The Public Affairs program, led by Michele S. Warman, the Foundation’s Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, General Counsel and Secretary, is committed to serving Mellon’s home community of New York City in times of extraordinary need, to building a more just society, and to fostering human agency, dignity, and wellbeing. In the spirit of the words of social justice leader and former New York City Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Public Affairs (PA) aims to be a “catalyst for change.” Throughout 2020, PA strengthened and expanded its significant commitments to catalyzing change through programs that supported food security, racial equity, disability inclusion, and civic engagement.
As the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed New York in spring 2020, PA issued emergency funds to address food insecurity for the city’s most vulnerable populations. Grants were made to Citymeals-On-Wheels and God’s Love We Deliver—organizations that provide meals to homebound elderly and the chronically ill—as well as to GrowNYC, which maintains food distribution sites throughout the five boroughs, and to the Campaign for a Food Secure CUNY, an initiative to promote food access for City University of New York students, nearly half of whom experience food insecurity during the school year.
Even as PA helped address New York’s urgent needs, the program contributed to building a more just society by funding visionary projects that advance national learning and conversations about race and equity. These included PBS NewsHour’s “Race Matters” series, which covered topics such as the murder of George Floyd, the stark social and health inequities exposed by COVID-19, and artists’ responses to racial injustice, as well as support for a study of the persistent justice gap in America’s promise of equality under the law, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s early planning to make its rich archives of civil rights history more accessible to staff, researchers, and the public.
PA also funded inclusive artistic programming that affirms human dignity and wellbeing, and that is welcoming and accessible to broad and diverse communities. Support went to city-wide and national programming tailored to individuals with dementia—a substantial and growing population—and their caregivers for live interactive concerts and classes on dance, theater, and the visual arts, guided by trained educators and teaching artists. As the pandemic unfolded, grantees immediately pivoted to virtual programming, which allowed organizations to reach individuals in their homes and residential care facilities and expanded participation at a time of extreme isolation. Staff expect that virtual programming will remain an important component of inclusive arts programming going forward.In the Bronx, before the pandemic struck, Caring Kind partnered with Ailey Arts in Education on this Connect2culture program for adults with dementia and their caregivers. Photo: Caring Kind
In addition, PA helped promote civic engagement in 2020 with support for the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) and its exhibitions designed to engage, educate, and inspire young, first-time voters. By utilizing museum objects such as the first US Census in 1790 and memorable political television advertisements ranging from “I Like Ike” for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 to the “Yes We Can” music video in support of Barack Obama in 2008, N-YHS conveyed the historic significance of voting to the health and vibrancy of democracy.
Finally, PA grantmaking funded efforts to increase accountability, transparency, and knowledge sharing in the philanthropic sector. Grants supported capacity building and training for nonprofits in New York; assessment and learning tools for funders; and data collection and sharing about the operations, programs, and communities served by foundations and nonprofit organizations.
Top photo: GrowNYC