Monday, December 05, 2005

The Worm in the Apple

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the Esper A. Petersen Foundation was credited as a patron on the Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET) plaque. Who are they and what did they contribute to our program? From what I found, it is a private nonoperating foundation located in Gurnee, Illinois. It's been exempt since May 1961. It's primary activity is toward schools, colleges, and trade schools. It provides gifts, scholarships, and loans to other organizations.

According to this non-profit foundation's 2002 990-PF tax filing, the Esper A. Petersen Foundation provided a $40,000 grant to Santa Monica College. The purpose of this grant was to "provide tuition for qualifying students in the technologically advanced entertainment industry." I can safely assume this means that this grant went to AET. In 2003, it provided the same grant, but only for $4,000. Either that's a typo, or the grant dropped to a tenth of what it was the year before. What happened? In 2004, the same grant is once again listed, this time for $34,000.

Doing some quick math, that's $78,000 to Santa Monica College's AET students. That's a lot of money for us economically disadvantaged students. So, my only problem with this scenario is that I've been at AET for almost 3 years now and I've never heard a word about this grant. I asked several other AET students and they haven't heard of it either. What gives here? Did this money actually go to its intended purpose? Who are these "qualifying students"? How does one qualify for this grant? I guess it's time to request some public records to solve yet another mystery of our missing funds over at the Academy.

When I did a Google SMC search, I found two references to money provided from the Esper A. Petersen Foundation, and that was for SMC's Vermitech machine, which was to help worms eat our garbage in an ecologically friendly way. The $25,000 provided by Ann Petersen went to the Santa Monica College Foundation, which then donated the money for the project. The other reference I found was to the Wall of Honor list of givers to the Madison Theatre Project. Esper A. Petersen was listed as a Conductor, with a contribution between $25,000 and $99,999. Did the grant money that was intended for the AET students in fact go to this vermicomposting project?

I also discovered that, as of August 25, 2005, the SMC Foundation did award "a total of $34,000 in nine 'Margin of Excellence' mini-grants to professors for equipment ranging from sophisticated astronomical devices to 'green screen' technology used in film post-production." That's the same number as the Esper A. Petersen Foundation donated to SMC in 2004. Could this be where the money went? But it did not go to students. Rather, it went to full-time professors and program directors in order "to get grants of up to $5,000 for equipment, supplies, instructional materials, seminars and more." What the "more" is leaves much to the imagination. There's a nice photo which includes AET Dean Katharine Muller and a statement that AET received a portion of this grant for "green screen technology, a standard post-production tool that allows filmmakers to insert a desired background after an image or action has been captured." The Academy's Post Production career certificate is pending approval as of Spring Semester 2006.

If I bite into that forbidden apple from the garden of Original Sin, will I find the bliss of technological knowledge or just another worm, compliments of the Esper A. Petersen Foundation? However, I am reminded of the classic saying: "The only thing worse than finding a worm in your apple, is finding half a worm."

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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