Ann Arbor teen center wins $500,000 national award for music programming

Ann Arbor nonprofit teen center Neutral Zone recently received $500,000 as a recipient of The Lewis Prize for Music's 2024 Accelerator Awards. The Lewis Prize for Music is a philanthropic arts organization that strives to encourage community change by fostering creative development in young people.

"It's a very proud moment," says Lori Roddy, Neutral Zone executive director. "It's like winning a Grammy. It's the only prize that we know that exists around supporting creative youth development."

This year the Lewis Prize for Music received 261 applications from 42 U.S. states and territories. Neutral Zone, located at 310 E. Washington St. in Ann Arbor, is one of four organizations that were chosen to receive half a million dollars in support over the next several years. 

Roddy shares that the recognition is especially meaningful from a national organization that affirms many of the values that Neutral Zone has striven for.

"We have shared thinking about young people and youth leadership," she says. "They believe in working with community, learning through collaboration, and the use of music as a powerful tool for creating change, equity, and justice."

Roddy says music has always been a powerful tool for engaging young people and helping them feel safe and connected. Neutral Zone, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, started on the second floor at 637 S. Main St. There, the organization had a concert venue and what Roddy describes as a "very small and humble recording studio the size of a closet." The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation Youth Council gave Neutral Zone its first grant for $7,000, and a grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan funded Neutral Zone's first recording studio. Neutral Zone leveraged that support to build community connections, networks, and offerings such as the Future Corps program, which have helped the nonprofit create community impact over time.

"We'll dedicate some of the latest funding to support Future Corps and to creating other exciting programs," Roddy says. "We also want to find ways to support other organizations as they do more music and art with their youth."

From her perspective, the Lewis Prize for Music is an acknowledgment not just for Neutral Zone, but for Washtenaw County.

"Everybody who lives in this community has a right to be proud of this award," Roddy says. "You've helped build Neutral Zone, a space that kids will come to and trust and allow their creative geniuses to show up."

Jaishree Drepaul is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at

Photo courtesy of Neutral Zone.
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