Demonstrating how a good idea and a little support can go a long way.
How much is $1,000 worth?
Grand Ideas were those thoughts that kept people up at night. The ones that could become something amazing but needed a little support to get started. The Sprout Fund thought those ideas were worth something, so we asked the community, “What’s your Grand Idea? How would you use $1,000 for an innovative community project?”
The $1,000 grants were smaller versions of Seed Awards, supporting individuals and organizations in the Pittsburgh area with innovative approaches to community projects and civic engagement. This micro grant support promoted innovation at the grassroots, taking chances on people and ideas that were most relevant at that point in time. The projects moved fast, requiring the activities to be implemented within approximately a year of receiving the grant support. The quick decisionmaking and funding disbursement process helped to set Sprout’s funding apart from the more strategic, long-term support of more traditional funders and often helped project leaders pilot or test out an idea before bringing it to scale.
While the first round of what would later become known as “Grand Ideas” took place at the end of 2012 as the conclusion of the year-long Social Innovation Exchange, the approach was at play since Sprout’s early years, with aspects of the $1,000 innovation grant concept demonstrated in several other programs in the Sprout funding portfolio. Despite their modest scale, many of these projects were staff favorites that truly left an impact on the communities they served due to their memorable approaches to addressing everyday issues.
Program In Brief
What Can You Do with $1,000?
Dozens of Sprout projects demonstrate their creativity and ingenious use of just a little bit of support in this promotional video encouraging applications for Grand Ideas.
Funded Project Highlights
Grand Ideas came in all shapes and forms. With fairly broad funding parameters, mainly constrained by the scope and scale of the project, applicants were encouraged to use this micro grant opportunity to try out creative ideas that encouraged people to take an active role in the civic life of their community.
Art as Civic Action
Art was often used as an appealing, accessible way to highlight crtiical issues to the broader community. This approach supported artists to get actively involved in their communities and also promoted art as something that could, and should, be an important part of every community.
Pop des Fleurs
Bringing unexpected brightness and joy in the middle of winter through pop-up flower gardens made from repurposed, durable materials.
Pizza Poems PGH
Using the universally accepted medium of pizza to help students share their thoughts and actively engage with their community.
The Skinny Building
Utilizing one of the shallowest commercial buildings in the world as a unique venue for alternative art and the promotion of other cultural events.
Love Poem for Water
Inviting audience members to consider the significance of water in their lives, bodies, and communities as they listen to Vanessa German’s monologues on her own encounters with the essential liquid.
Pittsburgh Beautification Project
Erecting colorful Andy Warhol paintings over the empty windows and doors of abandoned buildings in the city’s blighted areas.
Social Justice & Advocacy
The projects were often prime examples of how to engage the community in addressing a wide range of social, environmental, and economic challenges, enabling people to not only acknowledge issues but actively advocate for positive change.
The Fantasy Black Draft
Hosting a pseudo-sports draft event to engage the community in discussion around the effect of progress on Pittsburgh’s Black population.
ACJ Medical Neglect Documentation Project
Using the power of storytelling to highlight individuals who had experienced medical neglect in the Allegheny County Jail.
Support Mass Transit Bumper Stickers
Calling attention to the essential service provided by Port Authority Transit and the threats to its sustainability.
Raising awareness of wage inequality and celebrating working women through a retail pop-up featuring wares from female artists and businesses, selling items to women at 76% of the cost charged to men.
Climate Change Crankie
Starting conversations about Pittsburgh’s industrial history, its environmental legacy, and the community’s role in making improvements for the future.
Making Local Connections
People often comment how Pittsburgh is an urban environment with a small-town feel. Several Grand Ideas bolstered that spirit by helping people connect over everyday occurrences.
One Cold Hand
Exploring the concept of loss and recovery while collecting lost gloves all over Pittsburgh and even reuniting some with their rightful owners.
Creating an interactive celebration of math, food, and community on Pi Day by delivering 31 pies via bicycle to homes in Pittsburgh with the mathematical constant pi (3.14) in their address.
Exploring the unique character of Pittsburgh through hikes that served as history lessons, adventures, and meditative reconnections that engaged residents with the topography of the city.
City of Champions Million Steps Challenge
Challenging participants to make healthier lifestyle choices by counting every step at this large-scale community fitness event.
Introducing players to cooperative economic opportunity principles by playing Co-opoly, a board game, in “UnTournaments” held in public locations.
Community Skill Sharing
Many project leaders took a page from Pittsburgh history books, encouraging people to embrace the city’s industrial legacy and get their hands dirty by learning new skills from their neighbors.
Steel City Folk School
Bringing people with a wide variety of interests together to share their passions, learn new skills, and catalyze an informal community of learning in Pittsburgh.
Beatty Street Bicycle Co-Op
Promoting bicycling as an affordable, healthy, and green mode of transportation while educating riders with repair and maintenance skills.
Olympic Curling Open House
Introducing the city to the accessible, ancient ice sport in an exciting and welcoming setting while highlighting opportunities to play the Olympic sport locally.
Hosting a series of monthly sewing nights to learn basic skills, proper threading and tensioning, and the history of the sewing machine.
The Blacksmith Shop at Returning Home Farm
Using the DIY appeal of blacksmithing to engage people in ongoing conversations around issues of community, local production and commerce, and eco-friendly living.
Examples from Similiar Micro Grant Programs at Sprout
Although not branded as “Grand Ideas,” several other Sprout funding programs also supported community innovation projects and events with grants of $1,000 or less. Follow the links to see all projects funded through these programs.
21st Sensory Mall via Open Engagement
Exploring post-mall culture through installations and performances in the nearly abandoned Century III Mall.
Buddy Benches via Change Machine
Encouraging students to include their peers during recess and serving as a place for children to go when they don’t have anyone to play with.
Cultural Gumbo via Sprout Sponsorship
Helping New Sun Rising celebrate a decade of building culture and community at Mr. Small’s Theater in Millvale.
With such a large programmatic emphasis on fostering connections, Sprout worked to create a sense of community between prospective applicants, funded project managers, and staff through networking events, project showcases, and applicant support opportunities.
Happy Hour Showcases
Prospective applicants were invited to happy hours to learn more about the funding opportunity and hear about past Grand Ideas projects from the project managers themselves.
Community Event Tabling
Community members planted tiny container herb gardens as they talked with Sprout staff about the funding opportunity, taking home instructions for how to care for their new plants and also how to apply for a grant.
Applicants were encouraged to share their ideas for the Grand Ideas funding opportunity, ask questions about the application process, and receive staff feedback on funding application drafts over breakfast.
Thank you to all those who made this program possible!
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- Cathy Lewis Long 2001-2002
- Matt Hannigan 2001-2004
- Mac Howison 2004-2016
- Sandra Hartkopf 2012-2014
- Diana Avart 2015-2016