Surdna Foundation: Grants for College Arts and Humanities

OVERVIEW: The Surdna Foundation's three grantmaking programs are called Sustainable Environments, Strong Local Economies, and Thriving Cultures. A common theme among many grants is an incorporation of social justice and/or the involvement of young people in underserved communities.

IP TAKE: The Surdna foundation's Thriving Cultures program covers a wide swath of arts projects. Colleges and universities play an integral part in those efforts, and there are plenty of grants available for innovative initiatives. 

PROFILE: Founded in 1917 by John Andrus, a successful medicine manufacturer and distributor, the Surdna Foundation (Surdna is "Andrus" spelled backwards) is still in large part run by his descendants. Its mission today is to help foster “sustainable communities in the United States,” which it defines as being “guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.” Under that umbrella, the foundation’s three main programs are called Sustainable Environments, Strong Local Economies, and Thriving Cultures.

Within the Thriving Cultures program, there are four art-related sub-areas that higher ed fundraisers should be aware of:

  • Teens' Artistic and Cultural Advancement, directed at “artistic training programs that help teens explore their cultural identity and equip them with the life-enhancing skills they need to achieve their educational and career goals”
  • Community Engaged Design “to involve artists, architects and designers in community-engaged problem solving and development”
  • Artists and Economic Development, giving artists “business training and financial resources that enable them to be, and create, valuable economic assets for their communities.”
  • Artists Engaging in Social Change, enabling artists to be “catalysts for social change and to promote the cultural traditions of their communities.”

In terms of support for colleges and universities, some past grants have been awarded through the Teens' Artistic and Cultural Development subprogram. Essentially, the mission of this initiative is to support the artistic development of underserved high school students, and universities have grown into solid allies in the area. These grants provide a variety of support — from general operating grants to scholarship endowments — to help young people get into college or summer learning programs and develop their artistic skills and cultural knowledge.

In Surdna's other subprograms, it’s also possible for university arts programs to qualify for funding. For instance, a $50,000 grant was awarded for a performance and visual art installation at Arizona State University through the Artists Engaging in Social Change subprogram, and a recent grant was also awarded to ASU to support a community-focused play.

Although the foundation's Community Engaged Design program isn't focused on the arts, colleges have been awarded grants from the subprogram in the past. Here, the focus is on bringing designers, architects, and artists together to develop creative design solutions for their communities.

There isn't a specific medium Surdna appears to favor over another in its grants for college arts. For example, grants have supported arts and education projects in hip hop, theater, dance, and general arts development. That said, a number of recent grants have supported indigenous communities, artist "incubators," and (as mentioned above) programs designed to help young people prepare for and get into college.

If you are considering seeking funds, start by reviewing the foundation’s guidelines before submitting a Letter of Inquiry (accepted year-round). If after a thorough review you still have questions, the foundation suggests emailing grants@surdna.org or contacting their Grants Manager. Reviewing Surdna’s past grants is also helpful, but keep in mind that pre-2013 grants were awarded prior to the revision of the foundation’s mission and funding guidelines.

When sending in your letter, keep in mind that the foundation especially prefers to see that your program will creatively “use arts and culture to make communities more just and sustainable,” will serve communities of color and those of low income, and has “ a capacity and willingness to share best practices and knowledge with their colleagues and others in the field.”

Grantseekers should also be aware that while the foundation does support scholarship programs, it does not endow such programs (or offer endowments of any kind), nor does it award grants for academic fellowships.

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