From 1985-2000, Durfee’s American/Chinese Adventure Capital Program sent over 200 people from the LA Region to China to pursue projects of personal interest that would bring them in contact with the people of China. During those years, Americans with the support of Durfee funding surfed, fly-fished, traced Jewish history, traveled the Yangtze and exchanged plant seeds with people in China.
In an age where anyone can go online and buy a plane ticket to Shanghai, it is hard to imagine how different it was to travel to China in 1985 when this program was conceived. China was not very open to travelers, and obtaining a visa for more than 30 days was difficult. Few Chinese people had met Americans, and fewer still had been allowed to travel outside of their country. There was little opportunity for cross-cultural exchange and greater understanding across the Pacific.
The American/Chinese Adventure Capital Program was created to honor the founder of The Durfee Foundation, R. Stanton Avery. Stan had a longstanding interest in China, and a desire to bring China and America closer together because of a formative experience in his youth.
In 1929, ten Pomona College students, including Stan Avery, raised funds to spend one year traveling throughout China. Each student had a project to pursue, whether investigating famine relief or filming scenes of everyday life. In recognition of the adventurous spirit of that expedition, the Foundation established the American/Chinese Adventure Capital program to provide funds to individuals who had a personal interest related to China, and a project to pursue there. Examples of past projects include the investigation of Mongolian song and dance, Chinese language dialects, figure skating and the manufacture of fireworks. The program was open to students, faculty, staff and recent alumni from the following institutions: California Institute of the Arts, California Institute of Technology, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Occidental College, Pitzer College, Pomona College and Scripps College.
Although the applicants had to be affiliated with institutions of higher learn- ing, the foundation was decidedly not interested in funding scholarly projects. Preference was given to projects that emphasized person-to-person contact with the people of China and that demonstrated creativity, imagination, originality, and a touch of whimsy. The maximum grant the Durfee Foundation awarded was $25,000, and the size of grants varied according to the complexity and length of the projects, which could run fromone month to as one year.
Just as Stan’s China adventure transformed his life, so did it change the lives of the participants. Many made lasting friendships, a few married Chinese citizens they met on their travels and others, like Dr. Pam Logan, an aerospace engineer, changed careers. Before going to China, she intended to be an academic. While there, she developed a burning interest in Tibetan history and culture. She went on to learn to speak Chinese and Tibetan, wrote a book about Tibetan warriors, and founded a nonprofit organization that rebuilds and restores Tibetan monasteries. “The Durfee Foundation is willing to give grants for projects whose social purpose may not be immediately apparent,” said Pam in 1998, “and yet sometimes amazing things come out of those projects that no one could have predicted. Lots of people travel to foreign countries and they are no different when they return. What makes the American/Chinese Adventure Capital Program different is that the grant inspires people to create a quest and see it through. That motivation was more important to me than the money.”
In 2000, the funding and administration of the American/Chinese Adventure Capital Program was assumed by another family foundation, the R.S. Avery Foundation, which ran it for a few more years. With the increased fluidity of travel between the U.S. and China, the need for a program that brought the people of the two countries in contact with one another was not as urgent, and the program was discontinued.