Photo: MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
The Southwest Folklife Alliance Inc. (SFA) has been selected to receive a one-time gift of $1.5 million from MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist and former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to support the organization’s general operations. Known for its regional support and work with folk, traditional, ethnic and tribal communities, SFA is committed to building more equitable and vibrant communities throughout the Greater Southwest.
The organization serves hundreds of traditional artists throughout Arizona by celebrating culture and heritage in the region through festivals, storytelling, and public programs that increase understanding and respect for folklife practices. SFA provides direct support to heritage-based artists in the region and models methods of meaningful partnerships that center traditional knowledge, cultural equity, community, and collaboration. Founded by Dr. Maribel Alvarez, Associate Dean of Community Engagement University of Arizona’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, SFA has paid close attention to the intersection of culture and public life making opportunities for people to have agency in their lives or struggle by amplifying their everyday forms of cultural expression with dignity and respect.
The gift comes to the organization at a time of growth with recent national programs launched to support capacity building, cultural analysis, narrative change, and Participatory Action Research (PAR) in communities and the cultural sector. These resources will impact the organization’s ability to grow locally, building on the legacy of 48 years of folklife festival programming that anchors equitable and sustainable economic resiliency with diverse communities in the region. The SFA Board of Directors and staff will engage in a rigorous planning process to identify ways to invest resources in existing and new programs with a deep commitment to stewardship of this incredible and historic one-time gift.
“It is an honor to be recognized for the important work happening at SFA. We are proud to support heritage-based artists of the Southwest, and I anticipate this gift will extend our ability to amplify and celebrate the work of the culture bearers of our region, while opening up new opportunities for collaboration with our regional partners.” says SFA Board Chair, Bryan Falcón.
Over the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, SFA has directly witnessed inequities impacting the communities they serve, from systemic racism to the impact on the “informal” economies that many folk & traditional artists thrive in, but are often “hidden in plain view”, outside of the economic safety nets provided by municipal agencies.
“We know the needs are great” says Director, Leia Maahs “In honor of the spirit of this gift, SFA’s Board and staff will plan diligently, alongside our community partners, artists, and tradition bearers, to determine equitable pathways for growth and investment now and for years to come. MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett amplify through their generosity the gift economy that we know is already present in small but resilient ways in our most impacted communities; an investment like this makes it possible to advance aspirations of cultural, social, and economic change on their own terms.”
Scott and her husband Dan Jewett announced on June 15 that they were distributing new funds to 286 organizations, bringing Scott’s total charitable giving since July 2020 to $8.5 billion.
These latest grants include Scott’s first to Jewish nonprofit organizations. The three Jewish grantees are Maryland-based HIAS, which advocates for and gives aid to immigrants and refugees; Repair the World, a community service and social justice organization based in New York; and Afrika Tikkun, an aid organization founded by the chief rabbi of South Africa after the end of apartheid there.