Awesome ideas happen all the time and sometimes all it takes is someone — or a group of someones — to believe in that idea.
That’s the premise of The Awesome Foundation, an international organization with chapters all over the world, where a group of 10 individuals come together and grant an awesome idea $1,000 to help get it off the ground.
Even the Little Free Library was funded by an Awesome Foundation grant out of Chicago, according to LFL co-creator Rick Brooks.
That was Brooks’ first encounter with The Awesome Foundation which sparked the idea to begin a chapter here in Madison.
“I thought it would be fun,” he said. “There are so many projects and programs with detailed applications and fees and so on. And a group of people I knew wanted to do something fun that they could feel good about.”
So Brooks, who worked as outreach program manager for UW Continuing Studies and co-founded Dane Buy Local, got his interested friends together and founded the Madison chapter of The Awesome Foundation in 2014.
In its early days there was an air of anonymity and few people knew who was involved in the chapter. And now the Madison chapter finds itself short of the minimum of 10 people it needs to run smoothly.
“It’s not meant to be mysterious, but none of us do it for recognition at all,” he said. “We don’t want that to get in the way of the fun of it. But we could definitely use four or five people who would like to join us.”
The parameters for membership are simple: be willing to provide $100 to the group bimonthly, meet to discuss the submitted one page applications and decide which ideas to grant the funds to.
One of the first projects the Madison chapter funded was in July of 2015 with The Found Painting Project by artist Chai Wolfman.
Wolfman’s premise was to create 60 small original paintings and hang them all over Madison for people to find. A concept similar to a project funded by The Awesome Foundation Madison chapter a year later in July 2016 called For The One Who Finds Me, which involved creator Danika Laine Brubaker and her collaborative “flower ninjas” leaving small bouquets out for people to find.
Those projects were like saying “there is art everywhere,” Brooks said.
Other projects granted have included funding The “Invisibles” Project which brought together members of Madison’s homeless or formerly homeless community to tell some of their stories in a play, a program to bring musicians to teach kids during the summer months on the South Side at Penn Park and to help kick off an outdoor movie series.
Funded earlier this summer was a grant toward a project in progress by the ArtWrite Collective.
The collective had been working on and planning their “You Are Beautiful” mural project for the last three years. They completed the mural during the summer and it’s now on display on a wall of Art In at 1444 E Washington Ave facing the traffic on its way toward the Capitol.
Artist and activist Wendi Kent of ArtWrite said she was really “flattered and honored” to hear that the collective would receive a grant from The Awesome Foundation.
“I’m really glad to know that there is this much outside interest in this kind of project,” she said. “A lot of people don’t tend to give a lot of credit to what public art can really do for people and a city or community. It’s nice to know when people can really see or foresee what something can contribute.”
The mural, painted on a sheet of vinyl 10-feet high and 40-feet long, has the words “you are beautiful” on it in the colors of the rainbow.
Kent said every letter of each word has images all through it. Each image was contributed by a different artist so there are a variety of things like roller skates or forests — even the city skyline is represented.
Because the mural frame is removable the art can move around the city, which gives the collective the opportunity to take it elsewhere if it’s requested, Kent said.
“(The mural) is not only going to speak to the inclusiveness that we hope for our city to have, but I love that marginalized people can drive by it, walk by it, go look at it and feel like they belong,” she added.
Speaking only for their own chapter, organizers said projects that get funded are ones that can impact a variety of people locally although the group has received their fair share of ineligible requests.
There are just a lot that don’t quite fit our criteria, member Leslee Nelson said.
“If we can’t fund them we try to help them if possible,” she said. “There was one in Green Bay and one in Milwaukee that, because I’m familiar with other grants —I taught grant writing at UW-Madison —, I contact them and say ‘these things might work for you.’ That feels rewarding.”
Nelson is a member of Overture Center’s community advisory board and the former chair of the Madison Arts Commission.
Knowing how complex it can be to apply for a grant, Nelson is relieved that the Awesome Foundation process is much less complicated for both the applicants and chapter members who determine funding.
The applications are short and easy to read which helps make this a wonderful thing to be a part of, she said.
“Everyone comes in with their top three choices and we decide what to give the money to,” Nelson said. “It’s so refreshing and so wonderful! You get to know these other folks and it’s just fun! It’s so completely different (from other grant approval experiences) it’s been just a delight to do it.
I’m really sad that people have been falling away and I haven’t been able to draw people back in.”
Nelson said they’d even be potentially open to a pair of people serving as one member and splitting the $100 bi-monthly contribution in an effort to keep the chapter operating.
Part of what makes Awesome Foundation chapters difficult to keep running can be the loose structure of the organization, Brooks said.
Finding time when everyone can get together to discuss the applications can be a challenge, he added.
Nelson hopes that more people will join the ranks of the Madison chapter in the coming months. Chapter members just have to find people that this kind of organization appeals to.
“I guess you have to be in a certain kind of mindset to put your money into something kind of crazy,” she said.