Elizabeth Mendez Berry, Surdna Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer, Thriving Cultures

FUNDING AREAS: Cultural organizations, the arts, theater, dance, and visual arts

CONTACT: grants@surdna.org, 212-557 0010

IP TAKE: It might be too early in her Surdna tenure to truly gauge her grantmaking, but looking at Méndez Berry's work as an award-winning journalist offers a glimpse into her interests.

PROFILE: Prior to joining the Surdna Foundation in February 2013, Elizabeth Méndez Berry consulted for the Ford and NoVo foundations, and as a journalist she has reported on a variety of culture and arts stories. She's also had her own interesting career in the arts. (Here's one unique tidbit: One of her essays inspired a verse by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z.) Here's the bio she includes on her own personal website:

Elizabeth Méndez Berry is an award-winning journalist who writes about culture, gender, criminal justice and politics. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Vibe, Latina, the Nation and Time. "Love Hurts," her landmark investigative article on domestic violence in the hip hop industry, won ASCAP's 2006 Deems Taylor award for music reporting. The article was also included in Da Capo's Best Music Writing anthology, as was her essay on Jay-Z's premature retirement, "The Last Hustle." 

In 2008, she won the Columbia Journalism School's Hechinger award for best education coverage for her chronicle of the death of a Bronx high school. In his book "Decoded," Jay-Z cited one of her critical essays as inspiring his lines "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on, I'm coplex/I never claimed to have wings on" from The Black Album. In September 2010, a Spanish-language OpEd she authored for New York's El Diario newspaper sparked the country's first ever public hearing on street harassment of women and girls.

Méndez Berry has been interviewed about music and culture by NPR, NBC, CBC, Univision, CNN en español, and many more. Her writing has been included on syllabi at Brown and Columbia, and has been cited in many books and articles. She has lectured at Princeton, Duke University, Texas A&M, Fordham and Hunter College. She is an adjunct professor at NYU's Clive Davis School of Recorded Music, where she teaches music journalism, and is also a panelist on the Rap Sessions lecture tour. She has a bachelor of arts from the University of Toronto and a masters in journalism from Columbia University.

Right now, it's difficult to judge her grantmaking at Surdna. There just isn't a large pool of examples out there, and she hasn't attended conferences or written many articles about how she approaches her work just yet. But Méndez Berry will likely play an integral role in the foundation's Thriving Cultures program, and that's the best place to dive into for some broad strokes on what she'll likely be funding.

The Thriving Cultures strategy is broken down into four subprograms with the broad goals of increasing engagement in the arts and serving as a catalyst for economic and community development in the arts. Grants are made each year for projects that provide arts learning experiences for teens, programs that provide business training for artists, and projects that allow artists to engage in social change. The fourth subprogram, Community-Engaged Design, provides funding to involve architects, artists, and designers in community design projects.

Lately, grants from the program have supported a variety of projects, with awards averaging between $50,000 and $100,000. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art received a $100,000 grant to expand its outreach and weekend offerings for New York City high school students. The program provides training for these students in the visual arts.
  • The Arizona State University Foundation received a $50,000 grant through the Artist Engaging in Social Change subprogram for an art installation and performance that "explores the relationship between natural landscapes and humanity."
  • Tulane City Center, a collaboration among a variety of cultural groups in Louisiana, was awarded $120,000 for three university-community design projects looking at urban agriculture and wastewater facilities.
  • $500,000 to ArtPlace. In support of a national tour and to "promote Vibrancy Indicators; make its first loans; stage a convening of creative placemakers; and craft a strategy for extended federal alignment."

Surdna accepts LOIs on a rolling basis. Grantseekers should expect to hear from the foundation within 90 days of their LOI submission. The foundation keeps its grantmaking within the US and does not award grants to individuals.