Christensen Fund: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Christensen Fund works to improve cultural diversity through the arts. The Bay Area grantmaking program provides funds to universities, museums, art centers, film festivals, gardens, and other cultural entities to explore connections between biological diversity and cultural expression.

FUNDING AREAS: Cultural diversity, local indigenous communities, art, music, dance, and museums

IP TAKE: Although the Christensen Fund has a huge international presence, it still has a Bay Area program, so you'll only be competing against your neighbors for a grant. Your program must revolve around cultural diversity to be considered.

PROFILE: The Christensen Fund is a great example of a philanthropic foundation that has gone global but remained true to its local roots. The fund was founded in 1957 in San Francisco by Allen and Carmen Christensen, and since the 1970s it has focused on charitable and educational activities and the acquisition of fine arts and ethnographic artifacts in the San Francisco Bay area. Christensen has expanded to fund programs specifically based in Africa, Central Asia, Turkey, Northern Mexico, and Northern Australia. Fortunately for nonprofits in the Bay Area, it still has a focus area for you too.

Allen Christensen made his fortune as a civil and mining engineer and president of the Utah Mining Construction Company along the Pacific Rim. Although mining was his business, his interests were eclectic travel and art collecting. His wife, Carmen, was a public school teacher, artist, and instructor of studio arts. During the 1980s and 1990s, the couple's interests gravitated toward Indonesian and Japanese textiles, classical Chinese art, Ethiopian Coptic crosses, and indigenous traditions of Papua New Guinea.

Exotic foreign cultures were more than just an intriguing pastime for the Christensens. They believed that bicultural diversity was the interweave of nature, mankind, cultural pluralism, and ecological integrity. The Christensens dreamed of supporting individuals, institutions, and small communities as they embodied, performed, and explained their knowledge of and relationship to cultural art forms across generations. However, thr foundation's grantmaking extends also to food sovereignty, civil rights, environmental landscapes, and climate change.

Fortunately, cultural diversity organizations in San Francisco won't be competing with the rest of the world. The Christensen Fund, which is still headquartered in San Francisco, recognizes the city as a cultural crossroads and awards grants based on two primary themes: native peoples and landscapes and building understanding to engage communities. The first theme involves helping local indigenous groups reconnect with their ancestral territories and revitalize their cultural identities. The second theme provides funds to universities, museums, art centers, film festivals, gardens, and other cultural entities to explore connections between biological diversity and cultural expression. Of note, the Christensen Fund is no longer accepting applications under the Diaspora Theme.

In addition to these two themes, Christensen also has a local giving program operated by non-program staff living in the Bay Area. Through this program, small grants are awarded to local social justice, educational opportunity, local food systems, and community development activities that aren't necessary covered by the foundation's overall grantmaking mission.

Past local grants have gone to the Heyday Institute, the Ballet Afsaneh Art & Culture Society, the San Francisco International Arts Festival, Boys Hope Girls Hope San Francisco Bay Area, and Land Empowerment Animals People. Main theme grants tend to be between $15,000 and $60,000 and local giving program grants more like $6,250. The following nine counties are eligible for Bay Area program grants: 

  • Alameda
  • Contra Costa
  • Marin
  • Napa
  • San Francisco
  • San Mateo
  • San Clara
  • Solano
  • Sonoma  

Pre-proposals for Bay Area grants are due between August 1 and August 31 each year. This is a change from years in the past. Grant proposals are reviewed just once each year in December, and applicants usually know by mid-January if they're in the running for a grant. Pre-proposals should be completed directly on Christensen's website, which is easy to navigate. Questions about pre-application submissions should be sent via email to, or you can contact the staff at 415-644-1630.


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