The Actors Theatre Apprentice/Intern Company in “Sleep Rock Thy Brain” in 2013 Humana Festival | Courtesy of Actors Theatre

Recently, some theater-lovers nationwide started to care quite a lot about the insurance industry. As Humana worked through its merger with Aetna, arts aficionados wondered: What would happen to the springtime ritual, the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre?

For 38 years, the festival has been supported by donations from the Humana Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Humana Inc., thanks to the founder, David Jones Sr., and his friendship with the leadership of Actors Theatre. Indeed, it is the longest-running partnership between a corporation and an arts organization in the United States.

The merger has been scuttled, so for now, the show and the partnership will go on as usual.

Asked to speculate about the future of the partnership, Humana would only say, “We appreciate the role we’ve been able to play in supporting the Humana Festival over the past 38 years, and our ability to give back to the Actors Theatre of Louisville, which makes our hometown vibrant.”

It is quite a production. In 2015, the foundation contributed $725,000, according to the Humana Foundation’s most recent 990 tax form.

Each grant consists of a three-year contract. Actors has to apply, just like any other nonprofit, every three years. Last year was an application year, so the festival is funded through 2020.

The Humana Foundation began its sponsorship of the festival in 1979 and has provided it with more than $22.5 million to date.

Over the years, the Humana Festival has introduced nearly 450 new American plays, some that have gone on to New York and other cities to great acclaim.

In 2016, the festival attracted visitors from 41 states as more than 34,000 patrons attended the wide array of performances and events, including students from 66 colleges and universities.

Julie Roberts, development director at Actors Theatre, said that at last week’s Humana Festival kick-off, managing director Kevin Moore underestimated when he said the festival had an $800,000 impact on the local economy; she said it’s more like $1 million.

According to Roberts, the Humana Foundation “is not involved with any of the artistic processes” of the festival. She said to the best of her knowledge “the foundation has never questioned anything we’ve ever done.”

Kate Marx, Humana communications strategist, concurred: “The Humana Foundation has no input, artistic or otherwise, in the festival’s content. All decisions about Festival plays are made by Actors Theatre,” she told IL in an email.

Roberts said that the foundation is kept abreast of the process of creating the festival each year. “But they don’t even ask for that,” she said. “We just want to be good stewards of that relationship.”

“In 2015, the Humana Foundation provided 70 grants to nonprofit organizations in Louisville and other communities,” Marx told IL.

You’d think that the primary sponsor — Roberts said the foundation funds “a significant portion” of the event but declined to give percentages — would come with perks, but the Humana Foundation also buys its own tickets.

Planning the festival, from a financial standpoint is a challenge. Actors’ fiscal year ends on May 31 and the plays aren’t decided upon until the fall. So they have to plan budgets for plays that haven’t even been explored yet. But, according to Roberts, the people behind the budgeting have this down to a science.

“New-play commissions will always set Humana Festival apart,” Roberts said. Those plays are slightly easier to budget for because they’re already in the works when the budgeting has to be done. Actors tries to get individual sponsorships for commissions.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Steinberg Charitable Trust also offer general support of the festival.

The Humana Festival starts this Friday, March 3, with “I Now Pronounce.”

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