It used to be that the moneyed classes would dispense their endowments with scant input from the hoi polloi. The latest trend in philanthropy, however, is asking the public to vote on who is most deserving from amongst a group of competing applicants. First there was the Hammer Museum’s $25,000 Public Recognition Award, which was donated by the Mohn Family Foundation and went to Jennifer Moon this year, and now comes the million-dollar My LA2050 grant challenge.
Created by the Goldhirsh Foundation, My LA2050 began last year as “an initiative to create a shared vision for the future of Los Angeles.” They gave out $100,000 each to ten organizations, based on their ability to contribute to the future of LA along eight metrics, from education to housing to arts & cultural vitality. They received 279 submissions and over 70,000 people voted, however the results were not purely populist. Ultimately the Foundation itself selected the winners from among the top ten vote recipients in each category. Two “Wild Card” slots were picked solely by the Foundation. The Arts award was given to the Hammer Museum, an undoubtedly worthy institution, but not exactly a struggling arts non-profit.
This year they’ve switched things up a bit, with two $100,000 awards given in each of five categories: Play, Connect, Live, Create, and Learn. One winner from each category will be selected based on public votes, while the other will be picked by a panel of judges. There are 63 projects in the Create category including a muralist apprentice program for at risk youth, a mobile opera that takes place in cars, and arts and music studio L.A. Fort, not to be confused with FORT, a community workshop that makes functional goods out of reclaimed materials. (Full disclosure: The Los Angeles Review of Books, which I am Arts Editor of, is also in the running.)
Voting began September 2nd and runs through next Tuesday, September 16th. The only catch is that you need to create a GOOD account in order to vote, GOOD being the Upworthy-esque magazine founded by Ben Goldhirsh of the Goldhirsh Foundation. GOOD’s consulting branch, GOOD/Corps, combines philanthropy with corporate branding, working on the Pepsi Refresh Project, “an innovative attempt both to strengthen the Pepsi brand for meaning-seeking millennials and to benefit communities across America,” as well as Vote. Give. Grow, “an online platform to deepen customer loyalty by creating opportunities for My Starbucks Rewards member to help direct Starbucks Foundation grants to local nonprofits.” Donating generously to bolster arts, education and social services is never a bad thing, but it’s important to consider who’s giving the money, why they’re giving it, and what sort of corporate interests are being served.