2022 Grants Challenge

Open Source Scent Initiative

The Open Source Scent Initiative will support new perfumery practices and ensure better representation within the perfume industry through three core programs. A reference library will house an evolving collection of books and aromatic molecules. An online database will collect archival and public domain knowledge about perfumery and olfactory art. Education, mentorship and a funded accelerator award will build on this shared knowledge to give new practitioners the support and technical training they need to start their own companies.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

BIPOC- and Women-Owned Businesses

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Archeological research shows us that humans have engaged in perfumery since the 3rd millennium BC. Working with scent has allowed us to communicate with one another and with our gods, and has been involved in important human activities like wellness, art-making, and so much more. With this said, the multi-billion dollar perfume industry has evolved along a model that places primacy on European modes of expression and commerce. This manifests at every level of the industry: how perfume is marketed, who gets trained, and who gets to participate in the business, as a whole. The field is ruled by several multinational corporations that discourage access through a combination of trade secret, controlled distribution of patented aromatics, and internal training schemes. As a result, this vital mode of expression has become severely limited in its scope. Nowhere is this more apparent than in representation for BIPOC and women-led companies, which are scarce, unsupported, and badly resourced.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

The Institute for Art and Olfaction is an artist-led initiative that is devoted to upending exclusionary practices in the field of perfumery. The Open Source Scent Initiative expands upon our decade of work by stimulating new BIPOC and women-led perfume businesses by providing knowledge, resources, dedicated training, paid mentorships, and a stipended accelerator program. This initiative is founded on the idea that shared information is a crucial part of economic development, particularly in a field which relies so heavily on specialty training. We believe that public libraries play a crucial role in disseminating knowledge, and we will provide just that: a staffed reference library housing the 2,336 books and aromatic molecules that the IAO has collected in its decade of operations. We'll supplement this with an online database of historic and contemporary perfume formulas, and commissioned or collected essays and training materials. Rooted in action, we will also implement a training program that emphasizes applied learning through business mentorships, industry speakers, classes, and a funded accelerator program supporting new L.A.-based BIPOC and women-led perfume businesses. While we will heavily draw from our contacts and resources within the global perfume industry, our approach will be rooted in the belief that no one entity should own knowledge. For this reason, the resources we create or collect will be placed in the public domain, and accessible for all.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Our goal is to make Los Angeles the cultural home of creative perfumery. By hosting the Open Source Scent Initiative here, we will be creating a geographical base for an influential and diverse sector of the larger billion-dollar perfume industry. The project will play an important role in de-centralizing a conglomerate of power, and, in so-doing, will help create a new culture industry for Los Angeles. In order to measure our impact, we have a specific and very attainable goal of helping to launch 5 new BIPOC and women-led businesses, support 10 existing local businesses, and lay the foundations for long-term diversity and representation in the field. We aim to reach a very attainable 2,400 Angelenos directly through our programs, and countless more indirectly through our online resources on publications. We will accomplish this through strategic partnerships with aligned organizations with whom we have existing relationships, and through thoughtful educational programming.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Open Source Scent Initiative is a program of The Institute for Art and Olfaction – a pioneering non-profit devoted to public education and access in perfumery. In our ten years of operation, our activities have had a profound impact on the perfume industry and can be directly linked to new efforts towards access and representation. We have also had a big impact on the public: in the past twelve months alone, we have directly served just shy of 16,150 people. Since our founding (Sep., 2012), we have produced hundreds of arts and industry-oriented events, in partnerships with institutions in L.A. and worldwide, including the Getty, Pulitzer Foundation, Hammer Museum, Craft Contemporary, Huntington Library, Royal College of Art, Danish Film Institute, National Media Museum UK, Atlas Obscura, and many more. We have also had extensive impact through media production (including our ongoing radio show/podcast) and press coverage (including profiles in the New York Times, BBC, and more).

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 2,400

Indirect Impact: 9,000