How MailChimp quietly became one of Atlanta’s biggest supporters of local art
When Lain Shakespeare joined MailChimp in 2011, he didn’t come with expertise in marketing or brand strategy. But he knew what it was like to be part of a struggling nonprofit, precisely the kind of organization to which MailChimp, the $400 million email marketing company that operates out of Ponce City Market, wanted to lend a hand. For the previous five years, Shakespeare had been executive director of the Wren’s Nest, revitalizing the organization that celebrates the legacy of Uncle Remus author Joel Chandler Harris through publishing and storytelling programs.
At MailChimp, Shakespeare wields a $1 million annual budget to address a simple question: How can we encourage a more robust arts scene? The results are impressive. Since 2013 MailChimp has invested $4.4 million in more than 120 local organizations, such as WonderRoot, Flux Projects, and Dad’s Garage.
Despite the resources at his team’s disposal, Shakespeare knows that MailChimp can’t be any one initiative’s sole source of funding. Instead he tries to invest early in promising projects and executive directors, when critical support can be difficult to find.
“Arts organizations resonate with us, because arts organizations make things,” he says. “The environment is right for making a real impact [when] you focus on helping people make things.”
MailChimp was an early supporter of hashtag-turned-grassroots-movement #weloveatl, funding a 2014 takeover of the Five Points MARTA Station that replaced all advertisements with vibrant portraits of Atlantans. Today, #weloveatl has achieved official 501(c)(3) status and has attracted more than 66,000 followers on Instagram. In 2013, when Dad’s Garage was kicked out of its Inman Park space to make way for a trendy mixed-use complex, MailChimp chipped in funds to help the improv troupe renovate its new home in an Old Fourth Ward church. MailChimp also began sponsoring Atlanta street art nonprofit Living Walls in 2012, contributing roughly $5,000 to the organization’s first-ever grant-matching campaign.
“Lain has made me feel supported when I was feeling defeated, and like the work I was doing mattered,” says Living Walls Executive Director Monica Campana. “He believes in this city so much.”
“The people that come through our doors reflect the diversity of our city. MailChimp helps make that possible,” says Veronica Kessenich, executive director of Atlanta Contemporary, where annual funding from MailChimp helps keep admission free.
In August, MailChimp was honored with Atlanta Contemporary’s Nexus Award. Past recipients of the award, which has recognized game-changing contributions to the local contemporary art community since 2010, include renowned artists (Lucinda Bunnen, Larry Walker) and curators (Michael Rooks, Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee), but no corporations. MailChimp is the first.
Says Kessenich: “Hopefully a corporation like MailChimp investing in arts and culture will signal to others that making philanthropic donations to artists and arts organizations is not only important; it’s necessary.” —Stephanie Dazey