Part of The New Face of Nonprofits in Philadelphia
Written by Arturo Varela, Al Dia
February 2, 2014
Denise Brown is the executive director of Leeway Foundation, a granting organization that supports artists who promote social change and community transformation in their practice and whose work is not always recognized in the mainstream.
The foundation was established in 1993 by Philadelphia artist Linda Lee Alter with the aim of supporting women artists in the region. Over time it has evolved to additionally support all transgender artists.
"As an organization that supports artists who are marginalized because of their gender, it made sense to include trans people," Brown said.
With an annual budget of $900,000 a year, the foundation awards $225,000 in grants to artists.
These include the Art and Change Grant (ACG), which provides up to $2,500 for art and social change projects. The next application deadline for this award is March 1, 2015.
The Leeway Transformation Award (LTA) provides $15,000 in unrestricted funds for artists who have demonstrated a commitment to art for social change for five years or more in the Delaware Valley region.
Amongst the projects that Brown recalls with special affection is MamaCITA Collective’s (ACG ’11) project "One Year," an installation of 331 wire sculptures to represent the number of murders in Philadelphia in 2012, highlighting public apathy surrounding urban violence.
"Our approach is to create an environment in which this work is supported, but we do not have an agenda related to any particular issue," Brown said.
Latino artists who have received a grant from Leeway include muralist Michelle Angela Ortiz (ACG ’13, ’12, LTA ’08, ACG ’05), who in 2012 created the mural "Here and There" which explores the impact of the South Philadelphia Mexican immigrant community.
"When you apply for a grant to an organization, the quality of your work is usually only seen according to gallery standards,” said Ortiz. "But Leeway Foundation sees the impact your project has on the community in which you work and recognizes that it is as valuable as the quality of the work itself."
For Denice Frohman (LTA ’12), a spoken word artist and slam poetry champion, receiving the Leeway Transformation Award enabled her to focus on the production of the album "Feels Like Home" which focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
According to Brown, diversity is not an end in and of itself for the foundation, but rather a result of their efforts to face a variety of systemic problems, fight against race and class oppressions that affect all people, and make an effort to challenge social norms and attitudes about sexuality and gender identity.
For that reason, every time Leeway awards a grant to an artist, she feels proud of the achievement.
"I feel privileged and honored to do this work to motivate the work of artists in the Philadelphia region," Brown said.
Image credit: Elisha Lim