For the seven 2014 recipients, who will receive $50,000 a year for one or two years, the grants address a variety of needs. Opera singer Ryan Speedo Green will make a dent in his $100,000 student loans. Actress Sarah Sokolovic will have the financial flexibility to take off from her day job to hit auditions. DePasquale will make her debut recording, in a proper recording venue with a top-class producer.
Among the past recipients of the 47 fellowships awarded since 2008 are opera star Isabel Leonard, American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland, actor Bryce Pinkham (now in Broadway's A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder), and photographer Richard Mosse, recently featured in the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Though the fund is based at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphians have been overlooked until this year, when artist Mia Rosenthal and dePasquale were named.
DePasquale, like all of the recipients, was nominated by one of many partner organizations, which often are such major institutions as the Yale School of Drama, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, or American Ballet Theatre. But in her case, the boost came from the smaller Perlman Music Program, which emphasizes principles dear to the late philanthropist and arts supporter Leonore Annenberg - giving back to the outside world even as the recipients are still becoming established. That was part of the proposal dePasquale submitted once she was nominated. "Educational outreach and community engagements ... are things I've always believed in," she said.
"They [grant recipients] are supposed to have some income coming in ... but it takes time to establish oneself in an arts career. This is a way of smoothing their path," program director Gail Levin said.
Among this year's recipients, artist Rosenthal already has works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; actress Sokolovic already has received a Drama Desk nomination for the Off-Broadway musical The Shaggs; violinist Tessa Lark won the prestigious 2012 Naumburg first prize (though she plays bluegrass fiddle); Calvin Royal III is in the American Ballet Theatre corps; and Molly Bernard recently made her Yale Repertory Theatre debut in Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
In contrast to dePasquale - whose parents, Gloria and the late William dePasquale, have long histories with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and who grew up thinking everybody played an instrument - some Annenberg recipients come from places with more distant artistic role models. Bernard is from Las Vegas and Royal from St. Petersburg, Fla. Bass-baritone Green grew up in a Suffolk, Va., trailer park, is now a member of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and will spend next year at the Vienna State Opera.
Though only 20 percent of his grant may be used for student loan repayment, he now has a luxury opera singers don't always have: the option of avoiding roles that could damage his voice in the long term.
"When I was 24, any role I got I was happy to have," says Green, now 28. "Annenberg will help me spend these next years not getting the big roles, but things that are vocally appropriate for my age. It takes time. I won't be singing King Philip II [in Verdi's Don Carlo] tomorrow."