Community Arts Meets 21st Century Skills at the Best Buy Foundation

The Best Buy Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the consumer electronics big box store, so it’s no surprise that the foundation focuses on technology and “21st-century skills.” What distinguishes this funder more is its narrow student age-group focus, which is limited to teenagers 13 – 18, and its expansive view of how 21st-century skills can be achieved, which includes an emphasis on arts engagement.

The Best Buy Foundation defines “21st-century skills” as “innovative skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity” that rigorously utilize technology. It’s easy to see how those four attributes can apply to community arts groups. And while you need not be an organization that solely educates or works with students, in terms of a funding partnership with this foundation, the key is to connect your work with rigorous hands-on experiences for teenagers—that use technology.

Funding for community arts organizations flows through the foundation's Community Grants program, which gives to nonprofits working locally and regionally. The foundation states that the average grant size here is $5,000, with a maximum amount of $10,000. Eligible organizations must be a public or nonprofit community-based organization. An organization and its program work must occur within 50 miles of a Best Buy location, and funds are only for program support, not general operating costs.

In the belief that “access to technology creates access to opportunity,” the Best Buy Foundation provides underserved student populations with “hands-on access” to technology education and tools that set them up for success—in high school, as a gateway to and through college, and for career preparation. In terms of those eventual careers, the foundation seeks to inspire and prepare “a new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, and dreamers.” That's a nice description of what a community arts organization can offer.

What types of programs make this happen? The foundation looks for those that “transform underserved teens from consumers to creators.” It provides a healthy list of examples, but also makes clear that these examples are just a starting point. They include program activities such as filmmaking, digital photography, music production, game development and maker fairs/hackathons. The foundation states that these examples are only a starting point for what's possible.

Recent community arts groups receiving support from the Best Buy Foundation include $6,000 to the Patricia M. Sitar Center For The Arts (Washington, DC) and $4,000 to the Bossier Arts Council (Bossier City, LA).

Best Buy Foundation's grant opportunities are open to all who wish to apply. Community Grant applications are due early July. If you happen to be a Twin Cities-based organization, then a special pot called the Twin Cities Fund gives you the opportunity to apply four times per year.

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