The Portrero Nuevo Fund

Claire Peeps

The Potrero Nuevo Fund is a donor-advised fund housed at the Tides Foundation in San Francisco. Established about five years ago by Bill Laven and Christine Pielenz, the Fund supports projects in the arts, the environment, and sustainable architecture. While the Fund's giving to environmental and sustainable architecture projects is international in scope, the arts giving is focused on the Bay Area, and primarily on individuals and arts education.

During the initial phase of Potrero Nuevo funding, Laven and Pielenz found themselves working along parallel tracks in the arts and environment. They were surprised by the lack of creative interaction between the sectors, and saw potential for synergy. They put out a request for information to arts groups in the area, and allowed themselves time for research and dialogue with a cross-section of practitioners.

After examining various models, they settled on an artist award. They invited artists to apply for commissioning funds for the creation of new public art addressing environmental concerns. Realizing that they had neither the experience nor interest in taking on the administration of an open competitive process, they joined forces with New Langton Arts, one of the Bay Area's venerable alternative art spaces. New Langton hadextensive experience in regranting through years of association with the NEA and other funders. The Potrero Nuevo Fund award fit well into New Langton's mission and programs, and the collaboration was made official.

Now in its fourth year, the Potrero Nuevo Fund award continues to be administered under contract by New Langton. This year, four awards of $12,500 each will be made. In addition to the cash award, the Fund sets aside a modest amount, about $500 per project, for publicity. Engaging a publicist has proven to be a very effective way to bring increased attention to the finished works.

The Potrero Nuevo Fund artist awards represent approximately 10 percent of the Fund's overall annual giving. On a separate cycle from the awards program, an additional 10-15 percent makes its way to individual artists, usually through nonprofit arts organizations acting as fiscal sponsors. Much of this grantmaking has evolved from Laven's and Pielenz's early request for information and their ongoing dialogue with artists and arts organizations.

The Potrero Nuevo Fund is named for the San Francisco neighborhood where Laven and Pielenz make their home. As it happens, the English translation of Potrero Nuevo is "new meadows" — an apt description of Laven's and Pielenz's vision for their philanthropy.