Teens' Artistic Advancement

Thriving cultures depend upon the existence of vibrant artistic communities, and the survival and flourishing of these communities depends, in part, upon arts education. As an important component of this education, Surdna is dedicated to providing opportunities for the artistic advancement of teens. We aim to stimulate fresh thinking and new approaches to address the isolation and lack of opportunities for artistic advancement for young people from disadvantaged communities. Long-term, we expect teens from many cultures to contribute to the artistic fabric of the United States and to contribute to the evolution of new art forms. Some will use their developed artistic voices to help address societal concerns.

Surdna seeks programs in which:

  • There is unwavering institutional commitment to teens (especially those from disadvantaged circumstances), as made evident through the consistent availability of resources and staff.
  • Young people have increasingly complex and long-term opportunities to create art with accomplished artists, often resulting in strong mentoring relationships.
  • High quality, experienced, faculty and guest artists introduce diverse cultural and contemporary art-making approaches.
  • Professional artistic development opportunities are created for staff.

Examples of our grantmaking interests are programs in which:

  • An effective pipeline is developed for those students who are isolated from opportunity, but are committed to advancing artistically (including arts career development); e.g. intentional connections exist among high school, cultural mentors, afterschool and summer pre-professional programs—leading to entrance and success in undergraduate arts programs and professional work; there is good “mission” fit among institutions.
  • Young artists from a diversity of cultures who wish to pursue study at mainstream arts training institutions are given the opportunity and preparation necessary to succeed.
  • Youth in immigrant and indigenous communities can advance in the distinctive artistic expressions of their cultural heritage; e.g., through apprenticeships with master artists and tradition bearers.
  • Master artists in traditional art forms have opportunities for artistic refreshment—whether through exchanges with other artists who share their cultural heritage, or cultural study with elders; they have the opportunity to explore the connections between tradition and innovation.
  • Youth committed to social change can develop their artistic voice to strengthen their effectiveness when analyzing and working toward solutions.
  • Artists, educators and youth together create new arts education approaches that recognize the evolving nature of the arts; there is balance between the need for skills and techniques specific to an arts discipline and the need for resilience, versatility and innovation.

Artists Engaging in Social Change

Artists, arts and other cultural organizations play a critical role in fostering just, sustainable communities: they raise awareness and deepen our understanding of seemingly intractable social problems (e.g., regarding race, economic and cultural inequity); help those whose stories are not often heard to gain a public voice; and build sustainable communities by helping to develop innovative solutions and inspiring community members to action. The goals of this line of work are: 1) to strengthen the capacity of artists, arts and other cultural organizations in communities across the country to effectively engage in social change; and 2) to support and heighten awareness of the diverse roles artists can play in social change efforts.

There is a wide spectrum of roles that the arts and artists play in civic life. Working with Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, Surdna has created a chart which illustrates our vision of the spectrum of roles artists play when engaging in social change.  If you are planning to apply for a grant in this category it is important that you click here to to see the "Artists Engaging in Social Change" chart.

Our grantmaking interests include the following:


  • Community-based artistic and cultural projects that experiment with new approaches to artistic practice and increasing impact; projects may be national in scope and impact
  • Initiatives aimed at raising the level of current aesthetic practice while increasing social impact
  • Projects that amplify environmental, cultural, economic and or/social justice challenges

Capacity building:

  • Artist-run institutes that help deepen artists' and other staff's artistic and contextual knowledge while focusing on social change work
  • Exchanges among seasoned practitioners to share approaches and opportunities
  • Opportunities to build the training pipeline for socially committed young artists (from high school/afterschool programs to college and/or graduate study)
  • Teen arts programs that also provide the societal context to connect youth to meaningful social change opportunities
  • Work that advances cross-sector partnerships; e.g., residencies for artists with social change organizations, and vice versa, designed to promote intensive mutual learning and enhance impact
  • Building core staff capacity: building the teams/staffs necessary to develop effective work

Note: Artists Engaging in Social Change, along with additional priority areas under consideration, will not exclusively involve teens.

Click here to download the paper: Artists Engaging in Social Change by Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon, co-directors, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts

Community Driven Design

Under-resourced communities often have little say in the creation of public spaces and facilities that recognize their values, preferences and needs. The Surdna Foundation will assist community and cultural leaders, architects, landscape architects, urban planners and others to collaboratively design vibrant public places.

Because "design" helps give form to values, a collaborative, multi-disciplinary design process can be a critical catalyst for community change. The process can address complex community challenges, and result in public spaces and facilities that buoy cultural vitality, and resonate with the people for which this is home.  While Surdna will not support capital expenses (including most construction costs), we will help provide essential resources for collaborative planning, project development and monitoring.

In general, the projects we seek will honor the inhabitants and help signal increased community potential and opportunities.

Surdna seeks programs in which:

  • The initiative for the program comes from the community.
  • A multi-disciplinary pipeline of community members and designers is well prepared to create culturally responsive places.
  • There is evidence of readiness to take advantage of opportunity.
  • Spaces and facilities get built. Community members will "live the results" of their planning.
  • The collaborative spirit has the potential to live on and thrive after the "built" project is finished.
  • There is a willingness to share excellent community driven design examples and experiences with others - leading to higher aspirations for impact regionally and nationally.

Examples of our grantmaking interests


  • Revitalization of spaces and facilities connected historically to cultural celebration.
  • Local community design initiatives with the potential for regional or national impact.
  • Design projects in places with scarce local resources.
  • Design processes that add value to projects already planned or underway.
  • Public space projects that enhance already-built environments.
  • Projects that link design issues to neighborhood organizing.
  • Public spaces and facilities in immigrant communities.

Capacity Building:

For the community:

  • Problem solving: Creation of multi-disciplinary resource networks to which community members can turn for advice and problem solving around specific projects.
  • Readiness preparation: "Field Schools" --  Places or networks through which less experienced community members (including informally trained designers) can prepare to become knowledgeable design partners (to include youth, the elderly, and other community leaders).
  • Anticipation of opportunity: Connecting learning to specific public space and facilities opportunities; jumping in front of space opportunities that community leaders see coming.

For the designers (whether within or outside the community):

  • Architecture and design schools' curricula revisions to feature innovative preparation for collaborative community design practices.
  • Efforts to augment architecture licensing requirements to include community design field work.
  • Harnessing the energy and commitment of young designers to community design needs-through local cross-disciplinary workshops, summer institutes, coalitions of schools offering fellowships for alumni.

Note:  As Surdna's Thriving Cultures Program begins this new line of work, we initially anticipate grant size ranging from $35,000 to $80,000 annually, with duration ranging from one-to-three years.  We do not support capital expenditures.  Among expenses we will support are pre-development costs, community participation fees, design and other team member fees, visits to completed projects of interest.

As of July 1, 2012, Surdna's Arts Teachers Fellowship Program (SATF) will be renamed the National Arts Teachers Fellowship Program (NATF) and will be under the direction of the Center for Arts Education at the Boston Arts Academy in Boston, Massachuestts.

For information about the 2013 round of Fellowships, please click here.

Program Related Investments

Surdna's Program Related Investment Fund supports the foundation’s mission by providing investment capital to fund innovations that use market-based approaches to address economic, cultural, and environmental challenges.

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