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The Art and Science of Science Philanthropy

Below we offer summary highlights of the programming that comprised this two-day event. We encourage readers to contact us for more information on key topics of interest as space limitations prevent us from providing more.


The Art of Philanthropic Partnerships featured a discussion among philanthropic funders on how partnerships emerged to support data and open science, including EOSS (see program here). The participants were:

  • Cynthia Friend, President, Kavli Foundation
  • Dario Taraborelli, Science Program Officer, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
  • Tom Collins, Program Officer, Wellcome Trust
  • Kumar Garg, Vice President of Partnerships, Schmidt Futures – Moderator

Key takeaways: Open-source software has great potential in finding and funding underrepresented areas; several funders are actively using it now with good results and with hopes of adapting it for global use. As for partnerships, the consensus was that they take work. It is imperative to understand how partners think, to effectively leverage their experience and knowledge and to share values that align with one another. By knowing how others approach programs and partnerships, one is better able to know when to partner or when not to partner. Additionally, strong partners enable greater networks. Cynthia Friend made an incisive point about partnerships by stating,” Do it spontaneously and early on. It then becomes a co-creation.”

HBCU panel members Kristi Walters and Craig Wesley
HBCU panel members Kristi Walters and Craig Wesley

The Art of Supporting Scientific Research through Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) brought together leaders from philanthropy and HBCUs, who offered ways funders can work with these institutions that foster research advancements in established and emerging scientific fields.  The participants were:

  • Blanton S. Tolbert, Vice President of Science Leadership and Culture, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Craig Wesley, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Simons Foundation-Moderator
  • Joseph L. Graves, Jr, MacKenzie Scott Endowed Professor of Biology, North Carolina A&T State University
  • Kristi K. Walters, Director, Higher Education, The Duke Endowment

Key Takeaways:

From their work in cultivating STEM talent to pushing the frontiers of knowledge in basic science, panelists highlighted the roles of HBCUs in advancing the whole research ecosystem. With the recognition of HBCUs’ potential to do more and the current underinvestment that they experience, funders are finding diverse ways to support these institutions. Examples include alleviating the high teaching load of HBCU faculty; convening HBCUs for strategy co-creation; and facilitating partnerships with other types of institutions. As the philanthropic community identifies new ways to support these institutions to advance research, the panelists noted how diverse HBCUs are and working with them effectively necessitates personalized understanding and approaches.

As an example, to ensure greater parity, funders can work with these HBCUs to develop and maintain the infrastructure and mentoring needed to level the scientific playing field for these scholars, who can approach science in novel ways.

Fireside Chat with Joan Weinstein

An engaging fireside chat with Joan Weinstein of the Getty Foundation moderated by Margaret Leinen focused on how the arts, science, and community can forge strong bonds. Their conversation touched on boundary spanning and how the arts can create a space for discussion around critical issues such as AI, alternative medicine, and more. Artists and scientists can find ways to collaborate more closely to mitigate misinformation and anti-scientific thinking. The Getty Foundation, through its funding of PST ART: Art & Science Collide, has had 68 exhibitions throughout the West Coast region. One unique exhibit was Microbial Art in the Arctic—Science and Memory.

Margaret Leinen and Joan Weinstein

Utilizing Art and AI to Advance Scientific Research

 Anand Varma, Former National Geographic Media Innovation Fellow & Rita Allen Civic Science Fellow created a feast for the eyes.  Anand is a photographer and founder of Wonderlab, who believes art can play a role in reshaping people’s relationship to science. His love of Film Noir, graphic novels, and Japanese animation influences his art form and storytelling. This was evident when he captured rare parasites and jellyfish on film in ways that had never been captured before—a novel visualization of science and a coup for National Geographic magazine.

Nisha Sajnani

Growing Momentum within Arts and Health Research

Speaker Nisha Sajnani, Co-Director, of Jameel Arts and Health Lab, spoke eloquently on how the performing arts, namely dance, music, and theatre can soothe people recovering from illness and other health issues such as postpartum depression and cognitive decline. Nisha and her organization are actively working to engage policymakers to make them more aware of the healing benefits of the Performing Arts in our lives.

David Oxtoby and Q&A
David W. Oxtoby, President, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences shared his passion for his organization’s mission to provide the country with advice on formulating policy and scholarship. Since its inception in 1780, the organization has brought together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners to advise and share their knowledge.  He also advocated for the use of listening sessions to understand where the public stands on key issues.

Julia Klebanov, MEL Compendium
Julia provided a recap of the discussion regarding Measurement, Evaluation and Learning at the London fall meeting. As funders, what are our desired outcomes and objectives? Do grantees have the same ones? Think about the context in which funded activities take place and how does that affect what success looks like? Philanthropies have the flexibility to test new MEL approaches and interest in new data to communicate impacts. Collectively funders are also moving towards a more nuanced view.  Funders are more willing to publicly share evaluation results and subsequent adaptations. They also believe bringing in evaluators at the beginning of a process is ideal. For a copy of the MEL Workshop Summary Addendum, please contact Sue Merrilees at

Member Show and Tell
Our first “member show & tell,” was an opportunity for 5-6 members to share their organization’s latest initiative, challenge, or success via a 5-minute presentation.  For more information contact Elizabeth Weiss at

Sue Merrilees


Two breakout sessions allowed members to gain in-depth information on the complexities related to indirect costs and fellowship programs.

Indirect Costs
The group had a lively and wide-ranging discussion about indirect costs related to philanthropic support at universities and other institutions of higher education and research. One of the primary points discussed was the variability of definition and implementation of indirect cost policies on both the part of universities and philanthropies.

The situation with indirect costs for philanthropies is very different from the situation with Federal agencies. A Federal entity, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, negotiates indirect costs for all Federal awards to a particular university, arriving at a rate based on demonstrated and justified costs. There are strict definitions of allowed direct and indirect costs, and they often result in indirect cost rates for universities as high as 60%.

By contrast, there are no such limits or uniform policies for philanthropic support, and the group heard that both the rates and items covered are variable. The indirect cost rates are significantly smaller for philanthropies, typically 20% or less, and the items covered are often different from those allowed on Federal funding. For example, a grant to an individual investigator from a Federal agency will not support functions, such as administrative assistance, that the agency expects the university to provide from indirect costs. However, philanthropies often support such functions directly. In general, the ability of a philanthropy to support directly items that are restricted by Federal agencies is an important flexibility. That difference also makes comparing indirect cost rates between Federal and philanthropic support challenging.

Finally, the group briefly discussed the issue of administrative support at institutions seeking to build an active research cohort. The group discussed this problem as being particularly acute in smaller minority-serving institutions, such as HBCUs. Philanthropies are uniquely positioned to support administrative infrastructure, such as a campus-wide research office, as well as personnel costs, such as release of individuals from extensive classroom responsibilities. One suggestion from the group was that the Alliance might help articulate and communicate the range of possibilities among members about direct and indirect costs.

A very lively discussion was had by all in this session in which all acknowledged that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating, developing or maintaining a fellowship program. Fellowships are a meaningful way of supporting young scholars in the next phases of their careers, but many funders find they must do more to provide guidance and mentorship for scholars to succeed in their given fields. Getting to know these young fellows and how they think and what they expect has been critical for many funders, who opt for regular meetings and dinners to keep up with their scholars. Contact Elizabeth Weiss at for more information about fellowships and how to succeed in implementing them for your organization

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