The Surdana Foundation: Artists Engaging in Social Change: Request for Proposals

Accepting applications between Monday, September 15 and November 12, 2014.


The Surdna Foundation is now accepting proposals for one- or two-year support to extraordinary artist-driven projects as part of its Artists Engaging in Social Change funding area. All artistic disciplines will be considered, including cross-disciplinary work. The request for proposal (RFP) is open to both 501(c)(3) organizations and individual artists and culture bearers, but artists and collectives that are not incorporated as 501(c)(3)s must apply under a fiscal sponsor. Through this RFP, Surdna will support compelling projects that artists develop in response to their communities' specific challenges, and will also fund the projects of artists whose long-term, deeply-rooted work has increased social engagement without necessarily being explicitly defined as "activist." Proposals will be accepted between September 15 and November 12, 2014. Surdna staff, with support from outside experts, will present recommendations to the Surdna board and final decisions will be made in early April, 2015. The Foundation believes this process will allow us to make considered investments in artistic practices that focus on engaging and reflecting communities.  Application guidelines are provided below and frequently asked questions, including grant amounts and definitions of key terms, are available here.

Artists Engaging in Social Change: What Do We Mean?

It's difficult to trace the complex relationship between works of art and social transformation, yet it is clear that artists provoke, expand and even heal the civic imagination in critical ways. During the last few decades, artists working to effect change in particular communities have created a variety of explicitly political and social interventions. Simultaneously, other artists have emphasized less the "what" of social change (i.e. the issue or agenda that drives artistic explorations) and stressed instead the "how" of community embeddedness, working in a way that results in such impacts as increased community capacity for civic expression and leadership, the preservation and transmission of treasured cultural practices, and the amplification of voices that are too often ignored. We consider these different approaches to be equally capable of illuminating the unique role artists play in broader societal change, and we aim to support both through this RFP.

Art and culture at the center of sustainable communities.

At the Surdna Foundation, we foster the development of just and sustainable communities. For us, art, culture and design are not accessories to that process: they are central. Art is fundamental to our collective understanding of who we are, what we believe, and how we relate to each other and our surroundings. Artists and their coconspirators weave the cultural fabric necessary for a sustainable, vibrant society. The development and sharing of artists' work contributes to the strengthening of communities—culturally, socially, and economically. Our definition of Artists Engaging in Social Change includes both cherished, longstanding ways of working and newer practices. Our focus here is on the commitment, spirit and generosity with which the work is undertaken as well as the form it ultimately takes.

Why an RFP?

The goal of this RFP process is to identify and support exciting projects that are equally rigorous aesthetically and socially. These projects will demonstrate a clear commitment to a community, manifested by the relationship of that community to the project's development process and to the project's thematic focus. Our goal is to prove that when artists have the opportunity to explore their own questions while working in communities (and not in isolation), they contribute significantly to our shared landscape. We hope to make artists' role in enabling and even accelerating social change more visible and more valued.

A focus on social justice and community.

Surdna applies a social justice lens to its philanthropic work. We seek to address structural inequalities by focusing our resources on supporting artists coming from low income and historically under-resourced communities that have less access to arts funding. Through this RFP process, we will support artists working in their own communities, where they and their partners are committed to making a difference over the long term, and where they have built meaningful relationships over time. We are interested in learning how a spectrum of ways of working, including conventional disciplines, newer aesthetic practices, and the forms reflecting people's traditions and heritage can foster social change.

Eligibility criteria:

  • Projects must be artist-led.
  • Projects must demonstrate a deep commitment to a community, demonstrated by the process through which the work is developed and the theme or themes it focuses on.  
  • These funds are designated for one-time project support and cannot support organizations' ongoing programs, operations, capital or endowments, although up to 15 percent administrative overhead is allowed.
  • These funds cannot support curricular work.
  • Applicants can be at any stage of their careers, but must have a track record of developed work that demonstrates their capacity to complete the proposed project and to manage the level of funds requested.
  • Eligible disciplines include traditional or folkloric arts, visual arts, literary arts, dance, theater, film/ video, music, performance-based arts, and interdisciplinary/ hybrid arts.
  • For architecture or design-related projects, please refer to our Community Engaged Design guidelines,  here.
  • Proposal must make a clear case for the arc of change envisioned by the project, based on the applicants' own criteria for defining and measuring impact.
  • Individual artists and groups of artists and organizations without 501(c)(3) status must apply through a fiscal sponsor, which they will list on their application as the applying organization. 
  • Applying organizations (including fiscal sponsors) and the project for which funds are requested must be based in the United States.

Eligible disciplines:

Eligible disciplines include :

  • Traditional or folkloric arts.
  • Visual arts.
  • Literary arts.
  • Dance.
  • Theater.
  • Film/ video.
  • Performance-based arts.
  • Interdisciplinary/ hybrid arts.

Review process:

Applications will be reviewed by Surdna staff in conjunction with outside readers on the basis of:

  • The quality of the project concept in relation to social change.
  • Aesthetic rigor and artistic excellence.
  • The artist's (or organization's) commitment to a particular community.
  • The artist's (or organization's) ability to complete the project and use the financial support effectively.


The process closes Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. (EST). We will not accept applications after this time. The Surdna Foundation will select and announce grant awardees in early April 2015.

How to apply:

The 2015 Artists Engaging in Social Change program will accept online applications between Monday, September 15, 2014 and Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. (EST). Please note that applications will only be accepted via this online process.

In the online submission form (link at bottom of page) you will be asked to supply the following:

  1. Purpose of Grant: Please describe the project in one or two brief sentences (maximum 50 words).
  2. Detailed project description: Describe the proposed project, its genesis, its stages and all partners (maximum 500 words).
  3. Artistic practice: Describe the lead artist or organization's artistic history and experience working within communities, and include specifics about the aesthetic aspects of this project (maximum 300 words).
  4. Context: Please summarize the historic or current challenge, opportunity, or issue (political, social, economic, cultural, etc.) that the project is addressing. If relevant, add details or statistics that explain why this project is needed now: this could include historic and/or current conditions of the community (maximum 400 words).
  5. Access: How will members of the community participate in or gain access to this project? What is the applicant's relationship to that community? (maximum 300 words).
  6. Impact (External): Describe your intended artistic and community goals, and the project's arc of change from start (status "A") to finish (status "B"), however modest or ambitious, based on your own criteria. Use active verbs that provide a realistic sense of what you hope the project can accomplish. How will you know if your goals have been achieved? (maximum 400 words).
  7. Impact (Internal): What impact would this grant have on you (or your organization)? (maximum 300 words).
  8. Community partners: Please submit two letters of support from community partners, either individuals or representatives of organizations you plan to work with on this project or that you have worked with in the past. These letters should use specific examples to speak to your value to the partners and communities, and to your style of work (maximum length of 500 words each).
  9. Work samples: please submit three representative work samples, along with a short explanation (maximum 100 words each) of how each relates to the proposed project. For more detail on work samples, please refer to our FAQs page.
  10. Budget: Please supply a budget for each year that you are requesting funding. Please note that funding requests may not exceed two years. For more detail on budgets, please refer to ourFAQs page.

Apply Now


To learn more about the Artists Engaging in Social Change program's RFP, join a webinar with Surdna staff: the first will be held on Tuesday, September 23 at 4:00 p.m. (EDT) join here, and the second will be held onOctober 21 at 1 p.m. EDT join here.  Please mark your calendars, since no registration is required, you will not receive a confirming email.

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