More Than Just a Music Festival: A Look at Bonnaroo’s Grantmaking Fund


Every summer since 2002, music lovers have gathered on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee, to enjoy the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Over the course of four days, thousands of people camp out to watch and listen to hundreds of performances and be part of an epic creative community. But the masterminds behind this festival have long been engaged in other activities, too. 

The Bonnaroo Works Fund (BWF) was established in 2009 as the charitable arm of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Thus far, it has been primarily focused on local asset building and reinvestment, which is good news for nonprofits in the Nashville area. Over the years, the fund has provided over $7 million in support to more than 100 causes.

Like some other small funders from the music industry such as the Hootie and the Blowfish Foundation, this one is managed by a community foundation. Specifically, the Bonnaroo Works Fund is administered by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. This community foundation oversees over 1,050 charitable funds and has distributed more than $715 million to local groups over the past 23 years.

Recently, BWF announced its 2017 grant recipients, and almost all of them are in Tennessee. Of the new $225,000 in grant distributions, 26 of the 32 grantees were in-state. Clearly, this is a fund that sticks to supporting the communities where festival organizers live, work and play. For the fifth year, BWF supported Arts at the Airport, a public arts effort with the local airport in Nashville. Dozens of applicants submitted their ideas, and five proposals were chosen for display installations for travelers to enjoy.

BWF also gave local support toward the installation of refillable water stations in local schools and helping a local conference center switch to solar energy. Other grants went to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, Land Trust for Tennessee, Nashville Symphony Association and the Nashville Food Project. All these grants are made possible by the portion of Bonnaroo ticket sales that are allocated to the BWF, as well as festival activities like the silent auction and 5K run.

“The Bonnaroo Works Fund remains an integral component of the overall Bonnaroo experience,” said Ashley Capps, co-founder of Bonnaroo and president of BWF. “With the help of our patrons and sponsors, we are able to expand the festival’s impact throughout the year by supporting dynamic and enriching causes.”

The next BWF grant cycle will begin in the first quarter of 2018, and while previous recipients are welcome to apply each year, this funder wants to support new groups with innovative approaches to the arts, the environment and education. Manchester, Tennessee, and Coffee County communities are top areas of interest for this funder geographically, and most grants are between $1,000 and $10,000. You can learn more about the BWF grant guidelines and access the online application here.