Surdna Foundation: Grants for the Arts

OVERVIEW: Surdna's arts support falls under its Thriving Cultures Program, which is one of the foundation's three main program areas, along with Sustainable Environments and Strong Local Economies. Grants awarded through the Thriving Cultures Program are meant to support "efforts to encourage teens to explore the arts, involve artists in community development projects and foster the growth and success of local artists as economic engines and agents for social change." 

IP TAKE: If your organization can tie a proposal not only to the arts program but also one or both of Surdna's other two program areas, it'll have that much better a chance of gaining close consideration for support. Grantseekers should keep in mind that Surdna does not have one specific program dedicated to the arts, it actually has a few. Anyone looking into submitting an LOI to Surdna should first review its various grantmaking programs do determine how their work lines up with Surdna's grantmaking goals. 

PROFILE: Surdna's Thriving Cultures Program seeks to create "just and sustainable communities" through the support of local arts and culture organizations in four main ways:

  • Teens' Artistic and Cultural Advancement: This area focuses on "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: This area focuses on involving artists, architects, and designers in community development efforts and other local problem-solving efforts.
  • Artists and Economic Development: This area seeks to provide artists with business training and financial resources that "enable them to be, and create, valuable economic assets for their communities."
  • Artists Engaging in Social Change: This area supports "the potential of artists to be catalysts for social change and to promote the cultural traditions of their communities."

The thread that weaves all these areas together is the desire to spark innovation, imagination, and advancement in communities through the arts and design. Surdna's persistent efforts tend to revolve around the premise that communities with robust elements of arts and culture are more cohesive and prosperous and benefit from the diversity of their people.

The foundation looks for organizations in the focus areas that meet its leading criteria. In particular, the organizations embrace and exhibit artistic and design excellence, find innovative ways to use arts and culture to make communities more just and sustainable, prioritize the needs of low-income communities and people of color, have sound financial practices, and "demonstrate a capacity and willingness to share best practices and knowledge with their colleagues and others in the field."

Surdna also looks for proposals that "cross-cut" and connect to the work of its other two program areas: Strong Local Economies and Sustainable Environments. One recent grantee making this connection is AS220 Youth, a non-profit community arts space in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, that works with low-income teens through "rigorous art making that leads to increased skills and self-esteem." AS220 also offers residential and work studios, galleries, and performance and educational spaces.

Proposals and letters of inquiry are accepted on a rolling basis, and there are no set deadlines for submissions. The documents can be submitted online and are said to be reviewed by Surdna staff within 90 days. All applicants are encouraged to closely read the program guidelines and FAQs before any letters of inquiry are submitted. If Surdna requests a full proposal, those submissions do have deadlines in April, July and December. There is also the possibility of Surdna grantees receiving multi-year grants for up to three years. To qualify, grantees must apply for additional funding within eight months of receiving their initial grants.

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