Leeway’s commitment to funding women and trans* artists creating social change through their art is the result of diligent work of the foundation to find new ways to more fully live out its mission.
Leeway began in 1993 as a foundation dedicated to supporting women artists in the Philadelphia area. It was funded by an initial gift from Philadelphia-based artist Linda Lee Alter. In the late 1990’s, Leeway’s leadership grew its commitment to art as a means of helping achieve social change. Inspiration for this commitment came from organizations and activist groups devoted to connecting art and social change, as well as from individuals in the Leeway community who believed in the powerful potential of this link.
Leeway’s leadership saw a chance for the foundation to contribute to larger movements for social justice. The idea of Leeway stepping up to this effort and taking a more active political stance was an exciting vision that many in the Leeway community rallied around.
Over the past five years, Leeway’s donor family, its Board of Directors, staff, and Advisory Council worked to transform the Foundation in several remarkable ways. They engaged people of color in positions of influence, and committed to a process of dismantling racism in organizational relationships, practices, policies, and programs. They moved decision-making power from a single-family member structure to a board comprised of people from the community, and committed to an active framework of personal and political transformation. They expanded Leeway’s mission to support both women and transgender people who make art as a means for transforming individuals and communities.
This work did not happen overnight, nor with ease. The changes required the vision and hard work of dozens of committed board and Advisory Council members, staff, artists, activists, and community supporters.
Those in Leeway’s community had to examine their commitment to its goals, face challenges to their perceptions, and consider new perspectives on the inequities that mark our world. Leeway’s board and staff moved forward with the hope that other funders, organizations and communities might be inspired to take their own paths to personal and political transformation.
In the summer of 2007, Leeway turned its focus to an intensive planning process to deepen and concretize its renewed vision. Over forty interviews with Leeway stakeholders–past and current staff, past and current board members, grant applicants, awardees and grantees, review panelists, and community partners—were conducted by an independent consulting team. These interviews were distilled, edited, and published in December 2007, outlining a broad set of perspectives on Leeway’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities for moving forward.
As we continue to refine the vision and strengthen relationships, Leeway's board continues to actively pursue ways to explore money and class in its program and operations.
*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.