Since receiving the $116,000 grant, Schmidt says his daughters have been checking every carton in the house. “Tetra Pak” is fairly ubiquitous. The fortune built on the mathematical genius of the milk carton funds human rights work across the globe — and now in Sitka. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The Sitka Fine Arts Camp has received a major grant from an international trust focused on human rights. The funding will allow more kids from diverse economic backgrounds to attend the camp’s popular summer programs.

Unlike some nonprofit funding, this grant has no strings attached. In fact, the camp didn’t even apply. If that sounds too good to be true, so is a milk carton.

The milk carton is a lovely thing, viewed through the eyes of Roger Schmidt, the director of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. The milk carton — like so many other strides in consumer technology — was developed after World War II, when all milk was delivered in glass bottles.

Schmidt has been looking into the history of the milk carton.

“There’s going to be a need with supermarkets to store things like milk and other food, so we have to invent a container,” he said.

So milk cartons had to be sterile, and inexpensive to make — all from one folded piece of paper.  If you think about it, they’re a sort of consumer origami: A box with a roof on top, but with these two triangles that fold out to become a spout.

John R. VanWormer of Toledo, Ohio, patented the first folding milk carton in 1915. The technology captivated Swedish businessman Reuben Rausing, who wanted to bring similar products to market in Europe — for all non-carbonated drinks, not just milk. He patented the first tetrahedron carton in 1944. His commercial breakthrough came in the mid-1960s with the invention of the Tetra Brik, the aseptic cube that dominates the market today.

A work of genius really.

“They have this mathematical… they combine a rectangle with another shape at the top, which is called the dihedral carton,” said Schmidt. “And that’s cutting-edge technology, the intersection of these two things, which have absolutely changed life on our planet.”

And will change the lives of somewhere between 60 and 80 students who will receive scholarships to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp this summer.

The brilliant idea that launched the milk carton ultimately became known as Tetra Pak, an international giant in the food packaging industry. Sigrid Rausing is the granddaughter of the founder of Tetra Pak, and her philanthropy, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, has just awarded the camp 90,000 (pounds sterling) — about $116,000 — sight unseen.

Schmidt says the camp received an email late last summer, asking for an interview. It felt a little like a dating app. Schmidt did what most people would do.

“I Googled them. I think we all Googled them. And then when we Googled them, their work was so impressive.”

The Sigrid Rausing Trust is the third-largest philanthropy in the United Kingdom. It has funded projects across the globe, focused on humanitarian issues and the environment. Schmidt agreed to an interview via Skype with a trust administrator in London, who had discovered the camp’s work with the National Endowment for the Arts online. And that’s when he knew that this was going to be more than a blind date.

“They realized that there is such an important link between the arts and human rights, that they felt that it was time to add an arts program to their organization,” said Schmidt.

Attend any Fine Arts Camp event and there’s a good chance Schmidt will step out on stage and make the claim that arts education doesn’t make artists — it makes humans. He doesn’t want this education to be limited to only the affluent.

“We’ve seen over and over again that the camp is this incredible tool towards kids really feeling like there are opportunities,” said Schmidt. “There are peer groups that they can be part of that make them feel supported. They often maybe discover who they are, or a part of themselves at camp that they didn’t know yet.”

In a typical year, about 20-percent of the camp’s 900 students received financial aid — for a total of about $90,000.  Schmidt says the new funding from the Sigrid Rausing Trust will go toward expanding access, covering not only tuition, but some travel expenses for an additional 60-80 campers.  Unbelievably, the trust wanted no say in how the money is spent. This is almost unheard of in the nonprofit world.

Said Schmidt, “It’s like what you dream about. An organization said, ‘We don’t have any stipulations on the award.’ I’ve got it written down here: They believe that ‘donors can best encourage innovation and imagination if they allow grantees to develop their own ideas.”

Ideas as innovative and imaginative as a dihedral milk carton.