TITLE: Associate Director
FUNDING AREAS: Innovation, jobs, urban resilience, inclusive economies, New York City
CONTACT: etorres@Rockfound.org, 212-869-8500
IP TAKE: Above all, Torres is looking for innovation, rather than more of the same. "Innovation succeeds when it creates new pathways for solving entrenched social problems, resulting in lasting transformation of the systems that most affect vulnerable populations and leave stronger social relationships in their wake, " he told IP.
PROFILE: Edwin Torres is the associate director at The Rockefeller Foundation who's most concerned with poor and disadvantaged populations in New York City, right where the foundation is based. He's not working alone, but considering New York's diverse population, Torres has his work cut out for him.
Prior to joining The Rockefeller Foundation, Torres was Director of External Partnerships for Parsons the New School for Design. He has also has worked at the venerable Ford Foundation on its Arts and Culture team, and himself holds dual New York City-based masters degrees: in art history from Hunter College (which he earned while serving as Director of Longwood Art Project, a community arts center in the South Bronx) and one in management from The New School (which he earned while at Parsons).
Since joining Rockefeller in 2009, he has been put in charge of all New York City grantmaking, running the Opportunities Fund, awarding the Jane Jacobs Medal, and serving on the philanthropy innovation team. Torres follows in the footsteps of the long-serving Joan Shigekawa, who left Rockefeller in 2010 for a senior deputy chair title at the National Endowment for the Arts. But Rockefeller's press release announcing Torres' hire wasn't just about them announcing a staff replacement; it made Torres' appointment seem like an economic necessity. "Today's announcement comes after a difficult economic year for the industry in which 80% of NYC's nonprofit cultural organizations were forced to reduce their budgets and more than half have reduced staff and postponed or canceled programs," the release said.
Lucky for The Rockefeller Foundation, Torres clearly has an understanding of how art and economy are intertwined in New York City culture. In a Grantmakers in the Arts collective essay, he wrote:
We often argue that culture deserves subsidies because it will attract tourists and new, middle- to high-income residents to lower-income neighborhoods. The truth is that the attraction of these populations seldom serves low-income populations well. Tourist dollars often don't reach low-income areas, and the attraction of new, middle- to high-income residents generally displaces the economically vulnerable, transforming their neighborhoods from ones that were subject to disinvestment and neglect to ones in which they can no longer afford to live.
The Rockefeller Foundation recently commissioned an independent evaluation of of its NYC Cultural Innovation Fund, seemingly communicating that they really do prioritize this area, and are open to improving it further. The foundation was an early investor in the idea that supporting culture can help achieve equity, and this fund has increasingly focused on both equity and resilience. With an investment of $16.3 million, 6 years and part-time staff allocation, The NYC Cultural Innovation Fund has supported a diverse portfolio of experiments, explorations and innovations by 86 different cultural and community organizations in New York City. Many of these projects would not have happened without the foundation’s support, and most projects appear to have produced valuable results at the level of the organizations themselves.
In addition to the arts and culture category, Torres serves on the 100 Resilient Cities team and the Secure Livelihoods team, which makes jobs more accessible. More specifically, he told IP that his department is developing a portfolio of work in the U.S. that "supports the engagement of employers in engaging in expanding employment opportunities for our nation’s young people." Some of his recent blog posts for the foundation focus on youth unempolyment, and the particular crisis in the Latino community. As he puts it:
"The Rockefeller Foundation is working to advance inclusive economies that create the pathways to give everyone the opportunity to contribute to and share in prosperity—especially those facing the greatest barriers to advancing their well-being. Reaching that goal, and employing more youth in career-building jobs, will require better integration of our nation’s Latino youth in the labor market."
Torres has also been drawn towards environmentally-minded public schools in New York City. He recently announced Rockefeller's involvement in a $10,000 scholarship program for students involved in environmental sustainability and civic engagement. Torres commented, "We look forward to supporting the next generation of environmental stewards. . . as they seek to promote the spirit of civic engagement around sustainability within their communities."
When asked if Rockefeller is seeking out new grantees, Torres responded, "We are not looking to support organizations so much as we are looking to support efforts that result in positive lasting change in the systems that affect poor and vulnerable NYC residents."
Torres' primary piece of advice to prospective grantees is to carefully review the "overall perspective of The Rockefeller Foundation, our point of view and the nature of our work—our pillars of resilience and more equitable growth, our systems-approach, our valuing of leverage to achieve increased impact."
(Torres interview begins at 2:20)