When the San Francisco Giants held a tribute to Jerry Garcia on the fifteen year anniversary of his death, the “Grateful Game” was a sellout. The charitable recipient for special merchandise sales that night was – fittingly – the Rex Foundation, a non-profit founded by the Grateful Dead that coordinates grants to hundreds of charitable organizations around the country. Since 1984, Rex has doled out over $8.6 million to more than 1,000 grantees. Now, a decade and a half since The Grateful Dead ended their long strange trip, Rex is moving forward very much like the band’s surviving members. Honoring its roots while stretching well beyond the Grateful Dead community, Rex works with many artists, promoters and members of the extended live music community to nurture small non-profits in need of financial assistance.
We spoke with Executive Director Sandy Sohcot to find out more about the Rex Foundation’s work.
HeadCount: So tell me about some of the things Rex has been up to this Summer and this year.
Sandy Sohcot: We have been doing some very positive things as a tribute to Jerry Garcia. This year 2010 is the 15th anniversary since Jerry passed away, so we thought it was important to shed some light on what he has contributed. Some of this was inspired by the San Francisco Giants who wanted to do an August 9th special event tribute to Jerry Garcia as part of their game with the Chicago Cubs. The Rex Foundation was identified as the charitable recipient to reflect the legacy of Jerry Garcia. We had a very special evening, with all living members of the Grateful Dead participating, along with Bill Walton and members of the Jerry Garcia family. I think the Giants were thrilled, too, as so many DeadHeads came to the game, resulting in a totally sold out Monday night.
We did some other things in tribute to Jerry in the month of August. One was a fundraising effort for Rex and was a terrific testament to the generosity of the musicians who see themselves as influenced by Jerry. We had a compilation done called Jerry Jams for Rex that Brad Serling of Nugs.net brought to life. All the musicians contributed their live performance of a Jerry Garcia song as a benefit for the Foundation. We had contributors such as Bruce Hornsby, Phish, Railroad Earth, Keller Williams, Hot Buttered Rum, Yonder Mountain String Band and Widespread Panic. It’s just a beautiful compilation. There are 12 tracks altogether, available for download at livedownloads.com and iTunes. It has been wonderful way for connecting the musical community who continue to exemplify their own talents and what the Grateful Dead contributed with philanthropy.
We did a newsletter about “Generosity of Spirit” that seeks to shed some light on what it means to have a type of generosity that goes beyond the act of a single contribution of dollars or action, to have a greater sense of being a part of something beyond ourselves. This was exemplified in the DeadHead culture that gave birth to the Rex Foundation, led by Jerry Garcia and all the members of the Grateful Dead. We wanted to put some perspective on that to help renew that spirit in these challenging times.
Is this something people could find online?
Yes. It just got published and it’s called “Perspectives on Generosity and Spirit.”
Another thing we did in August was not intended to be a tribute to Jerry Garcia but ended up being so. On August 3rd through 5th, we held our first training for The World as it Could Be Human Rights Education Project, that we did in collaboration with the University of San Francisco’s International and Multicultural Education Department of the School of Education. It was the first time that we formally trained our group of 20 participants – teachers and nonprofit leaders – on how to use our newly published curriculum that uses the creative arts to teach in a deepened, personally connected way the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration was signed in San Francisco on December 10th, 1948 by all the members of the general assembly of the United Nations, setting forth 30 Articles of universal rights to be insured so that there would never again be a World War or Holocaust. We have learned that only 8% of the U.S. population knows about the Declaration, yet it is a great frame of reference for positive social change and for being connected in a global way to further the rights of all people.
It seems like you guys have really evolved, first from being the avenue for the Grateful Dead’s charitable contributions, receiving the proceeds from Rex benefit concerts and distributing it, and now taking on your own initiatives and supporting them. Is this a new era for Rex?
I don’t think it’s new. I think it’s evolving. For instance, The World As It Could Be project evolved out of me doing newsletters that were part of connecting with the broader community, as well as the Grateful Dead concert community, as we began our renewal 9 years ago in the absence of Grateful Dead concert funding. The Project is very consistent with what the Rex Foundation has always been about: We are getting funding that we in turn put back out to support our grassroots nonprofits involved in the Project. Now we are adding new layers of benefits because we are providing new curriculum that spotlights the importance of the creative arts while also providing meaningful educational and community engagement experiences for youth, as well as helping foster positive social change . I think it’s an exciting extension of where we came from.
What are some of the highlights of the organizations that you really helped out?
That’s a great question. What has been exciting is when you see how the organizations that we funded early on have blossomed. A good example is The Innocence Project that we funded in the early 90s when it was a project of the Cardozo Law School in New York City, which has since become very prominently recognized for its use of DNA testing to get innocent people off death row. It has now grown to have branches all over the country. Another wonderful example is the Harlem Children’s Zone that is now recognized as one of the leading centers for innovative programs to help youth succeed and break out of past poverty cycles. I know that President Obama is now citing the Harlem Children’s Zone as a model to follow all over the country. The Harlem Children’s Zone was originally the Rheedlan Centers for Children and Families, supported in its earlier years by Rex grants.
I can certainly identify with all that because when HeadCount was ramping up in 2007, and trying to get to the point where we could have a professionally managed campaign for the Presidential election, Rex was the very first grant we got. So, I know what you mean when you are talking about helping organizations as they are getting to the next step. I am sure many of the organizations like us are really appreciative and remember it.
And that’s a great story because look what you are doing now. You have really evolved from going well beyond registering voters to galvanizing people to think about the issues affecting the global community and then being engaged to help make a difference. I think that’s great.
Well we are certainly trying. How can somebody support Rex or get involved? What can somebody reading this or in the music universe do to support it?
Well, there are several different ways. If you go to our website, rexfoundation.org, and hit the donate button on the homepage it takes you to a page listing all the different ways you can be supportive in addition to making a direct contribution. For example, we have Give a Gift ~ Get a Gift where we offer a special jam and/or CD, donated to us for fundraising, for a contribution of $25 or more. We also have Jerry Jams for Rex where people can have some beautiful music and at the same time support the Rex Foundation. Since we do not have an endowment, we raise all our own funds in order to do grant making projects such as The World as It Could Be, and other community connection initiatives like our newsletters, web and social network postings. We also put on our own benefit events. With these events we seek to provide unique musical experiences and encourage creativity and positive community connections, while also raising funds. We want lots of people to feel they can be part of a philanthropic community whether they contribute $5, $50, $500 or more, and see how they can help make a positive difference.
People in the musical community can be part of our Rex Musical Caravan which we hope will be experienced as a mutually beneficial relationship. Musicians can put on fundraisers for the Rex Foundation whether it be adding a dollar a ticket or having other fundraising elements as part of their concert. We will then publicize the musical event to spotlight the generosity of the musicians and their fans and boost their visibility.
People certainly associate Rex with the Grateful Dead but I know many other artists have been involved one way or another. Who are some of the other notable artists that support Rex?
We are very fortunate to have a wide range of musicians providing support. We are honored that Bob Weir and Micky Hart, particularly as being members of our board, continue to support us as we renew the Foundation. We are fortunate to be able to name many musicians, including Dark Star Orchestra, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Tea Leaf Green, and Moonalice. With our Jerry Jams for Rex, we have Phish, Railroad Earth, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Waybacks, The Black Crowes, The String Cheese Incident, Steve Kimock, Bruce Hornsby, Widespread Panic, Hot Buttered Rum, and Keller Williams. Several of these musicians have supported Rex numerous times over the last nine years, such as Dark Star Orchestra, who did the first Rex Musical Caravan Tour and helped us create what we call Black Tie-Dye Balls. Keller Williams has been contributing the proceeds from the download of the wonderful “Grateful Grass” show he did at The Fillmore in San Francisco. The String Cheese Incident has been wonderful, too. They did a benefit for us with Railroad Earth about 7 years ago, and they’ve been supportive all the way since. We had a wonderful tribute to Jerry Garcia five years ago – Comes A Time – where Trey Anastasio participated, along with Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, Melvin Seals, Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay, members of The String Cheese Incident and others. I hope people will check out our website to see the long list of gifted musicians that have been part of our renewal, including many musicians doing Caravan events in their communities, such as Cubensis, The Reflections Band and The THUGZ. We see all of these musicians as part of our Caravan, and we are forever grateful that Rex is seen by so many members of the musical community as a vehicle for charitable giving.