As the Levitt Foundation’s spend down evolves over the next two decades, so too will the programs and projects we fund, accelerating the movement for free concerts in public spaces to foster more equitable, healthy, and thriving communities in towns and cities across the country. From providing grants and resources to the Levitt network (the nonprofits and changemakers building community through free outdoor music series) and investing in partnerships that expand access and nurture vibrant, equitable music ecosystems to launching new research exploring the impact of Levitt programs and participation in live music experiences, here’s an overview of how our grantmaking will grow and evolve in the coming years, strengthening the social fabric of America through programs that are inclusive, catalytic, and dynamic, and inspire joy and human connections.
The Levitt Network
Currently, the Levitt network includes 45 communities throughout the U.S. ranging from rural towns in Appalachia, the Midwest, and the South to large metro areas including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver, each presenting free outdoor concerts in public spaces. Comprised of three core programs—Levitt venues, the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards, and the recently launched Levitt VIBE Music Series pilot program—each has its own distinct characteristics yet share hallmarks that cultivate a sense of belonging, inspiring people from all walks of life to come together through the power of free, live music.
All Levitt concerts are free, taking place in once challenged or underused public spaces that are brought to life through the music series, becoming vibrant, inclusive destinations where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather. From seasoned, award-winning artists to acclaimed emerging talent, nationally or internationally renowned entertainers perform on Levitt stages in a broad array of music genres and for a diverse offering of cultural programming. Moreover, Levitt concerts take place in an open lawn setting where audience members can connect with friends and family, dance to the music, and get to know their neighbors and those whose paths they wouldn’t cross otherwise. Another key hallmark is that all Levitt programs are locally driven and a holistic reflection of their town or city, engaging a range of stakeholders from the public and private sectors—including community members, city leadership, nonprofits, and businesses—to bring a music series to life and build cross-sector support. From the design of the space to artistic programming and site activation, all Levitt concerts celebrate community, providing opportunities to discover local resources and offerings as nonprofits, businesses, and vendors activate the lawn and further engage the audience.
Beyond grantmaking, the Foundation nurtures Levitt network partners through capacity building, toolkits, and other resources to support the sustainability of our grantees’ work. Grantees are offered myriad opportunities to gain knowledge into ways their Levitt peers are building community through music via shared learning opportunities, including participation in our annual Levitt National Convening and regular town halls.
Located in large metro areas across the country, Levitt venues are state-of-the-art outdoor concert pavilions in public spaces that present 40-50 free concerts annually, including vibrant cultural programming reflective of and co-curated with the community. Arlington, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Denver; Los Angeles; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and Westport, Connecticut, are all home to a Levitt venue—while Houston and San Jose have pavilions in development.
Each Levitt venue is operated by an independent Friends of Levitt nonprofit partner that manages, programs, and fundraises to support the venue while collaborating with their community for a range of additional uses for the site—festivals, graduations, outdoor group exercise, charity run/walks, and holiday celebrations, amongst other events—making Levitt venues ongoing community destinations. The Levitt Foundation provides our Levitt venue partners catalytic seed funding to build or renovate the outdoor venue in addition to multi-year annual operating grants.
Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Awards
Since 2015, the Levitt AMP program has brought the joy of free, live music to small and mid-size towns and cities across America, fostering connections among community members and ensuring access to the arts through creative placemaking. The opportunity awards U.S.-based nonprofits serving these smaller, often rural communities with a three-year matching grant ($30K each year, totaling $90K) to present a Levitt AMP music series of 10 free concerts that inject new life into public spaces. A community-driven project, the selection of AMP grantees includes online public voting.
Levitt AMP has evolved to accommodate shifting landscapes and community needs. Formerly a one-year matching grant, AMP became a three-year program in 2020—with many AMP communities part of the Levitt network for multiple grant cycles. To date, the Levitt Foundation has awarded $3.7 million in grants to more than 50 communities across America through the Levitt AMP program, including the 33 communities that are presenting the 2023-2025 Levitt AMP Music Series.
Levitt VIBE Music Series
Launching in 2024, the pilot program Levitt VIBE (Vibrant, Inclusive Beats for Everyone) is a two-year matching grant to build community through free music series located in large cities, with a focus on neighborhoods with limited access to arts and culture events and activities.
Recipients of the 2024-2025 Levitt VIBE grants include the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, which will inject new energy into Riis Park; Big Car Collaborative of Indianapolis, which will activate Max Bahr Park; and the Black Cultural Zone Community Development Corporation of Oakland, which will bring free concerts to East Oakland’s Liberation Park and Arroyo Viejo Park. While located in large cities, each Levitt VIBE Music Series will create a community destination, connecting people to each other and inspiring neighborhood pride of place.
Levitt National Tour
A programming collaboration between the Friends of Levitt nonprofits and the Levitt Foundation, each summer the Levitt National Tour highlights the collective impact of Levitt venues in communities by showcasing nationally and internationally recognized, critically lauded musical talent that mirrors America’s multiculturalism. Since 2014, the Tour—all expenses of which are covered by the Foundation—has brought artists to multiple Levitt venues for a high-energy concert that brings joy and fosters human connections in Levitt communities across the country.
Headlining the 2023 Levitt National Tour was GRAMMY-winning band La Santa Cecilia, performing a blend of genres originating from the Americas at five Levitt venues coast-to-coast. Previously, the Levitt National Tour has presented acts spanning genres from southern rock and gospel to mariachi fusion, hip-hop, and world music. Past Levitt National Tour artists include The New Respects (2022), Flor De Toloache (2019), Paul Thorn and gospel legends Blind Boys of Alabama (2018), The Suffers (2017), Black Violin (2015), and Playing For Change (2014). We’re thrilled to continue the Levitt National Tour program in 2024, so stay tuned!
Festivals, Conferences & Field Building Events
Beyond the Levitt network, the Foundation supports a variety of programs across the country to expand access to and nurture an equitable arts and music ecosystem, which will broaden in the coming years as we spend down. In partnership with organizations that amplify the diverse voices of artists, cultural bearers, placemakers, industry professionals, and community groups through values-aligned work, we support events, initiatives, and programs that foster cross-sector collaborations, advance shared learning, and increase opportunities for participation at the intersection of arts and social impact.
Recent festivals the Levitt Foundation has supported include Juneteenth UNITYFEST, a free day-long music and arts festival in Brooklyn organized by the Robert Randolph Foundation that celebrates Black voices and culture; Celebrate AMERI’KANA, a free music and arts festival in Kansas City, Missouri, organized by Afro-Latino rock band (and past Levitt performer) Making Movies and their youth nonprofit Art as Mentorship, honoring American music’s BIPOC roots; and the free ticketing portion of Pennsylvania’s Inclusion Festival, created by the nonprofit Accessible Festivals and designed to show how festivals can accommodate people of all ages and abilities by featuring sensory-friendly arts experiences and performances.
Field-building events Levitt has proudly supported include: the cross-sector Creative Placemaking Communities Leadership Summits, which brings together artists, urban planners, government, and placemaking practitioners to share best practices in the field of creative placemaking; civic-engagement consortium Imagining America’s National Gathering, which convenes scholars, artists, designers, humanists, and organizers to collaborate and share knowledge and inspire action on pressing social issues; Monumental’s Music Cities Convention, which provides a stage for thought leaders spanning city planning, the music industry, economic development, tourism, academia, real estate, government, and the nonprofit sector to share ideas to create better cities through the power of music; and Folk Alliance International, the largest annual gathering of the global folk artist community inclusive of both Americana and world roots artists, which also serves as a space for Levitt grantees to discover and book talent.
As part of our commitment to self-reflection and learning, the Levitt Foundation invests in research to inform our grant programs, philanthropic processes, and practices. Over the past decade, we have commissioned third-party, multi-year research to evaluate the impact of free, live music in communities across America, with Levitt programs serving as case studies. Most recently, in 2021, we published a white paper with Slover Linett Audience Research that explores creative placemaking in a changing community and the role of collective memory. Using Levitt Pavilion Denver—located in Denver’s Ruby Hill Park, which is largely a low-income, Hispanic/Latinx community—as a case study, the research effort sought to understand to what degree a creative placemaking project, like an outdoor music venue, can be positioned and programmed to become a community asset and inspire community attachment over time.
Previously, in 2016, we partnered with Slover Linett to examine how creative placemaking builds social capital in communities, using Levitt pavilions as case studies. “Setting the Stage for Community Change: Reflecting on Creative Placemaking Outcomes” offered insights into arts-based strategies to promote social connectivity across demographic boundaries and additionally illustrated the learning possibilities of different impact-measurement approaches. The 2016 research provided key findings about building social capital through community arts experiences, which now serve as a reference tool for much of our creative placemaking efforts.
Currently, we are supporting the participation of three Levitt AMP communities (Gallup, New Mexico; St. Johnsbury, Vermont; and Whitesburg, Kentucky) in a global research project conducted by the Center for Music Ecosystems, which is examining music’s role in making rural and geographically isolated communities more resilient. In 2024, we look forward to embarking on a new study that will further explore the social impact of Levitt programs and consistent access to live music experiences in rural communities.
The Levitt Foundation is proud to be a funder that embraces a collaborative, cross-sector approach to grantmaking—one that is rooted in possibility, informed by data, and driven by self-reflection. As we spend down and ramp up our giving to support thousands of free outdoor music experiences and continue demonstrating that centering arts investments in public spaces is transformational for communities across America, we intend to plant seeds that will grow into flourishing, long-term community investments for decades after the Levitt Foundation sunsets.