How the Eugene M. Lang Foundation Is Funding Art to Reach New York City Teens

photo: Triff/shutterstock

photo: Triff/shutterstock

The Eugene M. Lang Foundation has been around for more than a half-century. Lang was a lifelong New Yorker—the son of Hungarian and Russian immigrants who made his fortune from an early technology company. He retired from business in 1997 to devote himself  entirely to philanthropy. Lang, who died last year, was perhaps best known for promising to pay for college for low-income kids in New York City if they graduated high school—an effort that spawned similar initiatives by other donors. 

Lang's family carries on his tradition of giving today, managing a foundation that reported assets of $16.5 million in 2016. This grantmaker recently caught our attention because it’s been getting more involved in the local arts scene in New York City. Earlier this month, the foundation awarded a $700,000 grant to Exploring the Arts to support its Lang Arts Scholars initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to give teenagers in New York City access to artistic training and career prep support. The funding will also provide after-school training for 15 public high school teens per year, college and career readiness sessions to be offered monthly, and paid arts administration internships.

Exploring the Arts was founded in 1999 by the singer (and painter) Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto, a former public school teacher. Commenting on the new Lang-funded initiative, Bennett said, "I would have loved to be part of something like this as a kid growing up in Queens." 

In the past, the Lang Foundation’s arts funding has centered more squarely on supporting small theaters and music and dance organizations, as well as film projects with social justice goals and museums that make accessibility a priority.

The foundation's other areas of interest include education, social justice, community and civic responsibility, health and aging, and the preservation of the natural and built environment.

Education grants often back STEM programs, entrepreneurship, and arts experiences. Social justice grants are largely focused on minorities, women, girls and veterans. Community and civic responsibility grants back community and public service goals, as well as respond to emergencies and basic needs. Health and aging grants support access to care, health literacy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patient support, and hospice care. Finally, preservation grants support natural and man-made environments of significance.

Lang’s foundation is run by family members with Lauren McGrail leading the way as executive director. McGrail was in the news last year when the family donated a bunch of the founder's clothing and household items after his death to the city's Fiorello LaGuardia High School, and a couple of 16-year-olds found $620 in cash in one of Lang’s old coat pockets. The teens returned the money, and McGrail sent the students Amazon gift cards for their honesty. Also last year, New York City by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer named June 26 Eugene Lang Day in New York to honor the founder's legacy in the city.

Unfortunately for grantseekers who haven’t worked with the Lang Foundation before, unsolicited proposals are not accepted for funding. However, the family trustees are open to learning about new organizations and programs, so nonprofits are welcome to submit a brief introduction online.