Typically, the Laundromat Project’s annual “People-Powered Challenge” campaign helps the Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn-based nonprofit raise funds for its programs and operations, dedicated to elevating low-income, POC communities through art. But this year, the organization is shaking things up: instead of fundraising for its own budget, the campaign will “pay it forward,” distributing $50,000 to support the work of other orgs led by people of color.
Five grassroots cultural nonprofits in New York City — Kelly Street Garden, W.O.W. Project, the Literary Freedom Project, BlackSpace, and STooPS — will each receive a $10,000 unrestricted grant. The gift is made possible by a donation from MacKenzie Scott, a writer and Amazon stakeholder, and her husband, Dan Jewett.
“This will be the first time we’re giving money rather than raising it during the People-Powered Challenge,” said Kemi Ilesanmi, executive director of the Laundromat Project (LP).
“We see abundance as a renewable resource, and look forward to continuing to channel the good fortune of this gift into our broader community in a variety of ways,” Ilesanmi told Hyperallergic. “Whether it’s through continued redistribution, deepening our programs for the artists and neighbors we serve directly, or investing in our long-term thriveability, when we win, we want our communities to win as well.”
BlackSpace brings together Black designers, architects, artists, and planners.
Scott, who received a 4% stake in Amazon after her separation from founder Jeff Bezos, has pledged to donate her money to social causes “until the safe is empty.” In 2020, she gave around $6 billion to more than 500 nonprofits, and announced another $2.7 billion in grants this summer for 286 universities, art organizations, and other entities fighting racial injustice and domestic violence — including LP, which received $2 million in unrestricted funds. Other arts beneficiaries included Souls Grown Deep, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and El Museo del Barrio, for which the $8 million award was the largest single gift in the museum’s history.
For STooPS, which hosts a block party in Bedstuy along with art classes and other local events, the $10k grant from LP will go toward developing its organizational infrastructure and funding its annual “Art Crawl.”
“Since our inception, STooPS has been intentional about working to develop deep partnerships in the community. This generous gift is recognition of that work,” said Founder and Director Kendra J. Ross.
Emma Osore, a member at the BlackSpace collective of Black planners, architects, artists, and designers, says LP’s award will help close funding gaps for neighborhood projects in Red Hook, Brownsville, and Brooklyn.
“Additionally, through our practice of spending with Black businesses, we know over 60% of the funds will be put in Black hands,” Osore told Hyperallergic. “As a newer nonprofit, we’re also grateful for the example the LP continues to set for radical abundance in public.”
The “One Book One Bronx” book club, organized by the Literary Freedom Project.
Indeed, spreading the wealth is at the heart of LP’s mission. Since its founding in 2005, when the organization began staging public art installations in local laundromats, it has invested over $1 million in projects by more than 180 multiracial, multigenerational artists across a variety of sites, including community gardens, public plazas, and libraries.
“It’s nice to be seen and rewarded for making a commitment to the community-focused work that we do,” Ron Kavanaugh, executive director of the Literary Freedom Project, told Hyperallergic. “The gift from the Laundromat Project will help us to continue to use literature to build conversations that explore issues that elevate Bronx narratives.”