Philanthropy Friday: Leeway Foundation


Every Friday we spotlight a local LGBT nonprofit in Philadelphia. This week: the Leeway Foundation, which supports women and trans* artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. 

Denise Brown, executive director of the Leeway Foundation.

Denise Brown, executive director of the Leeway Foundation. | Photo by Noelle Theard

Who are you? Denise Brown, executive director of the Leeway Foundation. Through grantmaking and other programs, Leeway promotes artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. Leeway believes that art can bridge difference, center those who have been on the margins, and challenge and connect communities and individuals to live in peaceful coexistence.

When was Leeway founded? Leeway Foundation began in 1993 as an organization dedicated to supporting women artists in the Philadelphia area.  In the late 1990s, Leeway’s leadership grew its commitment to art as a means of helping achieve social change. Over the past ten 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 trans people who make art as a means for transforming individuals and communities.

Leeway’s shining moment, to date?: It’s challenging to think of one moment. It is an honor and privilege for me to do this work. On a regular basis, shining moments result from inspiration received from grantees, applicants, and members from communities. The opening of “RELEASE,” which is a collaborative series of programs and exhibits with Bread & Roses Community Fund, was a shining moment. As a result of combined efforts from community partners, over 200 people came out to view the work and share in dialogue with one another about why gender justice and mass incarceration matters at this point in time, and how art can push this issue toward resolution. I’m identifying the most recent event, but I could give 100 shining moments!

From the opening of "RELEASE," a new exhibit now on display at the Leeway Foundation.

From the opening of “RELEASE,” a new exhibit now on display at the Leeway Foundation. | Photo by Alicia Dorsey

If a check for $1 million found its way to my doorstep … We would possibly look to increase our existing awards and expand on programmatic ideas we have. And then do our next staff retreat in Maui [laughs].

Have any special events coming up? The “RELEASE” Exhibit is up at our office (1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832) until June 30th, and individual and group tours can be scheduled by calling 215-545-4078. In conjunction with the exhibit is a Community Town Hall on Gender Justice and Mass Incarceration, on March 25th at the Friends Center (1501 Cherry Street). This event is open to all. And then of course the deadline for the Leeway Transformation Award (for women and trans* artists living in the Delaware Valley region who create art for social change) is May 15th, and the Art and Change Grant (project based grants for women and trans* artists) is deadline on August 1st.

Are there ways I can contribute without giving money? Of course! Apply for a grant, show up to our many events, support the work of our grantees, and let us know about organizations, constituents, and communities we should engage with to expand our applicant pool.

How can I donate money? You can write a check payable to the Leeway Foundation!

*Leeway uses 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.

Are you a local, LGBT-serving nonprofit that would like to be featured in an upcoming Philanthropy Friday post? Email details to Samantha Giusti at [email protected].