The New Criterion

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1982

The founding of The New Criterion is a case study in how foundation philanthropy has changed. Two art critics, Hilton Kramer and Samuel Lipman, wanted to start a conservative journal that focused on intellectual criticism. As Kramer put it, they wanted a publication that would “identify and uphold a standard of quality, and speak plainly and vigorously about the problems that beset the life of the arts and the life of the mind in our society.”

Kramer was an intellectual heavyweight who eventually became the chief art critic at the New York Times, and Lipman was a pianist who served as the long-time music critic at Commentary. Both carried weight in critical circles, but the linchpin of their publication’s launch was Michael Joyce, executive director of the John M. Olin Foundation. Joyce was sold on the pair’s idea before he’d seen a single grant application, business plan, or funders list; he thought the strength of the editors would carry the project. He contacted Richard Larry at the Sarah Scaife Foundation and Leslie Lenkowsky of the Smith Richardson Foundation, and each of the three organizations agreed to commit $100,000 per year for the first three years.

Almost before they’d begun, Kramer and Lipman had the funding they needed to get started. In the years that followed, Joyce would hold up The New Criterion as a paragon for conservative philanthropy—relying on reputations and relationships, rather than red tape, to quickly translate a fresh idea into reality. The strength of the project idea, not the needs of the funders, had driven the project. The New Criterion remains a small but significant intellectual force today, influencing conservative and liberal intellectuals alike, leading the London Telegraph to tag it “America’s leading review of the arts and intellectual life.”