To open the doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists and arts organizations that are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy.
The foundation is named after the Atlantic Puffin, a type of seabird native to the Maine coast. In the 1800s, the use of feathers by the millinery trade threatened extinction for several seabird species in the northeastern United States until Audubon societies began advocating for bird protection laws. While the laws helped some seabirds reclaim their nesting habitats, Atlantic Puffins never recovered until Project Puffin began restoring the birds to the Gulf of Maine in 1973. A decade later, the Puffin Foundation took the name of the bird to reflect its mission of supporting artists who may not be able to flourish on their own.
The Puffin Foundation makes grants to emerging artists working in the fields of art, music, theater, dance, photography, and literature. In particular, the foundation supports artists who may find it difficult to reach audiences because of their genre or social philosophy.
In addition to its grants program, the foundation operates two cultural exhibition spaces. Both the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, New Jersey, and the Puffin Room in New York City provide gallery and performance space for artists to showcase socially relevant, provocative, and culturally diverse arts programming. Also in Teaneck, the foundation's Teaneck Creek Conservancy is creating a 46-acre cultural park within Overpeck Park that will include interpretive art, nature trails, restored wetlands, and outdoor classrooms.
In 2001, the foundation and the Nation Institute, a New York City foundation founded by principals of The Nation magazine, created the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship to honor Americans who have challenged the status quo "through distinctive, courageous, imaginative, socially responsible work of significance." The prize, which includes a $100,000 cash award, was presented to Robert Moses in 2001 for his work in the area of civil rights and mathematics literacy as the founder of the Algebra Project. Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers Union, received the 2002 prize for her efforts to fight for the rights of poor workers.
The foundation's Web site includes instructions and guidelines for artists seeking grants and information about previous grant recipients. The Puffin Cultural Forum section of the site provides a calendar of events, directions, and contact information, as well as online galleries featuring work from past exhibits.