Seedlings in peet pots , a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Jackal of all trades’ photostream

The Sprout Fund was created ten years ago by Cathy Lewis Long and Matt Hannigan to provide seed money to foster grassroots community projects. Their main emphasis has been on artistic and environmental initiatives. While the Richard King Mellon Foundation is a main contributor, The Sprout Fund works very closely within communities and gives opportunities to the kinds of people and projects who wouldn’t normally receive larger, conventional grants. They’ve mostly concentrated on providing modest financial awards that support community-based projects spread throughout neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and Fayette and Greene counties. While many of their grants have been small-scale, their impact has been large. According to a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, they’ve “seeded 450 projects at a total value of $4 million.” And, we’re talking about public projects that all can enjoy. These include 55 neighborhood murals and those sculptural bike racks seen in commercial areas. They’ve also helped fund such diverse projects as the politically themed Conflict Kitchen; Burgh Bees, a nonprofit organization that teaches people how to keep bees; the crafters fair Handmade Arcade; and the documentary series “East of Liberty” by local filmmaker Chris Ivey.

Then, there’s all the grants that they’ve given to help make Pittsburgh a more bike-friendly city. These include helping BikePGH get their start. The bicycle advocacy organization had a $500 budget before they received a grant for the bike racks. The Sprout Fund further assisted with their first fundraiser: Bike Fest. Ten years later, BikePgh has 1,500+ members, it’s own employees, and works with the city to help all cyclists. Additionally, The Sprout Fund provided a grant to produce “3 Rivers on 2 Wheels” — a bike explorer’s guide to our city.

The Sprout Fund has also given monies to some larger scale projects including $50,000 to develop the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s ReefBot which teaches children about reef conservation. Now, in celebration of their tenth anniversary they are about to embark on their most ambitious project to date. They will announce later this month who will receive a $100,000 commission to create a signature public artwork to be installed on the Law and Finance Building on Fourth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh.

To get an idea of the full impact of The Sprout Fund, here’s former county Executive Jim Roddey as quoted in the Post-Gazette:

He called Sprout’s impact “enormous” and said the economic benefit from $4 million dispersed over 10 years is “probably 10 times that. It’s grown in reputation and popularity, it’s been a marvelous success, and I’m really proud of her.”

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Sprout Fund!