At 75, Dallas’ Meadows Foundation boasts grants in all 254 Texas counties – MMHPI – Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute
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At 75, Dallas’ Meadows Foundation boasts grants in all 254 Texas counties

This article was originally published in The Dallas Morning News on November 25, 2023.

The Dallas-based Meadows Foundation is celebrating its 75th anniversary, which President and CEO Peter M. Miller attributes to the largesse and legacy of Algur H. Meadows, an American oil tycoon, art collector and benefactor of Southern Methodist University and other institutions.

Meadows was the great-uncle of Miller, the fourth family member to lead the foundation, which he calls “a Texas-only foundation — one of the largest Texas-only funders in the state. From 1948 on, we’ve granted $1.36 billion toward 10,000 grants for 3,700 different organizations,” he says.

Such statistics are unusual and impressive, especially in light of the 21st century being a trying time for philanthropy at large. Miller said the foundation has allocated grants in each of the state’s 254 counties. They have ranged from $15 to $45 million over the foundation’s lifetime.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region alone, he said, “We’ve granted $510 million in the form of 4,000 grants to approximately 1,000 different organizations.” That means that 40% of the Meadows’ philanthropy has been in the D-FW area “and the balance outside.

Miller is proud that “our funding has been in arts and culture” — at a time when the arts are struggling, especially in the wake of a global pandemic — but also in “civic and public affairs, education, the environment, health and human services.”

The goal over time, he said, “has been to be innovative. An example of that would be the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which we started 10 years ago. When we started it, no one talked about mental health. And today, of course, it’s top of mind.”

In his words, “between COVID-19 and Uvalde and just general health, the biggest problem in mental health these days is finding help, finding a therapist. So, people are talking about it. A lot.”

Miller said that one of the foundation’s primary missions is an effort “to end depression, certainly in North Texas. Ending depression would be defined as diagnosing and treating. You can never end depression, but you can diagnose and treat it.”

Part of where that occurs is the Wilson District, a 22-acre parcel on the border of Deep Ellum that Miller says the foundation sought to transform from a formerly blighted area into one that serves as the home of 30 different nonprofits that operate rent-free.

Algur Meadows is the namesake of the Meadows Museum at SMU, which is also home to the Meadows School of the Arts. The museum got its start with Meadows donating his collection of Spanish art, which remains its focus, and which the foundation continues to assist with funding.

“It’s one of the largest collections of Spanish art outside of Spain,” Miller said.

But with so many vexing issues in contemporary America, the foundation’s core mission has veered well beyond Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso to the challenges of life.

When it comes to the 75th anniversary itself, Miller says he’s not certain people are “fully aware of the work we’ve been doing and the impact it’s had on Dallas and the state. We were the catalyst for the whole homeless effort that’s been going on for the last three years in Dallas.”

Miller became CEO in 2020, “right before COVID, and one of my passions was homelessness.” Just recently, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development “announced that they were providing the city with $9.3 million for child homelessness, on top of other HUD grants that they’ve provided. So, we’ve gone from a city that I would say was average in the country in its approach to homelessness to one of the country’s best in dealing with homelessness.”

There is, of course, an intense emotional controversy surrounding homelessness, regardless of what city happens to be dealing with it.

“You have to stay focused on solutions,” Miller said. “Homeless people, in general, don’t trust the government, because so many things that they’ve been promised haven’t come to fruition.”

Miller said he prides himself on the foundation being “quiet funders who take risks, who have impact in the city, in the state, that most people wouldn’t know about. We’re quiet in our work, yes, but have done good work through a diverse portfolio. We’re proud of it and would like people to know more of what it is we do.”

The driver of the foundation, he said, is innovative. How you address a problem yesterday and today may be different from how you handle it tomorrow. An example of that would be depression. How you treat it is so different from how you treated it in the past.”

He said that Algur and Virginia Meadows “left the bulk of their wealth to the foundation. We have no debt. We have 11 family board members and four outside members. Our 22 acres in the Wilson District, along with our equity portfolio, adds up to about $700 million.”

But with that level of funding come challenges. “If we just focused on child poverty, it would make our lives a lot simpler,” Miller said. “But that’s not what we’re about. So, we look at everything.”

Charles Glover, vice president of grants, said the problems “are more complex than they’ve ever been. The upside, though, is that there are more solutions and collaboratives and folks willing to engage. We’re constantly scanning the landscape for what makes the most sense. How can we leverage the resources we have for the greatest good against all of the different priorities laid out before us.”

Miller said with a laugh that philanthropy in Dallas often follows its own rules. “A yellow light means speed up. A red light is a suggestion to stop. And if you get a green light, you need to wait. Which is my way of saying that the town is so giving and fun to work with.”

CLARIFICATION, 2:05 p.m., Nov. 27: An earlier version of this story, relying on figures from the foundation, misstated the smallest grant the foundation has given. It was $15 not $15 million.

View this article on The Dallas Morning News’ website.