2017 Report on Grantmaking Programs

Students on a college campusHistory, philosophy, storytelling, and the arts can help human beings live more fulfilling lives. (Photo courtesy of the Community College of Baltimore County.)

Report on Grantmaking Programs and Research

The Mellon Foundation’s mission statement is simple. We strive:

to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. To this end, we support exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.

The statement takes as self-evident that history, philosophy, storytelling, and the arts can help human beings live more fulfilling lives, that they help us see our common humanity and understand our differences, and that they outline the long shadows the past throws onto our present. It also assumes that these fundamental human endeavors can help us imagine futures right along with the sciences, economics, or technology. And it indicates that higher education and cultural organizations constitute the sphere where the humanities and arts connect human flourishing to broader societal good.

When we distilled this mission statement in 2014, we debated whether the phrase “where necessary, defend” was really needed. Some argued that the notion of defense was too alarmist; others thought the humanities and arts were under such pressure that “where necessary” was redundant. Today we would not have had this debate, as defense appears to have become core Foundation business when the humanities, the arts, and higher education face relentless critiques on economic and political grounds. Public discourse about the value of higher education and particularly the humanities was the inescapable context for the work of the Foundation’s grantmaking and research programs in 2017, even as we also strove to keep our focus trained on the long view.

Strengthening and Promoting the Humanities and the Arts in 2017

Since the financial crisis of 2008, institutions of higher education have faced growing pressure to prove their economic value to their students and society at large. Universities and colleges are called upon to ensure that their degree programs connect students to the labor market in immediate ways, steering graduates to jobs that pay a decent wage and contribute measurably to the economy. While it is reasonable for students and their families to expect a college education to prepare them for satisfying careers, this expectation has come to be framed in narrow terms that are focused on a first, technically defined job rather than the long and lengthening arc of a human life. Demands for clear vocational outcomes are challenging for the humanities, as it can be difficult to prove the utility of studying history and culture in preparation for precisely circumscribed occupations. Enrollments in the humanities indeed are going down across the United States, as is evident in the graph in Figure 1 below, which tracks numbers of majors in broad disciplinary categories.

Graph illustrating Shares of All Bachelor’s Degrees Awarded in Selected Academic Fields, 1987–2015

Leaders in higher education, philanthropy, and the business world itself are not simply accepting the critique of the humanities as irrelevant for a profitable life. Many have noted the paradox that the humanities help people develop abilities to cope with the very disruptions of technology, climate change, and globalization that are driving students away from the humanities. They have pointed out that the automation of work that provides for our sustenance, shelter, medicine, communications, and transportation will render many jobs obsolete by the middle of the century. In rapidly changing societies where the future of work is uncertain, dispositions such as curiosity, historical perspective, critical thinking, and delight in different cultures can set students up for lives of flourishing in many occupational and social registers. In a society hungry for data and evidence, stating these perhaps obvious ideas may no longer suffice to make the case for the humanities or a broadly integrated liberal arts education. The Foundation’s Mellon Research Forum, launched in 2016, has begun to support fresh qualitative and quantitative research into the outcomes of a liberal arts education in a range of rubrics, including impacts on economic wellbeing, cognitive development, physical and mental health, and civic and political participation.

Even if arguments for the positive lifelong outcomes of the humanities are to convince more students and policy makers, it is clear that the academy cannot expect a return to enrollments in disciplinary majors in the humanities as they existed in the 1970s. The demands for preprofessional curricula is a particular challenge for the future of the independent liberal arts college and its analogs within research universities. Much of the “general” components of a liberal arts education have historically come from the humanities, and especially from English and history—the two majors that have seen the steepest enrollment declines. As the humanities cannot ignore society’s calls for demonstrable value, we should perhaps worry less about enrollments in humanities majors and more about integrating humanities learning in all education, from K–12 schools and vocational colleges to professional schools and colleges of arts and sciences. The Foundation continues to support the efforts of colleges to revise their liberal arts curricula to infuse them with “big” humanities questions and community-based learning that are of increasing interest to students. Humanities course enrollments in community colleges and professional schools are relatively robust, particularly as part of the general education requirements. Humanities content in these curricula can only be strengthened with the enthusiastic commitment of humanists, and to this end the Foundation is fostering partnerships between faculty in community colleges and four-year institutions.

Similarly, growth in support for humanities research is likely to depend on the ability of humanists to contribute to interdisciplinary inquiry on large challenges alongside scientists, social scientists, and scholars of the professions. These realities mean that PhD education in the humanities will need to be retooled in various ways, including preparation for different types of faculty careers as well as work in the public humanities. Our program in Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities made a significant number of grants in support of such goals.

In this moment, however, the humanities and arts are confronted with civic responsibilities beyond serving the economy and individual flourishing. These past few years, the United States has seen a decline of public trust in the civil society institutions that have formed the bedrock of the democracy, including higher education. We have witnessed unprecedented attacks on the value of free speech and a free press, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, and the possibility of evaluating any truth claims at all. Significant segments of the American population view demographic diversity with suspicion or fear, while others see it as the backbone of our prosperity and cultural vigor. As the nation’s original sin of slavery and its through lines to contemporary forms of racism have come into fuller view, the majority of Americans now see race relations as poor.[1] Too many citizens now consider universities and colleges, once seen as America’s shining achievement, as a proxy for all of our woes.[2] Many of these divisions are spilling over onto campuses, where academic leaders find themselves caught between the importance of maintaining academic freedom and the need to protect minority students from hateful speech that targets their communities.

In this environment, the arts and humanities can suffer precisely because artists and humanists do not go in for simplistic arguments. They pose and pursue difficult questions. They understand the historic depths of contemporary problems. They allow for nuanced answers, defer judgment, and accept the role of ambiguity in human affairs. They thrive on freedom of expression. They bring pleasure and insight, often in unexpected ways. When these aspects of the humanities and arts were valued widely, the United States created the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to promote them. Today, those agencies are under attack.

For now, the American people appear not to have bought into the argument that the state has no role in supporting ideas, art, and storytelling in the life of the nation, but this support from broad swaths of the public cannot be taken for granted. Leaders in the humanities and arts will have to continue to muster and present evidence for the value of their pursuits. In 2017, the Foundation supported the efforts of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Humanities Alliance, the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the American Alliance of Museums, and Americans for the Arts to conduct new research and provide public education about the role of the humanities and the arts in every district in the land.

While the symbolic value of the federal cultural agencies is to be cherished and protected, the dollars they distribute make up a small fraction of the national investment in culture. As ever, in 2017 most of the work of the Foundation’s programs was dedicated to supporting the extraordinary range of excellent and innovative work that humanists and artists pursue across the country. From their purview across the ecosystem for higher education and the arts, our program officers see reasons every day not to be on the defensive. Across programs, extraordinary work in the humanities and the arts continues to be produced and shared, often defying the odds of our time.

The Year in Numbers

In 2017 the Foundation appropriated 496 grants totaling almost $286 million (Figure 2). The distribution of those grants tells the story of the Foundation’s recent efforts to make more grants to small organizations than we did in the past. While total dollars appropriated were almost identical to the amounts for 2015 and 2016 (Figures 3 and 4), the number of grants awarded in 2017—496—was significantly higher than the 438 for 2015 and 414 for 2016. In 2017, 303 grants were for amounts under $500,000; in 2015 and 2016 those number were 273 and 210, respectively. This reorientation of the Foundation’s grantmaking has been deliberate. We recognize that innovative thought and creative energy in the arts and humanities often emerge from smaller organizations, and that many of them are vital to the Foundation’s priority to recognize the contributions of historically underrepresented communities to the arts and culture and to diversify historically white organizations. These organizations also tend to receive less funding than larger organizations.[3]

Graphs illustrating Total 2017 Mellon Foundation Grants

Foundations have different tools in their grantmaking kits: primarily spendable grants, endowment grants, and program-related investments that can take the character of zero- or low-interest loans. To increase the impact of philanthropic funding, both endowment and spendable grants may have matching components. While the Mellon Foundation uses all of these tools for specific purposes, in recent years we have reduced the proportion of endowment grants in our overall grantmaking (Figure 5).[4] In a period that has seen funding declines for the humanities and the arts, and, at least before 2017, lower market returns, we have prioritized spendable funding that can reinforce higher education, the humanities, and the arts more immediately than the often deferred, and much smaller, amounts afforded by payouts on endowments. Endowment grants also tend to be less effective in encouraging collaboration among institutions to develop solutions to shared concerns.

Total 2017 Mellon Foundation Grants by Grant Type

Nevertheless, the Foundation will occasionally use endowments under appropriate conditions, including the institution’s track record for its endowment returns, an opportunity to raise significant matching funds, and an ability to sustain a program that is vital to the Foundation’s and the grantee institution’s interests. In 2017 the Foundation made three endowment grants that met these criteria. Most notably, a $10 million appropriation to the University of California at Irvine (UC Irvine) will enable the UC system to endow the core operations of the University of California Humanities Research Institute that is based at UC Irvine but distributes vital resources for humanities research across all of the UC campuses. UC has committed to raising at least $20 million in additional endowment funds for this purpose. The initiative will ensure the future of an unusually robust system for the role of the humanities in public universities.

The Year in Themes

In the seven short essays that follow, the leaders of our grantmaking and research programs go beyond these numbers to explain how they pursued their parts of the Mellon mission in collaborative or more loosely networked initiatives. In 2017 the programs continued their efforts to connect the work of individual institutions in collaborative frameworks that allow for knowledge exchange and shared learning. Although collaboration is challenging, strategic consortia and networked initiatives ultimately have a better chance of solving problems and improving conditions across the landscape of higher education and culture. Through collaboration, our grants also serve many more organizations and people. Many of the grants made in 2017 were inflected by our preference for supporting collaborative and networked initiatives that promote more inclusive participation in higher education, the humanities, and the arts, as well as efforts that propel cutting-edge, inspiring, and joyous research, teaching, and art making. Several initiatives launched by the Foundation since we developed our strategic plan of 2014 that have now been fully initiated or gained a measure of scale are sampled below.

The Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative supported by the Arts and Cultural Heritage program has now provided dozens of small performing arts and art conservation organizations with financial and organizational training and with follow-up grants that assist them in shoring up their financial basis. In Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities (HESH), initiatives to support universities and colleges that provide liberal arts education in prison and for formerly incarcerated people are modeling possibilities for remediating some of the inequities of the American prison system, whose dramatic scale continues to present sheer insurmountable problems. Community colleges are a crucial resource in this arena, as they can provide prisoners with much needed credits earned while incarcerated. Two-year institutions are also important sites of humanities activity in their own right, and the HESH program has now funded eight partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions that facilitate transfer in the humanities and foster partnerships between faculty in support of student success.

For the past four years, our Scholarly Communications program has worked intensively with stakeholders in the university press and humanities community to envision the potential of the digital monograph in the humanities from the points of view of the author, the editor, the publisher, the university, the peer and tenure review system, the marketer, and the reader. This work is beginning to bear fruit as scholarly e-books and the tools to edit and produce them come online, and presses gain a sharper understanding of how to distribute them in a way that scholars and the public can afford and find them. The Diversity program has expanded its signature faculty diversification program, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF), to reach more than 50 campuses. A special focus of the Diversity program, both within MMUF and in a range of other initiatives, has been on pathways for more Hispanic and Latinx students to pursue the PhD.

In 2017, the International Higher Education and Strategic Projects program implemented the first phase of its plan to extend grantmaking in Africa beyond the Foundation’s long-standing focus on South Africa, with grants to the University of Ghana in Accra and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. The Foundation also makes a number of Public Affairs grants each year that support networking and shared services in the philanthropic community and make special contributions to New York institutions that enhance the cultural participation of underserved New Yorkers. One such grant this year supports a program at the New-York Historical Society that uses its collections to prepare permanent US residents for the citizenship test, which can be daunting even to many who have grown up in the country.

What this small sample does not indicate is the thoroughgoing extent to which all our programs now attend to a number of cross-cutting themes—some are values, other emphases—in most of their grantmaking (Figure 6). All of our programs pay close attention to how organizations address questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion, for example. Many grants to universities and arts organizations now include a significant public arts or humanities component. It goes without saying that for maximum effectiveness, most projects supported by the Foundation depend on vigorous and innovative use of digital media. And although most of the Foundation’s grants are made to US-based organizations, a significant number also promotes international collaboration among institutions, scholars, curators, and artists.

Graph of Total 2017 Mellon Foundation Grants by Cross-Cutting Foci

In September 2017, our President Earl Lewis announced that he would return to the University of Michigan in March 2018, at the end of his five-year term, to create and lead a Center for Social Solutions with a focus on critical problems and opportunities of our time: diversity, water, and the future of work. As all of us on the staff reflect on the strategic plan and the cross-program collaboration that have brought greater cohesion to our grantmaking and our colleagueship, we realize how fundamentally the initiatives outlined above owe their genesis to Earl’s vision, encouragement, and gentle, ever apposite questions. He leaves a legacy that will continue to motivate and inspire the work of the Foundation for a long time to come. We are deeply grateful.

Mariët Westermann
Executive Vice President for Programs and Research

College campus with fountain.2017 brought a new set of challenges to colleges and universities nationwide. (Photo courtesy of the University of Southern California.)

Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities

Periods of transition and turmoil are nothing new in the history of higher education, but 2017 brought a new set of challenges to colleges and universities nationwide. As a new administration in Washington moved through its first year in office, administrators, faculty, and students felt the impact of a sharply divided political landscape marked by discriminatory conduct toward underrepresented communities, challenges to free speech and academic freedom, and renewed charges that campuses constitute sites of political indoctrination. “Charlottesville” ceased simply to designate the location of an outstanding public university, and became the symbol of growing violence, intimidation, and concerns for personal safety. As the president and Congress held protracted debates about immigration without clear outcomes, undocumented students who were previously protected by a presidential executive order faced agonizing months of insecurity about the stability of their own and their family’s lives. And as fresh challenges emerged about the very role and value of universities and a college education in society, so, too, numerous constituencies questioned the value of the humanities for college students and for the health of democracy.

In response, Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities (HESH) program staff renewed efforts to support the work of exemplary partners across higher education, but that work was indelibly marked by the circumstances of our national and international moment. College and university leaders steadily requested support for ideas and programs to address campus environments in which the practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion were deeply contested. Led by the Foundation’s strategic plan and the need to respond to emerging pressures and opportunities, HESH focused on a set of pathbreaking initiatives—community college-research university partnerships, prison education programs, experiments in the reinvention of doctoral education, and new initiatives in the public humanities—while remaining committed to supporting the traditional core of our grantmaking. We amplified our impact and ensured the health of outstanding and transformative scholarship through continued work with long-trusted partners such as the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Social Science Research Council. Grants to ACLS crossed several of our prioritized areas, including support of public fellows programs, community college faculty research grants, and fellowships.

Strengthening Consortia and Partnerships

As the humanities have seen greater levels of scrutiny and reduced levels of support, such programs and departments on public university campuses have experienced disproportionate hardships. The University of California system, one of the greatest constellations of public university campuses in the world, has suffered from sustained erosion of state financial support and political challenges. In order to provide crucially needed reinforcement that can be distributed throughout the system over a sustained period, staff recommended a significant grant totaling $10 million for the uses of the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI), which serves students and faculty across the University of California system’s nine campuses. The grant funds, which will be matched with at least $20 million in new funds raised over the next four years, will sustain the basic operations and research programs of UCHRI, which is based at the University of California at Irvine, and the University of California Humanities Network that is coordinated by UCHRI. The grant is intended as a signal, one we hope will amplify messages about the significance of the humanities within the nation’s leading public institutions.

Several grants supported the strengthening of other types of consortia. The largest of these was for the Creating Connections Consortium, awarded to Middlebury College and its institutional partners. Intended to support undergraduates from over twenty liberal arts colleges, as well as graduate students and new PhDs from four research universities, these funds permit consortial members to participate in a range of cohort-building programs at the undergraduate and graduate student levels. Foundation funds also support the first two years of tenure-track positions at consortial institutions that commit to promoting faculty diversity in broad, sustainable ways. Other consortia-building grants included those to Amherst College, administrator of the Folger Shakespeare Library, to support interdisciplinary collaborative research; a consortium for the study of the premodern world based at the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities; and a grant to the American University of Paris to administer the American International Consortium of Academic Libraries to build leadership and capacity for the digital liberal arts.

On a smaller scale, the partnerships that exist between community colleges and research universities are among the most vital and potentially important across the higher education landscape. Community colleges provide an access point to higher education for millions of Americans every year, and large numbers of those students pursue degrees in the humanities. Supporting transfer success thus remains a critical means of supporting the humanities themselves. Ten grants in support of community college-university partnerships were made to institutions with a history of strong preexisting relationships and productive transfer outcomes. These included grants to the Community College of Baltimore County and Johns Hopkins University; Foothill-De Anza Community College District and the University of San Francisco; Miami Dade College and Florida International University; El Paso Community College and the University of Texas at El Paso; and Henry Ford College and the University of Michigan. A grant to Teachers College–Columbia University supports new research on the success of community college students who have transferred to four-year institutions, with use of a rapidly growing body of transfer success data that is becoming available in several states. A focus on transfer-student success also led to a grant to Brooklyn College in support of an initiative entitled Transforming the Futures of Transfer Students through Research and Mentoring.

Public Humanities

New partnerships are being forged between colleges and universities and their proximate cultural institutions through the creation of public humanities programs and initiatives. Often linked to efforts aimed at helping doctoral students find career pathways outside of the academy—and thus to doctoral reform efforts—these fresh collaborations can yield results that redound to the communities in which they are situated, improving opportunities for productive civic dialogue, and further public engagement with the humanities.

Examples include the Engaged Scholar Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin; and Humanities for the Public Good initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. HESH provided $6,800,000 to ACLS for another round of its highly successful Public Fellows program. A grant to the National Park Foundation supported fellowships for emerging scholars who assist the National Park System to expand the kinds of historical sites it manages and to diversify public programming, and who gain opportunities to develop public humanities skills.

When extraordinary opportunities arise that enable broad public access to important humanities programs or public history sites, HESH has provided support for project completion and public education. A grant to the Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association in support of two new documentary programs created by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and focusing on Reconstruction, the birth of Jim Crow, and the Great Migration, will bring these critically important aspects of American history to a large public audience. Similarly, a grant to the Federation of State Humanities Councils funded the creation of public programs on the topic of Democracy and the Informed Citizen.

International and Domestic Social Engagement

As political upheaval continued to create rapid and sometimes cataclysmic shifts around the globe over the past year, HESH provided considered interventions to support humanities students and faculty experiencing moments of profound and dislocating crisis. For example, a grant to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation supported the placement of refugee scholars in German universities, and one to the Brooklyn Public Library provided access to higher education for individuals whose lives have been disrupted by life circumstances. Another grant to the Institute of International Education responded to the urgent need for supporting academics in peril, and one to the International Rescue Committee focused on improving the training of teachers who have been tasked with the responsibility to teach swelling numbers of displaced students in Lebanon and Iraq.

Closer to home and critical to the Foundation’s commitment to education and social justice, HESH continued to make grants in support of prison education programs. Grants to New York University’s (NYU) Prison Education Program, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Education Justice Project, and the Vera Institute of Justice’s Second Chance Pell Program constitute an ongoing project of intervention in the deleterious effects of the carceral state, one of the most pressing societal issues of our time.

Humanities Education Reform

The reinvention of doctoral education remains a key grantmaking priority for HESH. As the tenure-track job market continues to shrink for holders of a humanities doctorate, PhD degree-granting universities continue to grapple with the complex set of issues entailed in helping students find pathways to successful and rewarding careers. The Foundation continued its work in this area, picking up where the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Next Generation humanities PhD planning grants left off. In addition to the public humanities grants mentioned above, HESH provided funding for experiments with various new models for doctoral education at Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the University of Southern California. These included interdisciplinary course development, integration of digital humanities training, increasing inclusivity in doctoral education, opportunities for collaboration and teaching experience at community colleges, and more.

If doctoral education requires reinvention, undergraduate education requires similar levels of creative reconsideration. Nearly every college and university continues to experience falling undergraduate enrollments across the humanities, just as they seek new ways to generate interest in humanities courses among all students. Thus, a significant number of HESH grants focused on undergraduate curriculum changes, primarily in the liberal arts college sector. In addition to bolstering student enrollment across the humanities, these grants focused on the creation of curricula concentrated on promoting civil discourse and global citizenship; increased opportunities for undergraduate research; creation of transdisciplinary courses; improving information literacy; and the concurrent introduction of engaged pedagogies to ensure that all students can be full participants.


Finally, 2017 was a year marked by personnel shifts in the HESH team. On July 1, Senior Program Officer Cristle Collins Judd left the Mellon Foundation to assume a new post as the president of Sarah Lawrence College. Before joining the Foundation, Cristle served for nine years as dean of academic affairs at Bowdoin College, a role that—in combination with her experience working with university leaders and grantees between 2015 and 2017—ideally positions her to guide Sarah Lawrence into the future.

On November 1, Dianne Harris joined the Foundation as a Senior Program Officer. Working in partnership with Mariët Westermann and Eugene Tobin, Dianne brings to the program a depth of scholarly and academic leadership experience in large, public universities. With a PhD in architectural history, Dianne has long focused her scholarship primarily on histories of race and housing in suburban environments in the United States. She served as director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2008–15 where, with Foundation support, she created the Humanities Without Walls consortium. From 2015–17, she served as dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Utah.

In June 2017, HESH staff mourned the untimely death of Hilary Ballon, senior advisor to the Foundation. Hilary possessed a luminous intellect, and her influence radiated across institutions and continents. She held faculty and administrative appointments at Columbia University, and at NYU where she served as deputy vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi. A respected scholar, teacher, and citizen of her field, Hilary collaborated with Mariët Westermann in the creation and implementation of HESH’s Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities (AUH) initiative, as well as the Foundation’s effort to support new partnership models between community colleges and universities. Now in its seventh year, the AUH program is successfully shaping new models of pedagogy and research, and it has become a true field-building initiative. Hilary will be deeply missed by all those who knew and worked with her, even as we carry on her work with the AUH grantees.

Light projection on building facade.Within a fraught geopolitical environment, recent grants have emphasized the role of the arts in the public sphere. (Photo: MASS MoCA [“If this is my face, so be it,” ©2016 Yousif M. Qasmiyeh; ©2017 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society/ARS, NY.])

Arts and Cultural Heritage

In 2017, Ella Baff, Susan Feder, and Alison Gilchrest led the program in Arts and Cultural Heritage (ACH). With responsibility for a broad range of institutional types and forms of cultural production, the program has developed a grantmaking strategy designed to address systemic needs for the arts and culture sector across a spectrum of activity encompassing creation and development; curation and presentation; and conservation, preservation, and scholarship. From the most capacious academic and cultural institutions to the smallest and most nimble incubators, ACH identifies and cultivates individuals and organizations with the vision and potential to make positive, durable impact on a thriving arts and culture sector. Since the Foundation’s adoption of its strategic plan in 2014, ACH has increasingly attended to opportunities and challenges facing organizations dedicated to the arts and culture of historically underrepresented and disadvantaged communities in the United States. Within a fraught geopolitical environment, recent grants have also emphasized the role of the arts in the public sphere. Ongoing and evolving priorities for the year included addressing undercapitalization, historically underrepresented voices, threatened and underserved forms of cultural heritage, civic engagement, collaborative networks, emergent art forms, and international cultural exchange.

Organizational Health and Emergency Preparedness

In order to build and maintain a more diverse and well-capitalized arts and culture ecology, ACH continued to support the Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative (COHI), a modular program designed to improve the structural and financial health of important but historically underserved groups of arts and culture organizations. Launched in 2014 in collaboration with the Nonprofit Finance Fund, COHI moves cohorts of organizations through a multiphased process that includes analysis of sector financial health, individualized technical assistance, and flexibly deployed capital. In 2017, with a series of change capital grants, ACH made major strides to shore up the national network of nonprofit organizations that provide training, outreach, and treatment services in the field of conservation and preservation. Recipients included four leading regional art conservation centers and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC). Similarly, three institutional presenters in the National Performance Network/Visual Arts Network, which provides vital services in geographically underserved regions and for communities of color, received change capital to strengthen their effectiveness. Beyond COHI, aspects of capitalization—whether for increased capacity in staffing, programming, or audience engagement—were also interwoven into a series of first-time grants to art centers across the United States that are dedicated to perpetuating and invigorating the cultures of specific communities, including the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans, Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, and Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles.

Coincident with the start of COHI, ACH began to develop emergency preparation consortia in recognition that organizational health must be physical as well as financial. A 2017 grant to the Smithsonian Institution launched the Cultural Rescue Initiative, a cross-institutional training and response unit that has already deployed recovery resources in the wake of the unusual string of intense hurricanes last summer in Texas, the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. ACH grants also went to South Arts to formalize the National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response, and FAIC to expand the National Heritage Responders network.

Standing alongside Public Support for the Arts

At a time of renewed threats to public support for the arts and humanities in the United States, the Foundation recognizes the importance of demonstrating the relevance and value of the arts and humanities in the civic life of the country. ACH’s grants to Americans for the Arts and the American Alliance of Museums, complementing HESH’s grant to the National Humanities Alliance Foundation, aimed to deepen public understanding of the necessity of continued federal investment in the arts as an engine for economic and social health, vitality, and vibrancy. Other grants benefited public television and radio’s ability to provide expansive access to the arts: renewed support to Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association will increase the number of segments from PBS NewsHour’s Culture Desk, while a second grant will allow for more frequent national coverage of arts and culture in rural America; WNET will launch ARTS 24/7, a cable channel and digital, on-demand platform; and National Public Radio will expand its signature show Jazz Night in America and strengthen jazz programming across its growing number of media platforms.

Scaling Impact through Collaboration

ACH frequently encourages collaborations to help bring initiatives to scale, and relies on networks of expertise to amplify programming. Standout examples in 2017 included: (1) renewal and expansion of the Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship program, a national initiative to provide curatorial training to students from diverse backgrounds through fellowships and workshops at six partnering museums across the United States; (2) in an underserved region for conservation capacity, an endowment challenge grant to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) to establish the first center in the Western United States devoted to the conservation of Asian paintings, with a complementary grant that will enable Portland State University to provide scientific research capacity to SAM’s center and other collections in the Pacific Northwest; (3) the Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which will support research and experimentation with practices that foster empathy and related emotional skills using art museum collections, in collaboration with the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, and the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota; and (4) a consortium organized by the Sphinx Organization—including the League of American Orchestras, the New World Symphony, and a group of professional musicians from historically underrepresented communities (URC) collectively referred to as The Artist Council—which will deliver an integrated array of support to early-career URC musicians through the National Alliance for Audition Support.

Several other professional development initiatives foster pathways of access and opportunity for URC students and professionals: the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra have jointly designed a partnership with the University of Southern California that will provide graduate fellowships, performance and teaching opportunities, and mentoring; it resembles a program launched in 2015 by the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, whose initial successes led to an early renewal grant in 2017. A grant to the Center for Curatorial Leadership supports two complementary program streams that now encompass the full and multigenerational career arc from graduate student to museum director, and aims to improve diverse representation within the museum field.

Collaboration is central to grants for several other innovative partnerships that shore up infrastructure and knowledge production and exchange. Philadelphia-based CultureWorks has developed a commons-model infrastructure to provide services and resource sharing for artists and arts and humanities organizations, which it now plans to replicate in other cities to achieve economies of scale. At Emerson College, the “knowledge commons” HowlRound utilizes community-curated online platforms (including a journal and free livestreamed television) to advance international dialogue about theater and performance-making, and sharpen the discourse on inclusivity, representation, form, and civic engagement. Untold Stories, a series sponsored by CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia, will begin to address the need for richer diversity, equity, and inclusion programming for the cultural heritage conservation field. A cohort of grants jointly recommended with Scholarly Communications is intended to foster structural partnerships between campus museums and libraries and address needs related to shared technology platforms, conservation and preservation, faculty and student research, and diversity and inclusion. With a program-related investment, Opera America will establish an interest-free revolving loan fund intended to encourage coproductions of recent American operas. Maintaining the centrality of scholarship and graduate education in ACH’s grantmaking priorities, five grants were awarded to sustain an initiative partnering museum staff and graduate art history departments to provide object-centered doctoral education for future scholars and curators.

Supporting Native and Indigenous Arts

ACH continues to make concerted efforts to support Native and indigenous arts and cultural heritage. Grants to Queen’s University at Kingston, the Field Museum of Natural History, Yale University, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art expanded upon the Foundation’s efforts to advance scholarship, training, conservation, and public understanding of indigenous material culture, and to facilitate transparency and cooperation with source communities in cultural heritage decision making. The First Peoples Fund will continue to administer the Native Performing Artist Leadership Program.

Fostering New Work and Preservation

Grants for new work development, dissemination, and preservation continue to be essential components of ACH’s grantmaking. Chamber Music America will use renewed support to diversify its Classical Commissioning Program by encouraging applications from female and URC composers, which in turn will increase programming options for ensembles and presenters. Opera companies in Houston, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, each with venerable commitments to new repertoire, received funding to strengthen the crucial developmental stages of new work by means of robust workshops and extra rehearsals.

Opera developmental activities take inspiration from longstanding practices in theater, which in 2017 were represented by grants for residencies at Arts Emerson and Magic Theater. A set of four grants to presenters and museums working at the confluence of contemporary visual and performing arts will foster interdisciplinary collaboration and institutional practices conducive to the complex presentation demands for hybrid work. Four of the Foundation’s signature regranting programs also support creation and development: the National Theater Project, an integrated system of support administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts for the development and touring of artist-led ensembles and devised theater; The National Association of Latino Arts & Culture’s Fund for the Arts, which responds to the historic lack of funding for national Latinx artists and multidisciplinary arts organizations; Alternate Roots’ Artistic Assistance and Partners in Actions programs, which benefit Southern theater artists and cultural organizers; and the Creation and Development Fund at the National Performance Network/Visual Arts Network.

Emergent artistic practices and the challenge to preserve the digital reality of cultural production in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are also areas of ACH focus. A significant series of grants to New York University, the Art Institute of Chicago, the American Museum of the Moving Image, and the Tate Gallery continued to address the growing field of time-based media conservation and fortify its training and professional development pathways and institutional practices. The University of Southern California assumed responsibility for the Dance Preservation and Digitization Project, long supported by the Foundation, in the wake of the dissolution of Dance Heritage Coalition as an independent entity.

International Exchange

As a relatively modest portion of its portfolio, ACH funds international activity when it strongly resonates with core programmatic priorities. Cultural exchange, as a tool of dissemination for the performing arts, is

the impetus for two regranting programs, the Cultural Exchange Fund at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and Global Connections at Theatre Communications Group, both of which provided opportunities for artists to help break down political and social barriers; a grant to Arts Midwest strengthened collaborations initiated by the National Endowment for the Arts to foster more international touring opportunities for traditional artists—performing in such genres as jazz, folk, blues, gospel, zydeco, country, bluegrass, and Native American music. Annual residencies and cultural exchanges for theater artists from the United States and the Middle East and North Africa will be supported with a grant to the Sundance Institute. Building on the Foundation’s long-term presence in South Africa, the University of Pretoria will develop the country’s first graduate degree program in art and heritage conservation.

Continuity and Change

“Continuity and Change” are hallmarks of the Foundation’s 2014 strategic plan. ACH’s ongoing commitment to longstanding strategic priorities was manifested in 2017 by two sets of grants. One, to the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, concluded Mellon’s decades-long College and University Art Museums initiative, which has strengthened the role of museum collections in a wide range of curricula for undergraduate students. The other, providing support for the core operations of thirty-nine small and midsized nonprofit theater organizations, marked the twentieth year of the Foundation’s New York Theater Program, which supports the important role of New York City-based theater producers, presenters, development labs, and ensembles as sources of national repertory. Grants to Jazz at Lincoln Center and Earshot Jazz Society of Seattle were part of a new initiative intended to broaden public access to this vital form of music with deep and widely spread roots in African American history and culture.

Finally, in rare cases, endowment remains an element in the ACH toolbox. In addition to the Seattle Art Museum grant cited above, a grant endowing the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Social Progress Initiative acknowledged the organization’s close relationships with the diverse communities it serves and the complexities of the city in which it is situated.

Archival manuscriptScholarly Communications emphasizes three major areas: scholarly publishing, preservation, and access and library services. (Photo courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.)

Scholarly Communications

In 2017, Senior Program Officer Donald J. Waters and Program Officer Patricia Hswe led the Scholarly Communications (SC) program. Under the Foundation’s strategic plan, SC emphasizes three major areas: scholarly publishing, preservation, and access and library services. The priorities in these areas are to: (a) develop infrastructure and support for the production and dissemination of high-quality, web-based scholarly publications in the humanities; (b) accelerate the preservation of the scholarly and cultural record in all its forms, with particular emphasis on audiovisual media and digital resources; and (c) develop capacity within libraries, universities, and other cultural institutions to make collections and metadata broadly available and usable on the web.

New Grantmaking Initiatives

During 2017, SC launched new grantmaking programs under each of these priorities. First, SC and the National Historic Records and Preservation Commission, a part of the US National Archives and Records Administration, created the Digital Edition Publishing Cooperative grant program. In the first phase of this multiyear initiative, eight organizations are now planning multi-institutional cooperatives for the publication of primary source materials: the Universities of Virginia and California at Santa Cruz; Bucknell, Stanford, and Texas A&M Universities; the Kentucky and Massachusetts Historical Societies; and Wheaton College. As part of the second set of priorities, with joint funding from the Mellon and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations, Yale University is creating a national network of partner institutions dedicated to the preservation of software that scholars need over time to reproduce scientific research results, as well as to access and use a wide variety of cultural heritage objects, such as word-processed documents, digital art and time-based media, and databases. Under the third priority, SC initiated a series of grants to advance the practice of community-based archiving, which seeks to engage members of underrepresented communities in documenting their histories and cultures. With Foundation funds, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is addressing selected communities in the southern United States; Northeastern University is establishing a research center using community-based collections from diverse Boston-area neighborhoods; Arizona State University is diversifying its collections in conjunction with local Latinx communities; the University of Texas at Austin is partnering with communities in Central and South America; and Washington State University is enhancing Mukurtu, a software platform for American Indians to use to curate collections representing their tribal cultures, and especially, to control access to sacred and other sensitive materials.

Continued Support for Scholarly Publishing, Access, and Preservation

During 2017, SC also continued to support previously launched initiatives. In its digital monograph publishing program, SC awarded funds to make a new digital publishing system available to university presses (University of California), and to create a platform for faculty authors interested in the use of machine learning and data visualization (University of Cincinnati). The Foundation also continued its partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of the Humanities Open Book initiative, with grant funds to digitize more than 300 out-of-print books in Slavic and Asian studies (Borderlines Foundation for Academic Studies Incorporated and the University of Hawai‘i); the histories of indigenous and Latinx groups in the southwestern United States (University of Arizona); and the study of coins, currency, and medals (American Numismatic Society). In other areas of publishing, highlights include grants to enhance and update a seminal resource called Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University), and to create Enslaved (Michigan State University), an online hub for connecting records of individuals involved in the slave trade across a variety of existing databases, including Voyages. In addition, one team of researchers is using SC funds to undertake a critical evaluation of peer review in the history of science (Birkbeck College), while another is developing HuMetricsHSS, an experimental approach to peer review in the humanities (Michigan State University).

In the preservation area, SC maintained its grantmaking focus on audiovisual materials with support for: the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, which is designed to preserve and provide access to more than half-a-century’s worth of public radio and television programming (WGBH Educational Foundation); a continuing effort to reclaim massive collections of endangered sound and video recordings (New York Public Library); and the preservation of the audio and optical disk recordings in the archives of EMI Music Canada, which document musical recordings in a wide variety of genres from 1949 to 2012 (University of Calgary). Beyond the audiovisual domain, the grant to the State University of New York College at Buffalo is intended to stabilize and consolidate a master’s-level program for training book and paper conservators that it offers in collaboration with New York University and the University of Delaware. In addition, Rhizome Communications, Inc. received funds to enhance Webrecorder, a tool it developed for institutions to use when archiving media-rich and highly interactive websites.

To help make digital resources in the humanities more accessible and useful to scholars and the public, SC provided new rounds of funding to the Council on Library and Information Resources for a program in the digitization of hidden collections and for fellowships in data curation, and to the American Council of Learned Societies for its digital extension program, which is designed to expand the reach of existing digital humanities projects to new users and contributors. With grants to Johns Hopkins University; the Universities of Kansas, Notre Dame, Oregon, and Utah; and Skidmore and Smith Colleges, SC and the Arts and Cultural Heritage program continued a jointly funded initiative launched in 2016, in which art museums and libraries partner to reinvigorate aspects of campus-wide research and pedagogy.

In addition, SC provided funds to: strengthen the support that libraries offer to scholars using advanced visualization and other technologies (University of Calgary and North Carolina State University); finalize the governance and administrative structures for the international cooperative managing the Social Networks and Archival Context project, which provides access to a large and growing database of names drawn from archives, as well as a set of tools for scholars to explore relationships among people and organizations (University of Virginia); and solidify another international collaboration of developers who are creating tools for extracting and identifying historic place names from premodern Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Chinese sources (University of Exeter).

Group of students at a tableThe Diversity Program supports undergraduate research and other high-impact practices that foster student engagement in the humanities. (Photo courtesy of The Leadership Alliance at Brown University.)


In 2017 the Diversity program was led by Armando Bengochea, program officer and director of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program, with support from Lee Bynum, associate director of MMUF and senior program associate. MMUF, which will celebrate its thirty-year anniversary in 2019, continues to have a demonstrable impact on the problem of underrepresentation among faculty in the humanities and related fields. Since last year, sixty new fellows have completed PhDs, and a recent Foundation-commissioned study found that approximately 81 percent of new MMUF PhDs begin their careers in teaching positions, many of them tenure-track. Of the 771 total fellows who have earned PhDs, 356 are now tenured or in tenure-track positions; 84 are in postdoctoral fellowships; and 65 are in visiting positions, lectureships, and other academic jobs. Importantly for the future professoriate, approximately 700 MMUF fellows are enrolled in doctoral programs on an annual basis. Ongoing professionalization opportunities and other forms of support for MMUF graduate students continued in 2017 with grants to the Social Science Research Council and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. MMUF also increased its membership to forty-eight individual institutions and three consortia, with new grants to Amherst College, Howard University, and a consortium of five California State University campuses: Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino.

Graduate Admissions Studies

The question of how to make admission to PhD programs more equitable has been the subject of much national discussion since the 2016 publication of the groundbreaking study by Julie R. Posselt, Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping. While “holistic admissions” is the commonly accepted practice for undergraduate admissions at top colleges and universities, a narrowly focused review of scholarly credentials is the norm for graduate applicants, resulting in doctoral populations far less diverse than a given institution’s undergraduate student demographic. Two grants were made in 2017 to investigate possible changes to traditional graduate admissions’ approaches: one to the University of Michigan, where up to fourteen departments will participate in a summer program and self-study of graduate admissions practices; and another to the University of California at Davis, which will partner with the University of California at Los Angeles to study the implications of implementing holistic graduate admissions practices in selected humanities departments.

Undergraduate Research Support

The importance of undergraduate research in fostering student engagement and exposing underrepresented students to the idea of pursuing academic careers is well documented by the MMUF program, and confirmed by the literature on higher education. Each year the Diversity program makes grants to create or strengthen undergraduate research programs at various Minority-Serving Institutions, with a recent focus on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). New grants emphasizing undergraduate research in the humanities were made to two HSIs—the University of Houston and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)—the latter of which would simultaneously support the launch of an Engaged Humanities Initiative through UIC’s Institute for the Humanities. (A second grant to UIC renewed Foundation support for dissertation completion fellowships overseen by the Inter-University Program in Latino Research, a national consortium of Latinx studies centers.) The Foundation continued to support the Leadership Alliance at Brown University, one of the pioneering organizations using undergraduate research and mentoring relationships to spark students’ interest in graduate school. Similarly, support was renewed for Philosophy in an Inclusive Key, a summer program of the American Philosophical Association held at Pennsylvania State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that introduces undergraduate philosophy majors to the possibility of pursuing graduate study in the field.

Advancing Research on Diversity

Several other grants aim to advance research on diversity in the academy and more generally. The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will preserve, catalog, and study its founding library dating to 1926, and consider future directions for black collections at a major conference. The American Council on Education, which suspended publication of its highly influential Minorities in Higher Education Status Report after 2010, will resume collecting comprehensive data on educational access and success among racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Supplemented by a dynamic new website which will allow for interactive exploration of its content through downloadable data-visualization tools, the newly retitled Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report is expected to galvanize and inform debate in the higher education and policy communities around questions of access and equity. A grant to the Equal Justice Initiative will support publication of two new studies on civil rights issues that build on its seminal 2015 report Lynching in America. One study will investigate the entrenched resistance to civil rights that has shaped public policy since the early twentieth century. The other will probe connections between the historic practice of lynching and contemporary practices of over-punishment of communities of color, while generating data on wrongful convictions and disproportionate sentencing. The American civil rights movement in comparative perspective with human rights struggles worldwide is the subject of the John Lewis Fellowship program at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta; a renewal grant will incorporate a restorative justice focus into the fellowship.

Support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

The Diversity program provides continuing support to a select group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In 2017 grants were made to Hampton University to support the establishment of a comprehensive student services center aimed at continuing to improve student persistence and graduation rates; to Claflin University, which will undertake extensive general education reform while integrating professional and career-based competencies into its curricula; and to Morgan State University, which will create and revise courses on the African diaspora, launch a new minor, and plan a new major in African American Studies.

Reach Higher

Finally, the Foundation periodically supports innovative initiatives to increase college access for underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income high school students, many of whom struggle to overcome multiple obstacles in applying to college. A new grant to Civic Nation, the institutional home of the Reach Higher initiative launched with the involvement of Michelle Obama, supports a campaign based on “nudging,”—a behavioral sciences adaptation that uses positive reinforcement to influence student choices. Under the terms of this grant, tens of thousands of high school students will receive guidance from trained counselors through strategic texting and other communications to assist them in completing college applications, enrolling in college, and persisting to their sophomore year.

Exterior view of a college.International Higher Education and Strategic Projects program grants gave expression to the Foundation’s commitment to supporting higher education in fragile democracies. (Photo courtesy of Stellenbosch University.)

International Higher Education and Strategic Projects

In 2017, the International Higher Education and Strategic Projects (IHESP) program continued to be led by Program Director Saleem Badat. New Program Associate Alvin Bradbury joined Program Associate Doreen N. Tinajero, who also serves as project manager for the Foundation’s Our Compelling Interests initiative. In accordance with the Foundation’s strategic plan, continuity and change in institutional partners and grantmaking characterized the IHESP program in 2017. In South Africa, the Foundation continued its long-term support for seven major research universities—Rhodes and Stellenbosch Universities, and the Universities of Cape Town (UCT), Pretoria, the Free State, the Western Cape (UWC), and the Witwatersrand (Wits). Concomitantly, the Foundation extended its support beyond South Africa, with first awards to Makerere University in Uganda and to the University of Ghana. After an extensive process of research and consultation, these two research universities were selected for their overall excellence and special promise in graduate education in the humanities. The IHESP program also assumed responsibility for grants to the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo, which were previously supported by the Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities program. On the African continent and in the Middle East, the IHESP program now encompasses support for eleven African and Middle Eastern universities, two pan-African higher education institutions (the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa and the African Research Universities Alliance), and the Arab Council for the Social Sciences.

IHESP program grants gave expression to the Foundation’s commitment to supporting higher education in fragile democracies; building excellent and durable universities; nurturing the arts and humanities; enhancing scholarship; promoting innovation and outstanding teaching and learning in graduate education; advancing public arts and humanities; cultivating new generations of scholars; and facilitating the participation of African and Middle East institutions in global networks of research and culture.

Promoting Graduate Education in Africa

In South Africa, nine grants totaling $5.691 million supported the institutional priorities of universities. Four grants encompassed new knowledge production on key themes, including the place and role of intellectuals in South Africa, and violence as a vexing, recalcitrant, and embedded feature of contemporary life. Two grants sponsored methodological and pedagogical innovation in narrative and in gender and sexuality studies. Two grants in history supported transforming graduate curricula, advancing the use of vernacular languages, producing a multilingual conceptual lexicon, and promoting digital methods and techniques. One grant sought to promote collaborative creative production in the literary, visual, and performing arts through artist residencies. Embedded in grantmaking was support for graduate training and graduate scholarships, with 80 honors, 102 master’s, 55 doctoral, and 50 postdoctoral fellowships awarded.

First-time grants of $800,000 each to Makerere University and the University of Ghana supported innovation in doctoral training and doctoral scholarships. A grant of $991,000 to the American University in Cairo helped to establish the Humanities and Social Sciences Laboratory with a strong public humanities component.

Supporting Inter-Institutional Collaboration

IHESP continued to promote inter-institutional collaboration among South African universities. A grant of $1.73 million to Wits supported diversification of the humanist canon through expanding the online availability of African scholars and sources, digitizing fifty titles by African scholars from existing and past monographs, and facilitating the production of digital materials. Initiatives to enhance multinational partnerships among the Foundation’s African and Middle East partner universities and with international universities continued to bear fruit. Three grants totaling $2.947 million to UWC and Wits supported collaborations on themes such as thinking on politics and aesthetics in the Global South; heritage, memory, and museums; and Indian Ocean humanities.

Finally, three grants totaling $150,000 to Rhodes, UCT, and Wits instituted a pilot seminar series on themes of scholarly and public significance: southern epistemologies and transformative curriculum, black archives and intellectual histories, and mapping African futures.

Students sitting together on a college campus.The Foundation’s research efforts will have a reflective and formative relationship to our grantmaking programs. (Photo courtesy of the University of California at Santa Barbara.)

Mellon Research Forum

In 2017 the Foundation began to fund the first research activities of the Mellon Research Forum (MRF), an umbrella platform that was launched in 2016 for the pursuit of thorny research questions related to our mission that could benefit from multidisciplinary research. The Forum will identify and define such problems, break them down into plausible components, and, over a period of five to eight years, fund studies and publications that could yield data and analyses to clarify obstacles and solutions. The Forum will invite ongoing discussion and debate of the findings. Throughout, social scientists and humanists involved in the research will consider pragmatic implications of their work, and, in consultation with policy experts, develop recommendations for action by institutional leaders, public and private
funders, and other stakeholders. The Foundation’s research efforts will have a reflective and formative relationship to our grantmaking programs, but also maintain appropriate investigative independence. The first of the MRF research initiatives is dedicated to the evidence that exists or could be generated about the value and effectiveness of a liberal arts education for students and for society at large.

At the Forum’s recommendation, the Foundation commissioned several essays, to be published in 2018, on existing evidence for the impact of liberal arts education on outcomes ranging from cognitive and psychosocial development to economic benefits and civic and democratic participation. The Foundation also made grants for initial research projects: a topic modeling study of public discourse about the terms “liberal arts” and “humanities” as registered in numerous publications since 1980 (University of California at Santa Barbara); the development of a multidimensional measure that can describe the extent to which a college education provides a liberal arts experience (Columbia University); and a study of the ways in which liberal arts education helps young adults develop a sense of purpose (Stanford University).

Museum gallery tourPublic Affairs grantmaking and Contributions support projects aligned with the Foundation’s strategic priorities. (Photo courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.)

Public Affairs and Contributions

Overseen by Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Michele S. Warman, Public Affairs grantmaking and Contributions support projects aligned with the Foundation’s strategic priorities, particularly those that promote democracy, opportunity, and diversity; broaden access to culture and the arts in New York City; and help build a robust infrastructure for the philanthropic sector. In 2017, grants supported a civics education program for immigrants seeking citizenship that drew on artistic and historic collections (New-York Historical Society); initiatives encouraging college students to engage in the responsibilities of citizenship (the Andrew Goodman Foundation and the University of Michigan); a broadcast series intended to inspire productive national conversations about race (Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association); and programs offering classical music performances for individuals living with dementia and their caregivers (Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, New York City). Contributions supported ecology and conservation programs (GrowNYC), and a wide range of information resources designed to strengthen the operations and understandings of exempt entities (Foundation Center, GuideStar USA, Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, Philanthropy New York, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors).


1. A number of polls have documented the deterioration in Americans’ views of the state of race relations over the past several years, and registered notable differences of opinion among whites, African Americans, and non-white Hispanics. See, for example, “Views of Race Relations,” in On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, June 2016), http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/2-views-of-race-relations/, and “Americans Pessimistic on Race Relations,” an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken in September 2017 after the deadly white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/nbc-wsj-poll-americans-pessimistic-race-relations-n803446.

2. In 2017, a Pew Research Center study found that views of the value of higher education to American society are split increasingly along partisan lines, and that growing numbers of Americans believe college is harmful to American society. Hannah Fingerhut, “Republicans Skeptical of Colleges’ Impact on US, but Most See Benefits for Workforce Preparation,” June 20, 2017, https://pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/20/republicans-skeptical-of-colleges-impact-on-u-s-but-most-see-benefits-for-workforce-preparation/.

3. Holly Sidford and Alexis Frasz, Not Just Money: Equity Issues in Cultural Philanthropy, (Helicon Collaborative, July 2017), http://heliconcollab.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/NotJustMoney_Full_Report_July2017.pdf.

4. The number of endowment grants went down from 12 in 2015 to 7 in 2016 to 3 in 2017. In 2016 the total amount of dollars granted for endowments was larger than in 2015 owing to an unusual $30 million endowment appropriation for the National Gallery of Art, the creation of Andrew W. Mellon, on the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary. The Gallery committed to taking on a steep match of $45 million.