Jenny Toomey, Ford Foundation

TITLE: Director, Advancing Media Rights and Access

FUNDING AREAS: Music, media rights and access

CONTACT:, 212-573-5000

IP TAKE: As someone who spent many years as a touring musician and as an advocate for musicians' rights, Toomey is definitely the right fit for Ford's projects involving the sonic arts. 

PROFILE: "The first thing you see of Jenny Toomey," writes The Washington Post in 1988, "is an empty 20-gallon detergent drum she's rolling in front of her down Whitehaven Street" in Washington, D.C. Toomey was there to protest apartheid. Now, 25 years later, she's a director for the Ford Foundation's Advancing Media Rights and Access initiative, doling out grants to "preserve the open architecture of the Internet and expand access, transparency, innovation, creativity and participation."

Toomey graduated Georgetown University with a degree in Womens' Studies. Between 1992 and 1997, she co-managed the influential indie rock record label Simple Machines out of Arlington, Virginia. During that time she also co-wrote An Introductory Mechanic's Guide to Putting Out Records, Cassettes and CDs, a 24-page booklet responsible for spawning dozens of other seminal record labels across the country. 

When Simple Machines folded, Toomey took a position as a copywriter with The Washington Post, and also focused on her own career as a composer and musician. Around the same time she also began a lobbying campaign called the Coalition for the Future of Music, which supported the rights of independent musicians. The group has since metamorphosed into the Future of Music Coalition (FMC). For too long, believes FMC, "musicians have had too little voice in the manufacture, distribution and promotion of their music and too little means to extract fair support and compensation for their work."

Toomey describes the Coalition in a 2003 article published by The Nation as a non-profit think tank concerned with "advocating new business models, technologies and policies that would advance the cause of both musicians and citizens." They work to form an "American musicians' middle class," and to transform "legislative-speak into language that musicians and citizens can understand."

A goal Toomey has pursued through her own work as a lobbyist, advocate, and journalist is the breaking down and delivery of legal information in a useful, applied format that benefits people who need it most. Projects that understand the many forms of institutional jargon as something distinctly insidious, designed to perpetuate the divides between powerful and the powerless. Though we can't say for certain, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that Toomey may be keen to these types of projects at Ford. We do know that Toomey, and the foundation as a whole, supports a strong and egalitarian Internet culture, a topic Toomey wrote about during Ford's participation with a Knight News Challenge.

Despite her fierce defenses of the independent music community, she remained surprisingly neutral during the great music sharing debates in the early 2000s. "I don't think it's either a good thing or a bad thing, honestly," Toomey told The Washington Post in 2003 when the Record Industry Association of American (RIAA) brought a barrage of lawsuits against the users of music trading software akin to the now-defunct Napster. "If file trading is cutting in on legitimate sales, then that's a problem... but I go back and forth."

Musicians for social justice will score especially big points with Toomey, as she works for a foundation that many opine is exceedingly left-leaning. Take for example the $200,000 she was able to procure for The Culture Group to support a "leadership development program for musicians... to identify the most effective and strategic ways to build cultural capacity for social justice movements."


Toomey fronted the band Tsunami, one of several in which she has played over the past twenty years. Below is a video of her performing with them in DC in 1992.