If Your Community Arts is Really Community Advocacy, Check out the Ben & Jerry's Foundation

The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Vermont-based ice cream company, explicitly states that it does not give money to arts programs.

Rather, the artistic interests of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation lie within its interests in economic and social justice. The foundation is therefore focused on supporting community-driven artistic enterprises that address these issues—and then puts the power in the hands of citizens to create change. If there's artistic "output" in this vein, that's okay, but for the Ben & Jerry's Foundation a primary purpose must be the act of creation, and how that act empowers and educates.

Given this, it shouldn't be surprising support for the arts occurs through a grant program the foundation calls Grassroots Organizing Through Social Change, its key program for distributing U.S.-wide dollars. Grants come in good-sized chunks. The foundation states it will award grants up to $25,000; in reality the vast majority fall within $10,000 - $20,000. 

The foundation only funds programs that are unquestionably grassroots-driven, focusing “on the types of activities and strategies an organization uses for creating social change rather than on the specific issues the organization is addressing” with a Theory of Change that “people most affected by a problem are in the best position to determine the solutions.”

These guiding principles are evident in the foundation’s recent community arts grantees. It gave $20,000 to the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, which "works at the intersection of culture and policy, organizing and engaging" its community "to develop and implement permanent solutions to long standing structural problems that adversely impact their ability to practice their art form and/or make a living.

The foundation also recently gave $20,000 to the Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (Philadelphia, PA), which "empowers young people incarcerated in adult jails and prisons through artistic expression, political education, and leadership development."

To learn more about the organizations supported by the foundation, explore its Grantees list.

Not surprisingly, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation has an open grant application process, with two LOI deadlines each year (typically April and October) for its Grassroots Organizing for Social Change program.


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