Why I’m Psyched about Awesome Foundation Seattle

This is Suzanne Tidwell and that fuzzy, rainbowed thing beside her is a tree.  Suzanne is a self-proclaimed yarn bomber — think Stich’n Bitch + graffiti.

Today, I watched Suzanne and her friends transform 7 or 8 of the Occidental Park maple trees into a fanciful, Christo-meets-Seuss installation (more pics below).

I had a chance to chat with Suzanne during Arts Walk.  She’s been scouring every Value Village in greater Seattle for discount yarn.  She won a grant from 4Culture.  And then came the paperwork and the permissions.  In other words, a lot of love and hard work.

The result? Complete surprise and delight from all passers-by.  People petting trees. A reason to stop for a snapshot with a friend.   Awesome.

Suzanne was happy to hear that we are launching an Awesome Foundation in Seattle.  She told me that winning traditional arts project grants can be tricky.  “Foundations won’t often fund your project until it’s nearly completed,” making the start-up process challenging, especially for new artists like herself.  A little recognition and a $1,000 grant for supplies could be a very meaningful first step for a new project.

Coming home inspired by Suzanne and her yarn bomb, I wanted to reflect on my personal motivation for launching Awesome Foundation Seattle.

  • First off, I want to see how awesome $1,000 can be.  In my professional life, it seems that if a project doesn’t cost at least $100k, it can be starved of attention and support.
  • I want to meet the people of Seattle (and beyond) who can make $1,000 awesome.  I’ve been coming and going from Seattle for study and work since 2005.  Now that I’ve returned and hope to stay, Awesome Foundation is my call out to the local dreamers and makers – let’s bring some new fun, brains and hope to the city!
  • I’m a nerd for experiments in collaboration and community coordination.  I want Awesome Foundation to be my new lab.
  • To a long-time non-profit professional, Awesome Foundation is counter-intuitive.  Is “awesome” a mission?  Can a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens really change the world, without big dollars and big institutions?  Is philanthropy the new punk?  I want to find out.
  • Finally, I want to spend more of my days inspired.  And, if I’m lucky, I want to inspire more people to spend more of their days inspired.  Inspired by people like Suzanne, by more color for trees, by new friends and new ideas.

Will you join me?

I’d love to hear from you.  If you’re already an Awesome Foundation trustee with another chapter, leave a comment about why you’re psyched.   If you live in Seattle, use the comments section to point out something local and awesome that inspires you.

And finally — Seattle-area folks — if you want to learn more about the nascent Awesome Foundation chapter, please fill out our very short interest form soon and help us spread the word.  Next week, Tommer and I will start organizing an awesome community dinner to get things kicked off.  So far, 25 people have signed up.  Don’t get left out!

To learn more about Suzanne, visit her new site: http://suzannetidwell.com/.

And, better yet, come on down to Pioneer Square to check out her work.  The yarn is acrylic and the trees will stay in their current Suessy state through the summer.

Now, as promised, click on for more pics:

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10 Responses to “Why I’m Psyched about Awesome Foundation Seattle”

  1. NerdRage42 says:

    LOVE IT! I was thinking about crochet bombing a few things on my side of the water.

    Excited to see how far this project can be taken!

    Thank you for this!

  2. Tommer Peterson says:

    This is great work, and a nice example of big impact on a small scale.

    I think what is most awesome about the Awesome Foundation model, is that it forgoes the bulk of the complicated process that has become the norm in philanthropy. For many, particularly those doing work outside the mainstream in their fields, the philanthropic gauntlet is a real barrier that effectively serves as its own filter.

  3. Cate says:

    I was Instigator of Awesome @AwesomeOttawa and am currently a Co-Conspirator @KWAwesomeFound.

    I’m a software engineer, so I just need a computer and an internet connection to make things. Awesome Foundation is an opportunity to enable people who need a bit more than a laptop and some wifi to make things that are exciting.

    The people I’ve met have been amazing. The grantees – such wonderful projects. Also the other trustees – there’s something about people who are willing to punt $100 regularly on something crazy and experimental. I adore them.

    Perhaps the biggest thing, though, is that Awesome Foundation removes the bureaucracy. The money goes straight to the person and the project. No admin overhead. No buildings to pay for. Yes, it’s not tax deductible, but I think impact per dollar is way higher than for the standard non-profit model, and certainly than tax dollars.

    Ultimately, I love being part of AF because I believe that we can empower individuals to make wonderful things. Maybe some of it will be the start of something genuinely world-changing. But some projects will just make the people who see them happier – and that’s pretty awesome too.

  4. [...] of the soon-to-be-launched Awesome Foundation Seattle wrote a charming post about why he’s excited for it to happen asking people why they are involved in [...]

  5. Tim Hwang says:

    Tim Hwang here, I was one of the co-founders of the Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences when we got rolling in Boston about a year and a half ago. At least personally, there’s two things that I’ve liked the most about the Awesome Foundation as it has grown.

    First – foundations and other nonprofits often shoot themselves in the foot by demanding that their applications conform to some pre-set mission or format. This tends to lead to people forcing themselves to shape their idea to meet the demands of the grantors and actually deprives those organizations of more exciting ideas they could be supporting. One of the nice things that we’ve found about the Awesome Foundation is that discarding all those demands in favor of just supporting that which is awesome lets people be honest with their enthusiasm and their vision. That’s led to a very rich variety of applicants and partners.

    Second, there’s a big irony in the traditional giving space. That is, while there’s often tons of money floating around, organizations that manage that money are often extremely slow and face huge amounts of overhead. This means that while there’s tons of opportunities for big, slow-moving $100,000+ grants, it’s tough to get these organizations to quickly give grants in the $1,000 range. If you’re looking to just do a small project, this means that there is often little support for you in the traditional nonprofit space. Awesome Foundation is nice since it supports precisely those projects.

    Can’t wait for Seattle to come online!

  6. nathanj5 says:

    Thanks, Tim. I’ve been developing a concept of “mission paralysis,” primarily thinking about how non-profits are pressured to specialize and conform to such a tight focus that they can’t develop complementary strategies and programs or make partnerships with other organizations because a perceived lack of “fit.”

    I can see how this is true for foundations, too.

    It’s strange, because in the for profit economy, businesses are constantly experimenting with strategies that expand the boundaries of their offerings.

    I hope AF can be a catalyst for expanding the range of the possible for philanthropy, non-profits, social enterprise, artists and other creatives.

  7. Hi, I’m Jesse Dean of the Awesome Foundation, San Francisco. I first heard of AF from the Boston folks and loved loved loved the rapid nature of funding and the opportunities it affords people to try small-scale interesting stuff that might become larger scale (although not required).

    The AFSF is a little over a year old now and I am constantly delighted by the people I am honored to work with on the board and the wonderfully challenging conversations we have when reviewing applicants. We all learn about each other through these discussions.

    Also, I have been humbled by the gratitude people have expressed when receive a grant. It is a huge vote of confidence for someone developing a project and also concretely helps them reach that goal. We are currently in the process of vamping up our outreach to increase submissions that we would like to declare “awesome” for the Bay Area.

  8. Christina Xu says:

    Christina Xu here, trustee of AF-Boston and Chancellor of the Institute on Higher Awesome Studies.

    This time last year, I wasn’t even involved with Awesome Foundation. Now, I’m starting a nonprofit dedicated to spreading its model as widely and usefully as possible. You can say that I really chugged that kool-aid!

    A few things that I find remarkable about the Awesome Foundation:

    1) The Fellowship of Awesome: Just the act of gathering 10-15 trustees within a community can be incredibly powerful, especially when those trustees are all powerful and creative leaders within their own communities. Even if they did nothing else, strengthening these bonds seems to increase cross-pollination of ideas and create a core group who can mobilize many different communities; a really rare thing in most places!

    2) The experimentation: Because the worst thing that can happen when an Awesome grant fails is that you have to wait a month before getting the same chance again, Awesome Foundation seems more prone to giving grants that fall way outside the scope of the tried-and-true. This not only encourages first-time innovators and creators, but also highlights the many eclectic ways people can give back to their community.

    3) The encouragement: Every month I get to read hundreds of applications, many of which sound like intimate prayers. Most average joes don’t just come up with $100,000 ideas, but everyone has small projects they’d love to do. Encouraging those people, many of whom have never thought themselves as changemakers, is a great way to bolster the ranks of problem-solvers in the world!

  9. Only one word to describe both the knitting project and the Seattle launch – AWESOME!!!

    I’ve been on the Board of the DC Awesome Foundation since its inception last fall and it has been such a tremendous experience!! Enjoy!

  10. Sean McGuire says:

    One of the reasons I moved to Seattle was art. Not just art museums and galleries and staged plays and big parades, but monoliths on Greenlake and buskers and scores of brides marrying the Hammering Man and zombies on the street (not necessarily the same street.)

    So in one sense, I’m excited about the Seattle Awesome Foundation for purely selfish reasons: it’ll help make Seattle more like the city I want it to be. It’ll make it more like the city I want my kids to grow up in. It’ll make it more like the city I want to talk to my friends about.

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