is why everybody took the money for so long and whether that was a good thing for the public and the arts or a bad thing. And I don't - I think it's a tricky question.
ROBERT LYNCH: You know, that's a lot easier question to answer for organizations or people that don't need the money. But the arts need money.
BLAIR: Bob Lynch is the head of the advocacy group Americans for the Arts,
LYNCH: Money is a very, very complex issue. Government does things like wars that people don't like. Do you not accept government money? Other kinds of foundations and individuals invest their money in a variety of things some that hurt the environment. Do you not accept that money? Eventually, there's no more money to accept.
BLAIR: Lynch believes this is a huge loss for the arts nationwide, especially since Altria was one of the few corporations that didn't shy away from funding new or edgy work. Altria also gave millions of dollars to domestic violence prevention and disaster relief. Those grants will also be cut.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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