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Beyond the Check: Building Bridges in Arts and Trauma-Informed Practice through Philanthropy

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

By Beth Feldman Brandt and Lauren Scharf

What happens when foundations share power, listen, experiment, and break down silos?

This is precisely the question that Beth Feldman Brandt of the Bartol Foundation and Joe Pyle of the Scattergood Foundation attempted to answer when they delivered a joint plenary address at the PHENND 30th anniversary conference on Trauma and the Arts held at the University of Pennsylvania.

In their talk, Beth and Joe addressed common perceptions of how foundations work and envisioned what could happen if things were different. For instance…

  • What if we started by acknowledging our power and then found productive ways to share it?
  • What if, instead of thinking we know it all, we listened with humility to the voices of the communities we serve?
  • What if, instead of foisting impossible goals on our grantees, we recognized the gravity and complexities of the challenges we faced and approached our grantees with patience and flexibility?

At first glance, it might seem that the two foundations have little in common, with Bartol funding arts programs and Scattergood specializing in behavioral health. But both organizations share a deep commitment to working across silos and have grown to appreciate the other’s work.

“Art gives us compelling, creative ways to tell stories. It allows us to express ourselves – our hopes, our fears, our successes, and our challenges. It is a critical outlet for people to share, heal, and build new strength.” –Joe Pyle, Scattergood Foundation

It was when Bartol completed their annual survey of teaching artists about their needs that they identified a way to bridge the gap between arts and behavioral health. Teaching artists reported witnessing challenging behaviors in the classroom: students acting out, shutting down, and sharing painful stories. Upon digging deeper, they came to understand that these behaviors could be a symptom of a larger issue, and that students may have been experiencing a normal, biological reaction to abnormal circumstances – that the traumas and toxic stressors that students were facing at home and in their communities were impacting their ability to learn in the classroom. Bartol had identified a problem, but the solution was not immediately clear.

“As passionate, empathetic people, these teaching artists did their best of “manage” the behaviors they saw in the classroom, to react with kindness and compassion. Often, they struggled to find the necessary skills to deal with the social, emotional, and behavioral issues they were seeing.” –Beth Feldman Brandt, Bartol Foundation

So, Bartol turned to their thought partners at the Scattergood Foundation and, with support from the William Penn Foundation, they launched a new intensive 20-hour training on trauma-informed practice for teaching artists in the fall of 2018. So far, they have graduated two cohorts totaling 23 teaching artists from this program. The first class estimated they will work with 1,700 young people at 40 locations this year. They will take this training with them wherever they go, furthering their impact on Philadelphia’s communities.

Click here to watch Beth and Joe’s 15-minute plenary address. For more information or to bring the training to your grantees, contact Beth at or Joe at

Beth Feldman Brandt is Executive Director and Lauren Scharf is Social Media Coordinator at the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation.