A Quick Look at the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation's Art and Social Justice Initiative

It's a good time to be an arts nonprofit engaged in social change.

Of course, an argument can be made that any arts-oriented nonprofit, consciously or not, engages in some form of social change. But we've seen a significant bump in news involving foundations establishing grant programs that award organizations that deliberately frame the arts as a mechanism for driving social or public policy change.

Two quick examples spring to mind: First, the inaugural Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artist as Activist Fellowship. (Winners were announced in March of 2015.) And second, New York's A Blade of Grass' Fellowship for Engaged Art, which provides resources to artists who demonstrate artistic excellence and serve as innovative conduits for — you guessed it — social change.

Today's post brings a third example, also out of New York. Courtesy of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Art and Social Justice initiative will offer grants to art and culture nonprofits in the five boroughs of New York City that provide services in one or more of the following sectors: arts education, public art, art in community and service centers, artistic activism, community-based museums, expanded access to art, art in the service of social justice or change, and the promotion of under-recognized artistic practice.

The Rubin Foundation was incorporated back in 1995. Donald Rubin is best known as the founder of PPO health provider MultiPlan, Inc., and, along with his wife Shelley, founded the Rubin Museum of Art. They got into Himalayan art decades ago, and that art forms the basis of the museum’s collection. Shelley is a trustee on the board of Human Rights Watch and also Trustee Emeritus of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center.

The Rubins have always been focused on supporting the arts in New York City, but they’ve funded some causes in the Himalayan region of Asia as well. This new initiative is the foundation’s first open call for submissions.

Executive Director Alexander Gardner said the initiative "stems from our longstanding commitment to supporting access to art and culture for all New Yorkers. We’re proud to support organizations providing arts education, artistic activism, increased access to art, and art in the service of social justice, among other cultural services."

What's more, these grants will prove particularly valuable to New York City’s "less profit-oriented arts spaces" (how's that for a euphemism?) That's because, according to the New York Observer, foundations in the city have cut back donations to such organizations as of late. 

Grants start at $2,500 and top out at $100,000. The deadline for submissions is November 1, 2015, and final decisions will be made in January of 2016.