Conscious Alliance has a simple slogan: “Art that Feeds.” With the help of bands, music venues and concertgoers, the Boulder-based nonprofit provides hunger relief and youth empowerment to communities short of resources. It’s what Executive Director Justin Levy explains as “an opportunity to give back in the middle of someone’s good time, with a band they believe in and a venue they believe in.”
The idea combines concerts with food drives. Conscious Alliance sets up a “trading post” outside of shows of bands like the String Cheese Incident and Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9). Concert goers can bring 20 cans of food or a cash donation to the booth in exchange for a custom concert poster. The food is then distributed through the Conscious Alliance’s network of food banks, and the monetary donations are used to purchase and deliver meals to Native American reservations around the country. With a goal of providing 100,000 meals to communities in need this summer alone, Conscious Alliance has created an extensive concert series schedule, with events at Red Rocks, ARISE Festival and Sonic Bloom, collaborating with bands like Phish, STS9 and Widespread Panic.
The first Conscious Alliance food drive, in 2002, featured The String Cheese Incident at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, a three-night event that raised 4,000 meals.
“We knew that there was a lot of work to be done, but we also knew that we were on to something,” Levy says about that first event.
Shortly after, Conscious Alliance teamed up with STS9, the first band to allow the organization to host food drives for an entire tour with them.
“From the onset we loved the idea,” says Jeffree Lerner, percussionist of STS9. “We wanted to be involved in anything that was giving back to the communities we were playing in, especially for people who need help with just the basic necessities of life. Concerts offer a unique opportunity for making a difference, gathering people together, bringing an incredible force for change. We feel a responsibility to that and Conscious Alliance has provided an avenue for this.”
Since then the scope has increased to include food drives at Electric Forrest Festival in Rothbury, Michigan and Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, Virginia, with participation from bands like STS9 and Keller Williams to artists like Jeff Wood and Phil Lewis, who design custom concert posters that are given to donors at the events.
At the recent Lumineers’ two-night performance at Red Rocks, the Art That Feeds Food Drive raised more than 2,500 meals. In total the organization has provided 2 million meals nationwide since its inception.
“It started with one food drive and two bands,” Levy says. “Now we work with dozens of bands and dozens of artists, hosting food drives almost every week.”
In addition, the Conscious Alliance has broadened its services. More than simply providing food, the ultimate goal is to provide quality food and nutrition education with the help of natural food companies such as Justin’s, KIND Snacks and Plum Organics.
“What started as emergency food relief has really turned into nutrition and exercise education and the opportunity to start youth empowerment programs as well,” Levy says. “Diabetes is high everywhere in America, and it starts with the food we fuel our bodies with. We believe in eating healthy and that every child deserves healthy, nutritious food that will help fuel them for the rest of their lives and lay the ground work for all of the amazing things that they will accomplish in their lives.”
In this vein, they prefer donations of low-sodium and organic canned foods and explicitly won’t accept ramen noodles in exchange for a poster.
Conscious Alliance works most closely with Pine Ridge Reservation, located about six hours from Boulder in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Their immersion into the reservation’s culture is successful due to what Levy describes as a three-tier approach, which includes providing food, along with nutrition education and cultural empowerment workshops.
“With consistent work with the community at Pine Ridge and in having employees there, we are developing programs to work around nutrition and exercise, around gardening, around healthy eating programs as well as cultural programs,” Levy says.
The participation from fans and supporters who come out to shows, donate food and help with Conscious Alliance’s endeavors, of course, makes the work at Pine Ridge possible.
“The fans have been super supportive and receptive,” Lerner says. “We see more and more people in line to donate food every night. Over the years the fans have made a difference, and that’s what it’s all about.”
The people at Conscious Alliance look to accomplish more than just their 100,000-meal goal this summer. For Levy, it’s also about community engagement.
“Whether they’re going to Electric Forest or Vertex [Festival in Buena Vista, Colorado], we want people to look out for Conscious Alliance and just learn how to engage in their local community as well, whether it’s Conscious Alliance or not,” he says. “There are amazing organizations out there, and it’s important for people to find something that they’re passionate about.”
The Conscious Alliance booth will be at more than 15 concerts and festivals this summer throughout Colorado and the rest of the country. Levy, for one, is optimistic the organization will reach its goal.
“I don’t want to put a ceiling on what Conscious Alliance can accomplish in the future,” Levy says. “Inherently people want to give back — they just need to be given the opportunity.”