The Depot Foundation returns to its public charity roots

The Depot Foundation in a move that few will notice, is changing its legal status. By moving from a private foundation to a public charity, the group is expanding its ability to reward donors. It’s a quiet but giant step that will benefit the foundation’s overall mission.

Established in March 1979 with the fundraising efforts of Elizabeth and John Adams, the foundation was born as “a charitable, non-profit organization … with a purpose to receive, invest and disburse funds on behalf of the arts and heritage of the Duluth community and greater surrounding area.” Its mission:  preserve the historic Union Depot as a vibrant and welcoming forum for the arts, culture and history through managing and growing a permanent endowment.

Since its founding, the Depot Foundation has supported arts and historical organizations housed within the Historic Depot Building, including the Duluth Playhouse, Duluth Arts Institute, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, Arrowhead Chorale, St. Louis County Historical Society, Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, Matinee Musicale and the Minnesota Ballet. 

Today, the Depot Foundation’s $8.3 million endowment protects the Depot and assists its artistic and historical organizations. In 2020, to help organizations weather the pandemic, the Depot Foundation increased its annual gifts to grantees, distributing an additional $141,000 in operational grants on top of $224,998 in programmatic grants. 

To be more accessible to its grantees, this May the Foundation moved its offices from the Wells Fargo Building back to the Historic Union Depot Building. Also in May, the Foundation hired Jessica Lind Peterson as its new development director. A Duluth native, she brings a solid track record of non-profit development, having served as director of development and communications at Yellow Tree Theatre, a nationally acclaimed professional theater she and her husband, Jason Peterson, founded in the Twin Cities. She is also an actress and an award-winning author and playwright.

Lind Peterson is tasked with building the foundation’s donor base and increasing its impact with the organizations under its umbrella.

“The process (to become a public charity) involves raising our small donations a certain percentage and maintaining that percentage for at least five years. The DF began as a public charity in 1979, and we are now moving back in that direction.”

The main difference is that public charities can attract support from both private foundations and public charities, and public charities have higher donor tax-deductibility giving limits, said Lind Peterson. Also, 33% of a public charity’s revenue must come from smaller donors (those who give less than 2% of the organization’s income), which is why bringing on a development director became a priority for the foundation.

According to Depot Foundation Board Chair Renee Mattson, “The foundation’s move back to a public (charity) allows us more latitude in our application to other foundations for grants. Hiring Jessica Peterson as our new development director was also part of that strategy. This move also aligns with our goal of increasing our endowment, so we can in turn make a larger impact on the tenants of the Depot and the arts and culture they bring to our community.”

Lind Peterson noted how Duluth is a “very philanthropic community with so many folks who appreciate arts and culture. I consider it a gift to have a job where I help to connect people with their passion, and, in return, help sustain a place with such a rich legacy.”

The Depot Foundation announces 2021 Arts and Culture Awards

An important annual event for the foundation is their Arts and Culture Awards, first presented in 2000. These awards recognize outstanding accomplishments in the areas of initiative, community enrichment, historic preservation, artist, lifetime artist and lifetime achievement.

The 2021 Arts and Culture Award Winners are: 

Lifetime Artist Award: Ann Aiko Bergeron is a UMD Morse-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Theatre and a two-time Fulbright-Hays Seminar awardee. Her directing, choreographing, teaching, guest workshops and performances, have taken her across the U.S. as well as to many other countries.

Community Enrichment Award: Lee Stuart & CHUM (Churches United in Ministry) is a 501(c)(3) organization . Stuart has led CHUM since 2013 and provided leadership on CHUM’s projects including emergency shelter for families and individuals, food shelves, the CHUM Center, permanent supportive housing, a clinic, and outreach and support to people in Duluth who are experiencing homelessness, hunger and social isolation.  

Historic Preservation Award: Milissa Brooks-Ojibway worked for the St. Louis County Historical Society for 15 years, most of those as either registrar or collections manager, starting as collections manager at Glensheen in 2015. She serves on a number of boards and committees supporting local history and museums.

Artist Award: Leah Yellowbird identifies strongly with her First Nations Algonquin-Metis and Anishinaabe heritage, and is highly regarded as an artist in a number of different  mediums. Her work has been display at a variety of prominent spaces, including the Macrosite Art Center, Plains Museum of Art and the Tweed Museum of Art. 

Community Initiative Award: Zeitgeist— Their commitment to social change and their creative and collaborative approach to community enhancement includes the Healthy Hillside Program to address health disparities and resource needs for Hillside residents.

The 2021 Circle of Friends Arts & Culture Celebration will be held on Thursday, October 21 at 5:30 p.m. at the Depot.