In the early 2000s, the future of culture, sustainability, and opportunity in Pittsburgh began to take shape under wide ranging, and seemingly disconnected, circumstances. In Millvale, devastating floods from Hurricane Ivan forced residents to face their relationship with the environment and an uncertain future.
Over in East Liberty, failed civic planning which hollowed out the neighborhood core was challenged by an emerging cultural nexus. And, on the heels of the dot-com bubble, Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial ecosystem took root. But, for New Sun Rising, it took an event of historic proportions more than 1,000 miles away to connect the dots.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and threatening the future identity of the city. For brothers Brian and Scott Wolovich, numerous visits to New Orleans developed a deep appreciation for the role of art and food in building community. Feeling a personal connection to those trying to rebuild, New Sun Rising was launched as an immediate response to help other passionate leaders to create culture, sustainability, and opportunity in their neighborhoods.
The Cultural Gumbo, a fundraiser in the tradition of the New Orleans Jazz Fest, was organized at the legendary Shadow Lounge to raise money and support flood victims in New Orleans (Tipitina’s Foundation) and Pittsburgh (North Hills Community Outreach). Soon afterwards, a group of residents were fiscally sponsored by New Sun Rising to bring the Millvale Community Library to reality. Another founding project, The Horizon Experience, helped children from urban and suburban neighborhoods build positive relationships and crush stereotypes through shared summer field trips and mentoring.
For a decade, New Sun Rising’s volunteer board of directors carried the weight of our early mission to improve the social, environmental, and cultural wellness of the Pittsburgh region. Strategic planning and the development of a place-based incubation program led to a 2014 grant from Neighborhood Allies. This initial investment seeded development programs such as Ignite Workshops and a Launch Incubator pilot, while furthering research on models to leverage social entrepreneurship and activate equitable community plans. Follow-on support from the Henry L. Hillman Opportunity Fund and Pittsburgh Foundation provided funding to scale up fiscal sponsorship and Ignite, Launch, and Grow programs in the NSR Vibrant Communities framework.
In response to the growing opportunity gap, centralization of wealth, and quality of life disparities created by the current system, New Sun Rising supports innovative approaches to equitable community development. The Vibrant Communities Framework has provided support and training to over 400 nonprofit and social enterprise leaders seeking to improve their communities. We have directly managed and supported local stakeholders to direct $15+ million and create positive environmental, social, and economic impacts. As we move into a new decade, New Sun Rising is expanding our capacity building and investment programs to support collective impact initiatives, data collection, and technology development in response to worsening socioeconomic disparities and climate change.