Grantee/Partner News

Pushing Climate Change Into the Cultural Conversation

October 20, 2015

News From Inside Philanthropy:

By Tate Williams

While so much of climate change work involves research and policy, sometimes there’s a more emotional case that needs to be made. The Compton Foundation just made a round of grants that includes creative expression and art to engage people around the Paris climate talks.

We keep a close eye on grantmaking to change cultural values, and for an obvious reason: Study after study shows that people are often illogical, following their biases rather than the facts. Which is why, as we’ve lately discussed, backing social movements that address people’s norms at a gut level can be a promising way for funders to advance change.


When the 2015 Paris climate change conference (COP21) kicks off in November, activists, organizers, and policy wonks of all kinds will descend upon the city. People are viewing it as an opportunity for progress, and/or a moment to express dissatisfaction.

The Compton Foundation is no doubt one of many funders making grants in anticipation of the talks, but the Bay Area-based foundation is unusual in that it doesn’t hesitate to back climate work that makes an artistic, cultural, or emotional connection.

 Related – Silo Busters: The Compton Foundation Is All About Movement Building

As a recent grantee description puts it, “One of the toughest obstacles to action on climate chaos is not a lack of intellectual clarity or policy proposals, but a deep emotional block rooted in denial, fear and unexpressed grief.”

The funder still requires a certain level of rigor from its grantees, like all foundations, but its split focus on leadership and storytelling allows it some latitude to pursue strategies that other climate funders might shy away from.

As the quote above describes, climate change is more than a scientific issue and, sadly, science has not been sufficient for winning popular acceptance and inspiring action. So when Compton made a recent round of 10 grants specifically targeting the Paris climate talks, the winning strategies were quite diverse, targeting the gut as well as the mind.

Some are funding more traditional organizing by groups like They’re also backing Divest-Invest Philanthropy, to which it is a signatory. But other projects include:The Climate Ribbon, which asks participants “What do I love and hope never to lose to climate chaos?” gathering tens of thousands of answers in the center of Paris.

L’Arctique est Paris, a visual media project in which an Inuit leader drives a sled pulled by French poodles through the streets of Paris, culminating in an address on the urgency of climate change.

-The Natural History Museum is running a campaign to inspire museums to champion climate action, including divestment, and start a movement of cultural institutions taking a stance on the issue.

-Poetry for Climate Action is a project by Global Call for Climate Action that is inviting spoken word artists to advocate for climate change and participate in mobilization actions at the Paris talks.

-We’ve written before about Compton’s unique, two-pronged approach to funding, which allows it to color outside the lines a bit, dodging often rigid boundaries dictating what foundations will support. For a smaller foundation working on a huge issue like climate change, it also plants flags in areas that might be overlooked by the Hewletts or Rockefellers.

Sure, organizing carbon markets and funding research reports are part of the climate work to be done. But there are also these other ways to approach the problem and connect with people, and it’s good to see a scrappy funder like Compton backing them.

 Related – Falling Dominoes: Why More Large Foundations Will Divest From Fossil Fuels

Friday, October 16, 2015 at 12:40PM

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