In a newly published story “For Surdna, Infrastructure is Where Sustainability and Justice Cross Paths” Inside Philanthropy reporter Tate Williams speaks with Helen Chin, Director of Surdna’s Sustainable Environments program about the foundation’s infrastructure approach to environmental issues. Chin describes how Surdna and its grantees are working to “democratize the process by which infrastructure decisions are being made.” She also describes how much of Surdna’s grantmaking “is really trying to work at the intersection of weaving these things [environment, culture, local economies] together as we think about how to make just and sustainable communities.”
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Jess Garz | Surdna Foundation.
I’ve got a feeling, I’m not in Kansas anymore.
The annual interdisciplinary forum brings together student leaders from across the country where they connect with practitioners and university faculty who represent some of the most important new leaders in the emerging PID field.
Grants support artists representing a diversity of communities across disciplines and geographies.
Building on its commitment to supporting artists and culture bearers in low-income communities and communities of color who nurture, sustain, and grow our communities’ cultural traditions, the Surdna Foundation announced today the recipients of its Artists Engaged in Social Change grant awards. The grants are designed to support individual artists, culture bearers, and nonprofits whose work is embedded in community and either helps to inform, engage, or challenge people around specific social issues or helps to increase our awareness of cultural diversity.
Fifteen project grants were awarded from more than 1000 applications received in response to a national request for proposals. Projects receiving funds were selected for the quality of the artistic practice; for making visible communities that are too often invisible or exploring critical themes that arise from, or impact a community; and finally, for the project’s capacity to enable social change. The grants will enable artists and culture-bearers to work with their organizational partners to support community processes, and to create and disseminate new work.
Photographer Matika Wibur’s documentary “Project 562” challenges stereotypical images of Native Americans. Wilbur’s photographs will offer an authentic, renewed perspective of Native people associated with each of the country’s 562 Federally Recognized Tribes.
The one and two-year awards, ranging from $37,000 to $157,000 and totaling $1,345,000, support artists and culture bearers working in places from Haines, Alaska and Brooklyn, New York to LaConner, Washington and Long Beach, California. These projects are addressing contemporary issues including incarceration, cultural heritage, and immigration, among many others. In addition to the diverse geographic, ethnic, cultural, and gender communities addressed by the artists’ projects, awardees’ work spans a broad range of artistic activity, aesthetics, genres, and artistic disciplines.
Surdna Foundation’s President Phil Henderson said, “In an era of accelerated and often dramatic social and demographic change, artists and culture bearers play critical roles within our communities helping us understand and challenge pressing issues. Their visions, communicated through film, performance, text, spoken word and other forms can help communities achieve a sense of connectedness and common purpose.”
In commenting on the breadth of artistic practices and broad segments of society represented in the grant awards announced today, Henderson continued, “By acknowledging, valuing, and supporting artists representing a diversity of communities—including those whose work is often ignored, silenced, or marginalized—we are investing in building stronger, more just and sustainable communities."
Visual artist Titus Kaphar’s grant winning project, the “Jerome Project” highlights the urgent need for reform in our criminal justice system. Kaphar will engage with currently and previously incarcerated individuals--all named Jerome--to create a series of paintings, sculpture, an experimental documentary, and community convenings.
“The proposals have helped us to understand the expanding definition of American culture and identity in very different ways,” said Judilee Reed, Director of Surdna’s Thriving Cultures program. “We learned how artists are addressing issues ranging from immigration to criminal justice to economic equality and practically everything in between. And through their creative practice, we as a society are finding pathways of empathy and understanding, and subsequently are emboldened to action, each on our own terms.”
About The Surdna Foundation
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States -- communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For over five generations, the Foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John Andrus and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity. The Foundation’s support arts and cultural projects through its Thriving Cultures grantmaking program which is based on a belief that communities with robust arts and culture are more cohesive and prosperous, and benefit from the diversity of their residents. Surdna believes that artists and cultural organizations can help us explore shared values and spark innovation, imagination and advancement for our communities.
|Arizona State University Foundation
Nogales. A new play by Richard Montoya and Sean San Jose, with Visual and Community Engagement Design by Joan Osato. The artists are creating an immersive platform for a play that includes a state-wide community engagement project, film, media, and site specific installation and interventions in Arizona.
New Haven, CT
The Jerome Project. Created by Titus Kaphar, this project highlights the urgent need for reform in our criminal justice system. Kaphar will engage with currently and previously incarcerated individuals--all named Jerome--to create a series of paintings, sculpture, an experimental documentary, and community convenings.
|Brooklyn Arts Exchange
Dancing While Black. Three interconnected initiatives that expand Dancing While Black’s engagement platforms beyond New York City’s Black experimental dance world in order to build community, develop agency, and shift the artistic and cultural landscapes.
|Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Historical Society (GLBT)
San Francisco, CA
|Conversations With Gay Elders. A series of single-character video documentaries of varying length, focused on older gay men. In addition to creating a repository of passing history, it will also function as a vehicle for facilitating inter-generational dialogue and understanding.|
|Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center
Cultural Landscape exhibit. Planning, creating, and installing six original artworks for a Cultural Landscape exhibit to express the intimate relationship between the Chilkat Tlingits and their natural environment. The project will foster social change by informing and inspiring viewers and building greater understanding of the Chilkat Tlingit world-view that a balanced ecosystem is essential.
Junebug Productions, Inc. New Orleans, LA
Homecoming Project 2015-2017. Three new place-based storytelling performance projects in the Ninth Ward, Treme, and Mid-City. Junebug’s Homecoming Project was initiated in 2011 to explore the meaning of home in post-Katrina New Orleans and to use art/culture to activate spaces to create social change.
|Khmer Arts Academy
Long Beach, CA
|Beloved. An interdisciplinary performance work which casts a history of ritual lovemaking into the dancing bodies of gay men. The project will engage community members in dialogue through public workshops, panel discussions, and live performance.|
|Los Angeles Poverty Department Los Angeles, CA
Skid Row Museum and Archive. A new exhibition/archive/performing arts center curated by LAPD, utilizing art and historical consciousness to defend a neighborhood facing repeat and immense gentrification pressures.
Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts
being Here… in Memory. A cross-disciplinary exploration of mental illness’ impact on the lives of Black Americans. Curated by choreographer Marjani Forté, this research-based project includes visual and media art installations, performances, workshops, and discussions, all contributing to community learning and healing, and amplifying the voices of those most affected.
National Day Laborer Organizing Network
The Infiltrators. A cutting-edge documentary that tells the real and surreal story of five immigrants in America who get themselves apprehended by Border Patrol, and placed inside the shadowy system of immigration detention centers - on purpose. The film will be provocative, enlightening, and built by immigrant communities.
|Project Row Houses Houston, TX
OJBK FM Radio Project. Create space for residents to communicate a narrative of self-sufficiency and self-empowerment often embedded in Black communities. As this neighborhood begins to change through gentrification it is more pertinent now to galvanize community through an historical sense of ownership.
Tacoma Art Museum
Project 562. A multi-year national documentary project dedicated to photographing 562 Federally Recognized Tribes in The United States. Exquisite photography and oral history narratives will update 18th century stereotypical images of Native Americans with an authentic, renewed perspective.
|Tectonic Theater Project
New York, NY
Square Peg Round Hole. A play about living on the autism spectrum. The play is built to engage and move audiences toward an informed national dialogue about autism in all communities, helping to remove the stigma around autism and paving the way for a new level of understanding.
Pepón Osorio Installation. A commission of a significant new installation project informed by extensive community engagement that responds to the complex social implications of recent Philadelphia public school closings, with a focus on the Fairhill Elementary/Middle School and its neighborhood in North Philadelphia.
|Women Make Movies
Perejil: The Genocide Continues. A documentary by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, following families affected by the Dominican Republic Supreme Court ruling that strips citizenship from individuals of Haitian descent. The grant will support the U.S.-based production expenses and engagement campaign to U.S. communities, particularly to the Dominican/Haitian diaspora.
Phillip Henderson | President | May 2015
Over the next 18 months, we will be saying goodbye to three board members who collectively have more than 80 years of service at the foundation. That’s an extraordinary loss even for a foundation that was founded nearly a century ago. But amid this significant change, we are confident that the foundation will remain on track, and that we are in a terrific position to continue our forward momentum. The family-ness of the foundation and our attention to core values give us the confidence in managing change as we travel this road together. Whether it is the change of folks leaving us or others joining in, there’s a bedrock beneath us that allows Surdna not just to persevere, but to draw strength from changes like these as we continue working toward achieving our mission, emboldened.
At Surdna, our story is one of change and dynamism, but with an underlying permanence—of mission, of values, of purpose, of partnerships—that explain who we are and how we do our work. The board’s dedication to continuously perfecting the foundation is both a challenge and an inspiration to staff. The board’s commitment is also a reaffirmation that in our DNA is a belief that we can always get even better at what we do.
At our May board meeting, the board adopted new systems for how we will manage the strategic evolution of our grantmaking programs. These changes, which center on the creation of new annual program plans and the tweaking of our grant approval process to increase the agility of our grantmaking, are a great example of how intent our board is on continuing to improve and grow the foundation. Their aim, as always, is to expand our impact in the world. There was nothing “broken” about our old method for reviewing grants or evolving program strategy, but the board did not believe that we had the best and most effective tools in place to ensure that we are optimizing both board and staff roles in support of our mission.
These are just the latest in a series of changes the board has initiated over the past 20 years. Some of these changes, like the adoption of board term limits or the addition of non-family board members, are not obvious to the outside world, but have served to fundamentally remake the foundation. Other board-led changes, like the adoption of a new mission and new programs several years ago, are more apparent to those outside the foundation, and have been essential to improving our capacity to introduce positive change out in the world.
This culture of inquiry and the willingness to experiment, adapt, and evolve is core to how we approach our work. This culture exists both inside and outside the foundation. Internally, it means we are willing to periodically examine whether our systems are adding value or detracting from it. And if these systems are in need of retooling or replacing, we don’t hesitate—we do it. Externally, this manifests in our willingness to try out new ideas, build new grantmaking strategies, and to be willing to double down on success, or admit it when an idea fails. It is because of this culture that we feel confident the upcoming changes on our board, which in some institutions might be destabilizing, will only energize Surdna. We will certainly miss our departing board members’ wisdom, experience, and perspectives, but we are ready for the transition. A transition that is easier, in part, because of the deeply-rooted culture they’ve helped to create at Surdna.
As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts and suggestions as Surdna continues its work of fostering just and sustainable communities.
Neema Mbonela has joined the Surdna Foundation as Human Resources and Administrative Manager. Mbonela comes to the foundation from Schrödinger, Inc., where she most recently served as Principal Associate of Human Resources.
“Surdna Foundation is thrilled to have Neema on board. She’s an experienced and knowledgeable professional who is also committed to our social justice mission,” said Marc de Venoge, Vice President, Finance and Administration at Surdna Foundation. “Our staff is our most valuable resource and we know Neema will ensure that we maintain that focus and continue to be a great place to work.”
At Surdna, Neema will be responsible for all aspects of human resources, including employee development, organizational culture, recruiting, training and benefits. She will also manage the foundation’s administrative functions, including office and facilities management and event planning.
Prior to joining Surdna, Neema was with Schrödinger, Inc. a software company that develops software for use in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and materials science research. She came to Schrödinger from the Stevenson Group, a New Jersey-based executive search firm focused on the pharmaceutical, technology and healthcare industries. Neema began her career in the human resources field with United Medical in Newark, DE.
Neema earned her master’s degree in human resources management from Goldey Beacom College in Wilmington, DE. She received her bachelor’s degree in international business from Fordham University-Marymount College. She is a certified Professional in Human Resources, and is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management and the Human Resource Association of New York.
More than 70 of the nation’s leading foundations with over $20 billion in assets today called on Mary Jo White, Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, to support rulemaking requiring corporate political spending transparency. The foundations represented include the Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Surdna Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
“Blanket sums of undisclosed money being funneled into our political system is an issue of paramount importance to our democracy,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “These proposed transparency rules would provide a much needed bulwark against individuals and corporations seeking disproportionate impact on elections and policymaking.”
Chairman White has not responded to the rulemaking petition request that was submitted almost four years ago by the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, a group of prominent law professors specializing in the areas of corporate and securities law.
“How can we know whether companies in which we invest are making questionable or controversial political expenditures, when they are not mandated to disclose them?” asked Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund and the organizer of these Foundations’ call for action. “We are deeply concerned about how our political system is being negatively impacted by huge inflows of company funds following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.”
Currently, over 110 major companies voluntarily disclose their political spending policies and their direct political payments, including more than half of the S&P 100. These companies include Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Merck and Aetna.
“We applaud the corporations that are already sharing the details of their political activity, but we need this type of disclosure across the board,” said Phil Henderson, president of the Surdna Foundation. “Shareholders and the American public have a compelling interest in knowing how corporate funds are being spent in the electoral process.”
"The SEC has an opportunity now to shine a spotlight on the flow of political money which will create greater corporate accountability and help the public better understand who is shaping our elections," said Gary Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation.
“The Supreme Court’sCitizens Uniteddecision has allowed unlimited money to flow from corporations into political campaigns,” said Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. “Shareholders have a right to know where their money is going, especially when it comes to politics. It’s imperative that the SEC prioritize transparency and require companies to disclose political spending to their shareholders.”
To read the Foundations’ letter to the SEC and the complete list of Foundations supporting the SEC rulemaking petition, please visit bit.ly/FoundationsLetterToSEC
How do local governments and local philanthropies in North America come together to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy, and well-being for all residents? With the help of the Partners for Places grant program. In Blacksburg, Va., home energy retro-fits will help lower-income older adults maintain their independence. In Cincinnati and New Bedford, Mass., partnerships will strengthen local food systems, while Seattle will create opportunities for all its citizens to participate in local environmental progress. In all, eight communities are harnessing the power of partnerships as local government and philanthropy work together to realize a better future for their communities.
The communities were awarded a total of $520,250 by the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and its partner, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. Partners for Places helps communities connect local government and philanthropy to invest in sustainability projects that promote a healthy environment, a strong economy, and well-being for all residents.
“The Partners for Places grant program continues to help encourage community-based funders to expand their sustainability grantmaking,” said Alison Corwin, a program officer at the Surdna Foundation and a 2014 PLACES Fellow. “Sustainability initiatives, like the eight announced today, create deep impact when they are driven by the community and promote an inclusive process for the many stakeholders in each of these communities.”
The Round Six Partners for Places grants are:
To date, Partners for Places has awarded more than $2.5 million across North America.
Partners for Places will open a seventh round of funding with a Request for Proposals available in June 2015. To attract additional interest in urban sustainability projects beyond those funded, it also houses an Idea Bank on the Funders’ Network website, which provides summaries of project applications.
Partners for Places – a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities is a successful matching grant program that improves U.S. and Canadian communities by building partnerships between local government sustainability leaders and place-based foundations. National funders invest in local projects developed through these partnerships to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and well-being for all residents. Through these investments, Partners for Places fosters long-term relationships that make our communities more prosperous, livable and vibrant.
Please note the Surdna Foundation’s online Letter of Inquiry (LOI) portal will be temporarily unavailable from May 5 through May 27. Non-profit organizations intending to submit an LOI will not be able access the portal during this period.
Nonprofits that have already initiated and saved an LOI through the online portal will not have access to their draft LOIs between May 5 and May 27.
If your organization has already begun an LOI, please submit on or before Tuesday, May 5 at 5:00 p.m. (EDT) in order to avoid losing any data.
Thank you for your patience. Surdna’s online grants portal is being taken offline in order to allow for the transfer to a new grants management system.
In September 2015 Pope Francis will visit the U.S. during which he will address a joint session of Congress, offer remarks at the United Nations, and hold an outdoor Mass in Philadelphia that is expected to draw millions of Americans. In advance of the Pope’s first-ever trip to the U.S., the Surdna Foundation is supporting the PICO National Network’s collaboration with the Vatican to use the watershed moment to carry a message of racial and economic inclusion,and socialprogress.
On April 30, Phil Henderson was in Philadelphia where he participatedinaspecial private breakfast meeting of leaders of key national organizations and foundations with Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, chair of the group of eight cardinals advising Pope Francis on restructuring the Catholic Church and leading the planning in advance of his U.S. visit.
Phil Henderson shares his reflections of that meeting with Surdna’s Communications Director George Soule.
What is the PICO National Network and how are they connected to Pope Francis’s visit?
PICO is a network of faith-based groups that care about many of the same social justice issues we do at Surdna. They are well known to Cardinal Rodriguez, a Honduran who is familiar with the U.S., and who in effect, chairs the Pope's Kitchen Cabinet. The Cardinal has been in dialogue with PICO about some of the themes associated with Pope Francis’s visit with an eye toward amplifying issues around economic opportunity and inequality. These and other themes, including the entrenched nature of poverty, are ones the Francis raised early in his tenure and are coincident with many of the issues that PICO has been working on. And, they are also themes Surdna addresses in its work.
Pope Francis will make his first-ever visit to the U.S. in September.
What is PICO hoping to achieve as a result of these meetings?
My meeting with Cardinal Rodriguez was part of a multi-day series of encounters and discussions designed by PICO for the Cardinal so that he could hear from experts, meet with fellow clergy, members of the Philadelphia community, and get a variety of points of view about the issues that matter in Philadelphia specifically, but more broadly to get a sense of the political winds. Our meeting was a convening of about a dozen leaders in philanthropy and labor, as well as a few experts on the economy, criminal and social justice. The conversation was informal and focused on how our collective issues intersect with issues Pope Francis cares about.
What were the meeting’s attendees hoping the Pope’s U.S. visit might accomplish?
Given the efforts it took to pull this group together, I think there was a generally shared view that the Pope's visit is one of those rare opportunities in the modern world to cut through the constant noise of daily events and to focus on larger themes. And the rarity of a visit by an immensely popular Pope is reason to be optimistic that he can carry some messages into the public sphere in a way that universalizes them, and prevents them from getting caught in the typical Republican-Democrat, right-left ownership of issues.
Was there a sense that the Pope’s message will have broad appeal?
Pope Francis is as popular with Republicans as he is with Democrats. And as he heads into a first-ever joint session of Congress in September, the Pope has approval ratings north of 70 percent. There are a good number of Catholic on both sides of the aisle, though he is not coming to Capitol Hill to speak to Catholics alone. Still, I think it's important to emphasize that religion is ever-present throughout the political spectrum. And Pope Francis seems to have the ability—and certainly the opportunity—to try to help us see that there are some issues around which we should have a common purpose, rather than seeing them as divisive.
Were there any issues that Cardinal Rodriguez noted would be of particular importance to the Pope?
Our meeting occurred in the middle of the week when Baltimore was just reaching a boiling point. So questions of criminal justice, economic opportunity, inequality, and especially race were, very much present in the conversation. It was made quite clear to us that Pope Francis has something to say about each of these issues. And part of what PICO is hoping to accomplish—and which we were there to help them achieve—is to translate those broader global themes of power, economic opportunity, and race into the American context. And at that very moment, you could see each of these issues playing out in real-time.
What can you tell us about the Pope’s environmental views?
Cardinal Rodriguez noted that none of us talked at all about the environment, or as he called it, “ecology.” He noted that the Church would be issuing an encyclical in June on stewardship of the earth. He named climate change and not caring for the earth as another result of our focus on what he called money first, people last.
Was there an acknowledgment that many of the issues Pope Francis intends to communicate to the American public are politically divisive?
The Pope’s attitudes toward climate change will be politically controversial in the United States. But in the rest of the developed world, it is no longer really a subject of disagreement. The U.S. is the outlier in many ways. On several occasions, Cardinal Rodriguez talked about global challenges and geo-politics—how the world is intertwined. He did this by way of emphasizing that Pope Francis is paying attention to what's happening around the globe and cares about all these things. So I believe the encyclical is being issued because the Church and the Pope care deeply about the planet and are concerned about climate change. I don't read it as a political statement in advance of his U.S. trip. It is worth saying, though, that the Pope has recently added Cuba to his itinerary. So he'll be stopping in Cuba on the way to the U.S. This is not an accident—that the U.S. is finally beginning to shift policy with regard to Cuba allows the Pope to think differently about how he might influence that debate internally in the U.S.
The hopelessness in Baltimore is just the just latest reminder that the U.S. economy is not working for everyone, particularly for marginalized communities. What can foundations do to create more robust and inclusive local economies? And if your nonprofit is grappling with this challenge, who are your friends in the funding community?
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Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.