In 1894, local lore has it, Philip Phillips arrived in Central Florida determined to make it as a cattle rancher. But that wasn't to be his fate. Instead, by his death in 1959, Phillips had become a citrus magnate. His innovative pasteurization methods and shrewd eye for advertising vastly expanded his empire, and in the early 1950s his family sold the business to the parent company of Minute Maid for more than $50 million. That money, in turn, helped create a philanthropic powerhouse, the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation.
Phillips' name has since become ubiquitous in these parts. There's the Dr. Phillips suburb of Orlando, the Dr. P. Phillips YMCA Family Center, Dr. Phillips Boulevard and Dr. Phillips High School, among many others. And when Orlando's downtown performing arts center opens in 2012, it too will bear the Phillips name — officially, it will be the Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center.
That's because in December, the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation gave the Orlando Performing Arts Center $25 million, which equals more than a third of OPAC's fund- raising to date. Its members line OPAC's donors list. Former city commissioner and current Phillips Foundation board member Don Ammerman will have a seat on the OPAC board.
That raises the question: How much influence over OPAC's operations does that large a contribution buy? If the answer is "a lot," that doesn't bode well for OPAC's chances of fulfilling its promise to create a world-class arts opportunity.
The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation is, and always has been, a reflection of its founding family's conservative, Southern values. It and Dr. Phillips Inc., the company that manages the family's real estate holdings, give millions of dollars annually to nonprofits and arts groups. Among the organizations listed on their 2006 tax documents are Christian HELP Foundation Inc. ($29,400), Diocese of Orlando — All Souls Catholic School ($2,500), Good News Jail and Prison Ministry ($3,000), Central Florida YMCA ($10,000) and Crown Financial Ministries ($2,000).
"The whole family was conservative through the lifetime of the Phillipses' interests," Dr. Phillips chairman Jim Hinson told the Orlando Sentinel in May 2004. "It has always been conservative, but that doesn't mean you don't venture out and get involved in the things that might better your organization and the industry you're in."
The problem is, art isn't supposed to be safe. Good art is daring. It pushes societal envelopes. Yet OPAC's biggest chunk of funding comes from a group that represents the very essence of staid old Orlando. And it's a group with a reputation for wielding its values-oriented funding hammer.
Example No. 1: In 2000, the foundation balked at the Heart of Florida United Way's decision to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, which prevented it from supporting the Boy Scouts of America due to that group's anti-gay policies. "We feel that they made a big mistake," Hinson told The Chronicle of Philanthropy. "They are now trying to become the moral standard of the giving community here. We don't think that's appropriate for the United Way."
So Hinson took the $1.5 million he was going to give to United Way and put it into a fund that benefited the Boy Scouts.
Example No. 2 is a little murkier. In 2002, the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation pulled its funding of United Arts. At the time, Hinson said the foundation wanted to support smaller, more individual arts efforts. But within the arts community, there was much-echoed speculation that the foundation wasn't fond of United Arts' support of the Orlando Gay Chorus.
Asked directly about this issue, Hinson dodges. In an e-mail relayed through a public relations firm, he issues this statement: "Dr. Phillips Charities continues to directly support the arts in Central Florida through charitable contributions to individual artistic endeavors such as Orlando Ballet Inc., the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Orlando Shakespeare Festival and the Orlando Museum of Art, as well as many others."
(On Nov. 1, Hinson will resign as head of the foundation. He'll be replaced by attorney Rob Mellen, of the powerful Akerman Senterfitt law firm. Mellen will be the organization's first leader without direct ties to the family.)
OPAC director Kathy Ramsberger says there's no cause for concern. The Phillips foundation won't have veto power or control over the performing arts center's programming.
"One of the reasons why they really supported the arts center is because they believed in the mission," she says. "In the funding agreement that I'm looking at — it's strictly a funding agreement, it doesn't allow for operations — but in our conversations and I think in other dialogue and correspondence, they definitely understand the nonprofit and its board determine the programming that happens in the theater."
She adds that the Dr. P. Phillips Foundation is aware that the performing arts center intends to be all-inclusive, citing proposed African-American, Hispanic and gay-pride initiatives. The funding agreement that spells out exactly what the foundation gets in exchange for its gift isn't public record, so there's no way to independently verify Ramsberger's account of its firstname.lastname@example.org
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