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Prince’s philanthropic legacy lives on through PRN Alumni and Purple Playground

Fams pose with the Prince mural outside the Chanhassen Cinema at the Purple Playground inaugural event in 2017. (via Purple Playground on Facebook)
Fams pose with the Prince mural outside the Chanhassen Cinema at the Purple Playground inaugural event in 2017. (via Purple Playground on Facebook)

by Simone Cazares

July 26, 2018

While Prince will always be remembered for his iconic songs, for a while there was still a lot we didn't know about the music legend. Now, two years after his passing, we know that Prince was also passionate about giving back to the community.

While it may be impossible to know the full extent of his giving, Prince was an active philanthropist and there were certain areas that he was particularly passionate about. Many of them were centered around supporting the next generation of young people, and creating educational programs that would help them thrive.

Multiple organizations have sprung up to continue the philanthropic work Prince did. One of the larger organizations is the PRN Alumni Foundation, which was officially founded by former Paisley Park employees less than a year ago. The foundation, made up of 200-300 people, includes some of the best producers, managers, engineers, designers, musicians and support personnel who worked closely with Prince.

It all started in November 2016, when they held a private celebration in Prince's honor for Paisley Park employees. With 300 people at the event, they were also able to raise money for two other former employees in need: drummer John Blackwell and graphic designer Michael Van Huffel.

“We raised a good amount of money that night and it just sparked us into going, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity to keep Prince’s philontrophic legacy alive,'" said Jacqui Thompson, president of the PRN Alumni Foundation. "A lot of people didn’t know how much he was doing, and still don’t how much he was giving and that he had always given in his career. From there we decided to create the nonprofit that is the PRN Alumni Foundation.”

As a nonprofit corporation, the PRN Alumni Foundation raises money to give back to other organizations and former Paisley Park employees in need, but Thompson said their main priority is to make sure the foundation is in alignment with the fields Prince was passionate about.

"We took the music program portion for kids and we work with the arts, music and tech programs for kids. That’s our main mission and then our second part of the mission is we work with urban gardening. He was very much into healthy eating, which is great for your mind and then music and art is all cultivated together, so we felt that would be a good fit," Thompson said.

"We also help alumni in need," she continued. "We’ve given money to different alumni members who are in need and down on their luck a little bit maybe and need a little bit of assistance for medical and things like that. That’s our mission and we’re just really getting started.”

In October, the organization will be hosting a "Funk-N-Roll Fundraiser weekend" with a panel discussion, a "Funk-N-Bowl" party at Memory Lanes, and a benefit concert featuring Maceo Parker and Candy Dulfer.

Another organization that is working to continue Prince's legacy is Purple Playground. Run by dedicated Prince fans, Purple Playground was founded to help other fans heal from Prince's death and continue his mission they believed was being lost in the shuffle. Heidi Vader, one of the nonprofit's founders, reflected that although losing Prince was a painful experience, it means a lot to her to carry on his legacy to the next generation.

“It's meaningful in that it makes me feel like something good is coming out of his death, at least for me personally, because of these kids," she said. "It’s hard to describe. I’ve become a lot closer to a lot of the fans that I was friends with because we feel more purposeful and it’s not a religious thing but it is spreading the good news.”

While the PRN Alumni Foundation is a larger organization that gives to money to many different areas Prince was passionate about, Purple Playground is mostly focused on music education programs for young people. From Aug. 6-10 they will be running their first music program for teenage musicians ages 13-16 at the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. There they plan to teach the students all about Prince's history and have them write and record their own songs inspired by his work — something Vader hopes Prince would be proud of.

“I think (Prince) would think it’s a fine thing that we’re doing," Vader said. "He always loved kids and I think he would get a kick out of seeing them write their own songs instead of doing covers of his music in particular.”  

While it's impossible to know that exactly what Prince would think of the work being done in his honor, Thompson, of the PRN Alumni Foundation, also hopes the he would be proud of the work being done.

“We’re not trying, we are keeping that going. There’s a desperate need for music and arts and it’s so important in the development of children. Regardless if they end up being musicians, artists or whatever, it’s such an important part of growth. He realized that and we want to keep that going. The music is going to be there. His legacy as that is there and it’s not going anywhere, so we want to make people who might not have been aware of what he was doing in his life and what he was up to.”

Simone Cazares is a student at Saint Paul College. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.