Why Compton is Among the Funders Backing Air Traffic Control

The Air Traffic Control Education Fund is a pretty cool Bay Area nonprofit. It was established in 2004 by a group of musicians and their managers with the goal of helping musicians create more effective industry collaborations not only with each other, but with actors in various social and environmental justice movements around the nation. ATCs basic ethos is:

  • To help artists contribute to the social and environmental issues for which they are passionate
  • To allow the artists to use ATC toward forming successful, long-term connections and collaborations
  • Helping artists engage in social change movements
  • Integrating activism and philanthropy into the music industry 

We don't see this kind of nonprofit every day and, too often, the social justice and arts crowds keep to themselves. Of course, though, many artists worry about the wider world, just as many social justice types love the arts.

ATC holds workshops and retreats to help artists and managers become more effective change-makers, and determine best practice strategies for integrating music and activism.

Since its inception, ATC has helped artists raise over $10 million, which has been directed and regranted to social change and social justice organizations around the country. It supports artists of all sizes looking to raise money for just about any social movement that is close to their hearts. Here are a few projects and artists ATC has supported in the past: 

  • My Morning Jacket raised $1,700 through ticket add-ons. The money covered the cost of 17 raised garden beds for a community garden in St. Louis. The garden will produce around 850 pounds of food annually.
  • Bassnectar’s ongoing “Dollar per Basshead” campaign has raised and donated tens-of-thousands of dollars to organizations like Alternet which received $25,000 in 2011 and the Electirc Frontier Foundation, which received $30,000 in 2013. 

ATC has not only caught the eye of musicians, but it has also garnered the attention of some larger foundations in the past. In 2011, the Ford Foundation awarded ATC a $200,000 grant toward its capacity building and program development projects. The Nathan Cummings Foundation has also awarded ATC a $75,000 in past in support of training and technical assistance and the Wallace Global Fund awarded ATC a $40,000 grant back in 2012.

Why is ATC pulling in support of national funders? Well, for one thing, foundations pushing social change are always looking for new allies to activate, looking beyond the usual suspects. So getting artists more involved in change efforts has to be appealing.

In February, the San Francisco-based Compton Foundation awarded ATC a $50,000 general support grant. The ATC grant aligns quite perfectly with Compton’s "courageous storytelling" philosophy, which asks:

How can we imagine a new world without sharing brilliant stories about what the future could be—how it might taste, smell, sound, and feel?

The Compton grant is supporting ATCs expansion efforts into other creative industries and help it develop an evaluation tool that will assess participating artists’ social change activities and potential.

The Compton Foundation’s total annual giving tends to sit around the $3.5 million mark with grants that rarely, if ever, go above $50,000. So this grant to ATC is a pretty big deal.