Princess Grace of Monaco.
Princess Grace Foundation chairman, the Honorable John F. Lehman, with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco.
What do Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, New York City Ballet principal dancer Miranda Weese and SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg have in common? They have all received awards from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, a New York-based organization providing crucial support nationally to young and emerging artists when their genius is just beginning to take shape.
Founded in 1982 to honor the memory of Princess Grace of Monaco – the talented and gracious monarch who died tragically in a car accident earlier that year – the organization is unique in several ways. First and foremost, it supports artists in all aspects of theater, dance and film, from directors and tap dancers to aspiring lighting and sound designers. Secondly, it recognizes up-and-coming artists long before they've burst onto the scene, says executive director Toby Boshak.
“We work to identify these incredible talents who go on to attain commercial success or personal success, as they define it,” she says.
Grace Kelly, who won an Academy Award for her performance in The Country Girl, was a fitting role model for the Foundation's grant recipients.
After reaching the pinnacle of her movie career in High Noon, High Society and three Hitchcock classics – Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief – she left Hollywood in 1956 to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco (whom she had met on the French Riviera, where To Catch a Thief was filmed).
However, she never forgot those who helped her along the way. Princess Grace had a long history of quietly supporting struggling artists, in one case lending substantial financial and emotional aid to her longtime friend, singer Josephine Baker, who had fallen on hard times and needed funds for an orphanage she had founded.
Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family, Grace Kelly knew she had been given advantages in life, says the Honorable John F. Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, who serves as the Foundation's chairman, a job that is made more poignant for him because his mother and Princess Grace were first cousins and good friends.
“She had seen so many talented people fall by the wayside when she was in New York pounding the pavement,” he says of her early career. “She could devote her full time to her profession, while most of the people she was friends with couldn't. But she never wanted to be seen as Lady Bountiful. She believed charity was something that was a very private matter.”
Knowing how much helping struggling artists meant to Princess Grace, the late Prince Rainier began asking friends and family to help him start the Foundation after her death. He and his children – H.R.H. The Princess of Hanover (Princess Caroline of Monaco), H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and H.S.H. Princess Stephanie of Monaco – along with friends and colleagues established the nonprofit, which counts theater producer Harold Prince, opera star Plácido Domingo and dance legend Suzanne Farrell among its arts advisory board members. The Foundation, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2007, has bestowed more than 400 awards on deserving artists since its inception. “Awards are based, first and foremost, on artistic excellence, and the Foundation gives about 20 to 25 a year,” Boshak says.
The public charity's choices show an uncanny knack for recognizing burgeoning talent from across the country. In 1994, the Foundation awarded a grant to Eric Simonson, who won a 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject for his film A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin. Another 2005 recipient, Ian Olds, won the Truer Than Fiction Independent Spirit Award for co-directing Occupation: Dreamland, a moving portrait of a squad of soldiers deployed to Falluja, Iraq, in 2004. The film, which has been screened at festivals internationally, received a theatrical release in 2005 to critical acclaim.
The Foundation also recognizes its past recipients who have achieved personal and artistic success with its coveted Statue Award. Kate Robin, a writer and producer of HBO's acclaimed Six Feet Under, is one example of a Statue recipient.
To fund its good works, the Foundation sponsors many benefits – from a sneak preview of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie to an electrifying performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Each year since 1984, the Foundation announces its new Award recipients and salutes a guest of honor with the Princess Grace Awards Gala, this year planned for Thursday, November 2, at Cipriani 42nd Street. Karen Klopp, who is co-chairing with Ann Colley and Valesca Guerrand-Hermès, said the committee has been working for months on the big night, which will be hosted by CNN's Larry King. The guest honoree and entertainment have not yet been announced at press time. The Foundation honored legendary Broadway producer George C. Wolfe in 2004. In 2005, dancer/choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov was the inaugural recipient of the Prince Rainier III Award for his lifetime contribution to the arts.
The Gala, a jewel of the Manhattan social season, is the Foundation's largest fundraiser, grossing about $1 million a year. And it is always a lively, upbeat evening, according to Klopp.
“It's a great party,” Klopp says of the event, which is expected to draw about 600 guests, including Foundation trustees Anne Randolph Hearst, Yves Piaget, Mrs. Frank Sinatra and many others. “There's a red carpet and photos. The Award recipients will be there. And, afterwards, there's a disco!”
Many of the current board members have strong ties to Princess Grace and her legacy, which makes the group feel like family, Boshak says.
“We're carrying out the legacy of Princess Grace. So many people are connected with her and what she did in her lifetime,” she says.
“The fact that so many continue their involvement as the Foundation reaches its 25th birthday is a sign of just how devoted they were to this genuine, caring individual,” says Lehman, adding, “Hers was really an inner beauty.”