2018 Report on Grantmaking Programs

dancers on stageSupporting the arts and humanities for diverse, fair, and democratic societies—Photo: Philadanco! The Philadelphia Dance Company/International Association of Blacks in Dance

Report on Grantmaking Programs and Research

In 2018 the Foundation welcomed Elizabeth Alexander as its seventh president. Taking up the themes of continuity and change that had motivated the Foundation’s strategic plan in 2014, President Alexander worked with program leadership throughout the year to review our mission statement, sharpen our consensus on the Foundation’s values and grantmaking tenets, and begin to develop a strategic framework that can serve as a touchstone for our programs. Although this exhilarating work will continue through 2019, we affirmed, with minor tweaks, our mission statement:

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seeks to strengthen, promote, and defend the centrality of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse, fair, and democratic societies. To this end, our core programs support exemplary and inspiring institutions of higher education and culture.

The key additional word in the statement is “fair.” As we witnessed heightened divisions in public discourse and persistent inequalities in higher education, the humanities, and the arts, we resolved to ask harder questions not only of the fields we serve, but also of equity in our historical philanthropic patterns. As President Alexander writes in her annual report essay, whose stories have been supported by philanthropy in general, and ours in particular, and whose have been less visible or erased? Which sorts of organizations receive more support than others? Who have been helped on their paths to become leaders of arts and culture or professors in the American classroom? How are academic positions, fellowships, and awards distributed, and who gets to decide? While these concerns have motivated much of the Foundation’s work in the past—with our flagship Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program for faculty diversity nearing its thirtieth anniversary in 2019—our strategic framing process convinced us that we should study and ask these questions of social justice more consistently throughout our work.

The Year in Themes

Not so long ago, many Americans would have considered higher education a quite self-evident value, and a fair shake and democratic processes fundamental to a society of immigrants. As in recent years, in 2018 public discourse registered growing division and polarization around these topics. The decline of citizen trust in the institutions that form the bedrock of American democracy, including universities, continued. In June 2018, a Gallup poll of US views of colleges and universities registered a rapid downturn in public confidence in higher education over the past three years (Figure 1).

Graph illustrating the decline in the public's confidence in higher educationFigure 1. Source: Jeffrey M. Jones, “Confidence in Higher Education Down Since 2015,” Gallup Blog, October 9, 2018.

Today, less than 50 percent of Americans have confidence in higher education; among Republicans, it is less than 40 percent. Support has gone down fast even among Democrats. Higher education retained greater confidence than other institutions—it was fourth in the June Gallup poll list, and beat the United States Congress, which hit rock bottom at 11 percent (Figure 2)—but these numbers were small comfort as the country witnessed sustained attacks on the value of free speech, the rule of law, and the possibility of evaluating truth claims at all. Significant segments of the American population viewed the country’s demographic diversity and immigration with suspicion or fear. Throughout the year these divisions were spilling over onto university campuses, where academic freedom has seen some erosion.[1]

Distrust of higher education sounded by now familiar refrains: that college should be cheaper, more focused on immediate workforce placement, less oriented to “useless” majors such as history, literature, or the arts, and more open to conservative positions. Graduate education is virtually absent from public discourse about the creativity, competitiveness, and prosperity of the United States. Public universities committed to providing a broader liberal arts education found themselves struggling particularly to maintain or defend such programs. In this context, the Foundation’s Mellon Research Forum on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education accelerated its efforts to launch research reviews and new studies of the value and effectiveness of an integrated undergraduate education fueled by curiosity and critical thinking, and offering both breadth and depth in its curriculum.

Chart showing less than 50% public confidence in the majority of our societal institutionsFigure 2. Source: Jeffrey M. Jones, “Confidence in Higher Education Down Since 2015,” Gallup Blog, October 9, 2018.

Numerous universities and colleges requested support for interventions that may help stem declines in humanities enrollments, both at the level of majors and in individual course enrollments.[2] No magical fix can bring back humanities enrollments if courses of study are not seen to be relevant by students, and it was therefore heartening that many undergraduate programs seek to address just this problem, whether through a philosophy course such as Notre Dame’s on what it means to live a good life, or by having students and faculty work in teams that research, analyze, and even remediate pressing issues in neighboring communities.

While the nation’s divisions affected university campuses and cultural institutions, and often interfered harmfully in the processes of education or building civic community, program staff also witnessed scholars and artists vigorously resist the tides of virulent racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Many of the grants described in the five essays below by our grantmaking program leaders helped creative and courageous leaders in higher education, the arts, and culture address these conditions through curricular innovation, public humanities activities, new artistic productions, and pathway programs for the advancement of historically underrepresented communities in institutions of higher education and the arts.

Several grants propelled by President Alexander are exemplary of this work in that they responded to inspiring leaders who deploy history and art for greater understanding of our contemporary conditions. Major grants supported Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative for the interpretive center associated with its National Memorial for Peace and Justice; the Studio Museum in Harlem for a building project that will enable this extraordinary institution to redouble its mission to lift up artists of the African diaspora; and Firelight Media for Stanley Nelson’s deeply researched film project on the long shadows of the transatlantic slave trade onto our century. Alexander also spearheaded new efforts to support poetry—not historically a dedicated area of the Foundation’s work—noting that in addition to being an expressive form of great beauty and clarity, it can be a bulwark against the degradation of language in a divisive world. Indeed, the National Endowment for the Arts reported that over the past five years, the number of poetry readers in the United States has increased notably, to 28 million adults in 2018.[3] One of the Foundation’s grants for poetry enabled the Academy of American Poets to provide state and municipal poets laureate with awards to support programs in communities around the country.

As in 2017, the Foundation again supported major efforts to provide better information to the public about the role of the humanities and the arts in the life of the nation, particularly through grants to key partners such as the National Humanities Alliance and Americans for the Arts. Other grant initiatives were designed to stage discussions and public events that can help bring diverse communities together around ideas, histories, and creative works. The National Book Foundation, PEN America, and the Public Theater are among the organizations that received support for projects that engage a wide range of audiences with the ways writers, actors, and journalists can make difficult topics discussable. Despite the ideological divisions that have roiled the political landscape, there has been no broad public turn against the value of art, history, and culture in people’s lives—even if the humanities and arts in higher education are under duress. For the second year in a row, the United States Congress resoundingly rejected proposals effectively to eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities; instead, the agencies received appropriation increases of $3 million each, bringing their budgets to almost $153 million, a level not seen since 2011. In another sign of positive change in the cultural landscape even while shrill discourse prevails, our second demographic survey of American art museum staff showed modest increases in the representation of people of color in a range of positions, including the curatorial, since 2015. The number of women in leadership positions also grew, though the most senior directorships remain overwhelmingly white and male. Most importantly, the survey showed that with a little focus, it is entirely possible to hire diverse and inclusive museum staff.[4]

The problems of American democracy were not unique. All around the world nativism and nationalism were on the rise, and borders appeared to be closing. International academic exchange can help combat these trends. There was some good news in this respect, as students from many countries appeared not to be shrinking back from seeking education abroad.[5] The Foundation’s grantmaking has always included a measure of support for exemplary work by institutions abroad and for international collaboration, and this grantmaking continued in 2018. In the fall we celebrated a long run of thirty years of dedicated work in South Africa, most of it aimed at healing and strengthening South African universities after apartheid, and making them more representative of the country’s population at large. A series of colloquia in Johannesburg, the Western Cape, and Durban enabled us to take stock of these programs with our South African colleagues and scholars from the United States and elsewhere.

Program staff recognized that international academic solidarity is especially important in a geopolitical moment that appears harsher than even a few years ago. Several grants supported programs that protect academic freedom and help scholars in exile or at risk of persecution and violence rebuild their personal and academic lives. The Foundation was also alert to opportunities to support joint inquiry by scholars from different countries. Even with the plethora of tools for discovery and connection online, it can be difficult for scholars to find colleagues or projects of interest to them outside their own parts of the world. To begin to mitigate this problem and make clearer what forms the humanities take in different regions, the Foundation along with funders on other continents supported a new initiative to map global humanities activity through a World Humanities Report. Coordinated by an independent, international editorial committee lodged in the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, the report is expected to bring forth recommendations in 2020. While the enterprise is likely to be messy and success is not assured, the effort by itself seems a significant intervention in our time. If humanists cannot find common purpose across national boundaries, we cannot expect governments or the general public to understand why the humanities matter and deserve our support.

The Year in Numbers

In 2018 the Foundation appropriated 465 grants totaling almost $311 million, an increase of about $25 million over 2017. As Figure 3 shows, the majority of grants over the past three years has ranged in amount from $500,000 to $2.5 million; in 2018, we made 225 grants, or almost half of the total number, in that range. Occasionally, as in the instances of the Equal Justice Initiative and Studio Museum, initiatives are so critically aligned with the Foundation’s mission that grants of more than $4 million are warranted (five such grants were made); at the other end of the spectrum, we frequently support smaller organizations and projects whose creative work can be catalyzed or sustained with grants below $500,000 (220 were made in 2018, of which 55 were below $100,000). Creating a mix of large and smaller grants in such a way that Foundation funds are deployed maximally—and with efficient use of staff resources—for the change we hope to encourage is an ongoing balancing act.

Graph of Total Mellon Foundation Grants by Grant Amount (2016-18)Figure 3. Total Mellon Foundation Grants by Grant Amount (2016-18)Chart of Total Mellon Foundation Grants by Grant Support Type (2016–18)Figure 4. Total Mellon Foundation Grants by Grant Support Type (2016–18)

Similarly, as we discussed in the annual report for 2017, like all foundations we have available to us a range of grantmaking tools: spendable grants, endowment grants—with or without matching requirements—and program related investments such as zero- or low-interest loans. Given the urgencies described throughout this report, we sought to ensure that our funds would help as many vital institutions as possible, and in as immediate a fashion as their projects allowed. That prioritization favored spendable funds over endowment grants, which can take years to generate usable income, especially when matching conditions are attached. Spendable grants are also nimble tools for facilitating the sorts of inter-institutional collaborations whose power can transcend the outcomes of grants to individual institutions. For these reasons we limited the proportion of endowment grants in our overall grantmaking to only 2 percent, a decrease of 3 percent compared to the previous year (Figure 4); of the four endowment grants made, one required matching support.

As philanthropic trends change right along with the economy and politics of a society, the Mellon Foundation’s grantmaking priorities and toolkits will continue to evolve. There is no simple right or wrong in philanthropy, but there are special opportunities that come with being a funder that is constrained by neither the political vagaries of government budgets nor the decisive realities of a market economy. Throughout 2018, the Foundation’s grantmaking and research staff were keenly aware of the responsibilities that come with the unusual position that allows us to respond quickly to needs and opportunities while we also need to train our eyes on the horizons beyond ours now.


Mariët Westermann
Executive Vice President for Programs and Research

Warehouse with mural and group of students in frontEnhancing humanities research and learning for the public good—Photo: University of Arizona

Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities

The program in Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities (HESH) was led by Senior Program Officers Dianne Harris and Eugene Tobin. Throughout the year, institutions of higher education felt the reverberations of challenges to civil society in the United States and around the world, including a rise in authoritarianism, assertions of ethnic and racial supremacy, and a continuing crisis of forced migration. In response, many colleges and universities reexamined their core missions. What is the role of higher education? Who is being taught? Who does the teaching, and what and how do they teach? What responsibilities do scholars have to their institutions and society today, and how are new PhDs prepared for these shifting roles?

These questions test the limits of free speech, academic freedom, ethical conduct, and the relationship of the arts and humanities to the human condition. They assumed greater urgency because public discourse on higher education has largely been oriented toward the economic costs and benefits of a college degree, with a focus on preparing college graduates for the labor market, stemming the rise of tuition, and reducing student debt. In this climate, enrollments in humanities majors and courses have been declining at greater rates than in previous decades. The HESH program responded to this constellation of challenges by supporting initiatives that revitalize undergraduate curricula in the humanities; reimagine the humanities doctorate for career opportunities within and outside the academy; encourage the participation of humanists in interdisciplinary research that addresses grand challenges; and inform the public more clearly about the salience of the humanities for all citizens. Grantmaking supported the ambitions of institutions of higher education and culture to collaborate in working on these issues in local or regional settings. Many grants bespoke renewed commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus, from community and liberal arts colleges to comprehensive and research-intensive universities. Occasionally, priorities coalesced in an omnibus grant that touched all the bases. Duke University, for example, received a grant to develop collaborative partnerships with liberal arts colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities that will create pathways for undergraduate education, career development, and doctoral reform, while attracting academically excellent students from a neighboring community college.

Revitalizing the Humanities Curriculum for Our Time

Innovative courses taught by outstanding faculty can inspire undergraduates to discover new disciplines or seek to comprehend huge ethical, social, and environmental changes. A grant to the University of Notre Dame in support of its nationally recognized Philosophy as a Way of Life course has the potential to revitalize the study of philosophy, with aims to generate a national network of such courses. Similarly, a grant to Reed College supporting sweeping chronological and thematic changes to its yearlong humanities requirement may serve as a model for core courses across the country. Northwestern University shifted its American studies curriculum toward more intercultural and comparative study of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexuality in the Americas. Throughout the year, HESH staff paid special attention to interdisciplinary research centers, institutes, and initiatives that focused on issues of local, national, and global relevance. At the University of Virginia, new democracy labs will enable students and faculty to work through the pernicious and persistent fault lines of racism and gender going back to the origins of the United States that are also a part of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at his university.

Humanities Pedagogies and Pathways for a Changing College Population

HESH grants continued to reconsider the ways in which campuses address “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “belonging” in and outside the classroom. The University of Massachusetts at Boston, a public comprehensive institution that is becoming a more residential campus, received support to make the humanities a more visible and felt experience for its growing population of first generation, working-class students and adult learners. Across the country, a grant to the University of California at Riverside, a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), is nurturing the professional development of faculty whose visibility, contributions, and commitment are inextricably linked to student success. At another HSI, the University of California at Santa Barbara, faculty and graduate students are developing interdisciplinary courses with strong humanities content that also offer pathways for participation by students from neighboring Santa Barbara City College.

A grant to the University of Utah helped launch a Pacific Islands studies program and a community-college bridge program that aims to increase the matriculation of students from the Pacific Islander community in Salt Lake City. HESH’s innovative community college-university partnership initiative builds relationships between faculty across campuses, clarifies curricular pathways for transfer students in the humanities, and encourages completion of the bachelor’s degree. Grants in the initiative provided renewed support for a collaboration between the University of Washington and the Seattle District of community colleges, and established two new partnerships between the Virginia Community College System and Virginia Commonwealth University, and between Central New Mexico Community College and the University of New Mexico.

HESH continued to make grants in support of prison education and reentry programs, both as a means of expanding access and educational attainment for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students, and to educate students “on the outside” about the criminal justice system. Grants to Columbia and Cornell Universities strengthened ongoing initiatives and support for new college-in-prison collaborators, including the Prison University Project, Auburn and Wesleyan Universities, Pitzer College (on behalf of the Claremont Colleges), the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY), and the State University of New York system, and provided opportunities to learn and share best practices with colleagues in different parts of the country.

Forging a Social Compact for Higher Education, the Humanities, and the Public Good

Although many Americans acknowledge the contributions of higher education to society and the economy, a college degree is still widely perceived as serving a private (individual) rather than a public good. As public skepticism about the value of higher education mounted, HESH redoubled efforts to identify initiatives at universities and colleges that engage faculty and students in the surrounding communities, enhancing research and learning while also demonstrating how these institutions serve the commonweal beyond their student populations. A grant to Indiana University enables faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to conduct interdisciplinary research with broad reach and relevance to the state’s rural communities. Cornell University is developing community partnerships in the villages and towns of the Finger Lakes region around the future of work; the prison economy on which so many communities depend; and daily battles of local citizens with depression, addiction, food scarcity, and suicide. The University of Arizona’s Confluence Center for Creative Inquiry will examine the complexity of transnational and multicultural identities in lives lived near and across the Arizona border. At Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the co-creation of performances by faculty, graduate students, community members, and nationally renowned artists has the potential to forge new models for civil discourse and cultural understanding across social divides. 

Although substantial initiatives for the common good are a self-evident part of the mission of a public university, private liberal arts colleges are increasingly pursuing similar work with their local communities. HESH staff encouraged colleges to use their human and capital resources to develop deep partnerships with local partners that connect students and faculty to historical problems and contemporary challenges. With the first tranche of these grants, Dickinson, Lake Forest, and Mills Colleges are forging relationships with school districts, regional development authorities, cultural and civic institutions, and artists and community groups to research African American grave sites; document the history of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879–1918); examine food insecurity; explore the legacy of restrictive housing; and draw on poets and creative writers as sources of local history, pride, and identity. The colleges’ visible commitment to engaged scholarship in local settings has a chance of bridging the social fragmentation that divides America and isolates higher education institutions from their communities.

The Humanities Doctorate: Recalibration and Reinvention

Throughout 2018, HESH staff observed a growing resolve among academic leaders that the training of humanities PhDs needs to be realigned with systemic changes in the job market. Doctoral education needs better data on career outcomes in general, and it will have to evolve frames of disciplinary knowledge in the humanities in relation to other fields of inquiry. Rethinking the core elements of the PhD experience has important implications for undergraduate education. The character of the future humanities professoriate and the undergraduate humanities curriculum will depend on the size and composition of graduate student cohorts; modernization of mentorship models; expansion of dissertation forms; and training in collaborative, digital, and public scholarship. Grants to the Universities of Chicago and Iowa supported public engagement through externships, community-based research, and training for a variety of career pathways. Brown University received renewed support for the interdisciplinary education of doctoral students through master’s degrees in a secondary field. A grant to the University of Colorado at Boulder will help teach history graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and adjunct faculty the collaborative methods of public history.

HESH’s support for doctoral reform and the preparation of PhD students for teaching was greatly aided by partnerships with learned societies and scholarly academies. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators project continued to play a prominent role in providing data and analysis for all stakeholders in the humanities. In a similar vein, the National Academy of Sciences’ report, The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree, inspired serious conversations and pedagogical renewal on campuses across the country.

International Engagement

The human and cultural displacement caused by the globalization of inequality, xenophobia, violent conflict, and political and religious extremism figured prominently in HESH’s grantmaking. The critical and intercultural competencies that are core to the humanities can be mobilized to address challenges related to the environment and human displacement. While governments, non-governmental organizations, relief agencies, and cultural institutions struggle to respond to these conditions, higher education and its philanthropic partners have an obligation to address the needs of refugee students and scholars and to create curricula, systematic research, and classroom collaborations that expand understanding of forced migration. Grants to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Asian University for Women Support Foundation, respectively, provided fellowship support for humanities scholars in exile at German universities and educational opportunities for refugee students from South and West Asia in Bangladesh. Columbia University created fellowship opportunities at its center in Amman for early-career Middle Eastern scholars who have found refuge in Jordan. The Social Science Research Council received support to build Global South-Global North research networks that examine emerging alliances, development, and trade in the Arab and Indian Ocean region. With Foundation support, American colleges and universities are connecting the global and the local by working with refugee communities proximate to their campuses. A grant to Vassar College, in collaboration with Bard, Bennington, and Sarah Lawrence Colleges, has created a Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education.

Mellon Research Forum

Finally, 2018 was an exceptionally productive year for the Mellon Research Forum’s efforts to support quantitative and qualitative research into the outcomes of a liberal arts education. A sequence of grants to the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan supported planning and development of a large, multi-institutional data set about the impact of liberal arts education on students, using information from a wide range of newly designed and existing data sources. To facilitate research on the specific contributions of a liberal arts education (rather than a college degree in general), Columbia University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovation, Theory, and Empirics is creating a multidisciplinary measure of the degree to which institutions, or particular curricular pathways, offer a liberal arts education. The University of California at Irvine (UCI) established a working group to make recommendations for the kinds of literacies that should be expected of students for employability and citizenship in the twenty-first century; and a second grant to UCI is enabling its school of education to improve understanding of how specific liberal arts educational experiences promote student success. A grant to the University of Wisconsin at Madison is supporting the refinement and implementation of a program designed to teach higher education instructors how to create and facilitate high-quality discussions in their classrooms.


art conservationist working on scientific equipmentAdvancing knowledge, practice, and preservation across the arts and culture sector—Photo: Northwestern University

Arts and Cultural Heritage

At a time of heightened political and social tumult, the potential of the arts to generate insight, fortify communities, and build bridges across the public sphere has come to the fore with special urgency. In 2018, the Arts and Cultural Heritage (ACH) program, under the joint leadership of Program Officers Susan Feder and Alison Gilchrest, looked deeply at the systems and structures that underlie a flourishing arts ecology, and focused grantmaking on innovative ways to improve organizational health, train a highly skilled and diverse cultural and artistic workforce, and promote the value of creative practice. The spectrum of supported activity once again ranged from creation and development of new work, through its curation and public presentation, to conservation, preservation, and scholarship. Given the broad range of institutional types and forms of cultural production that comprise the portfolio—a balance of capacious cultural and academic institutions and small, nimble incubators and practitioners—ACH seeks to identify and cultivate artists and arts organizations to propel positive, durable progress and help find common cause. Fundamental to grantmaking activity are sustained investment in generative artists, performers, scholars, curators, conservators, and arts leaders, and a growing attention to those who come from or advance historically underserved and disadvantaged communities or forms of knowledge. Ongoing and evolving priorities for the year also addressed undercapitalization, threatened cultural heritage, collaborative networks, emergent art forms, and international cultural exchange.

Scaling Grantmaking Impact through Collaboration

Several important collaborative funding initiatives distinguished ACH grantmaking in 2018, enabling Mellon to participate in the support of ambitious interventions that would be challenging to undertake in isolation. The largest of these collaborations is the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), a public-private partnership of international governments and private philanthropists dedicated to protecting and rebuilding cultural assets threatened by asymmetrical warfare and deliberate attacks. ACH staff also led a coordinated effort with the Ford and Alice L. Walton foundations to support the American Alliance of Museums’ effort to improve the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices of boards and leadership at American museums, complementing ongoing initiatives by all three foundations to expand museum career pathways for students of color. (A comparable effort by the League of American Orchestras to improve the organizational DEI practices of its members also launched with a 2018 grant.) Closer to home, the Foundation’s Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative, which began in 2015, inspired the creation of the Mosaic Fund, a partnership administered by the New York Community Trust on behalf of fourteen foundations. The fund seeks to improve financial and functional well-being of small-to-midsized New York City arts organizations being led by and serving communities of color, which support and shine a light on art from their communities.

Collaborative partnerships among grantees also abounded in 2018, particularly those emphasizing training and professional development across the many fields of practice served by ACH. The Pathways for Musicians from Underrepresented Communities initiative, which began in 2016 with a grant supporting the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth, seeks to increase diversity in the classical music professions by supporting talented, advanced musicians at the precollege level. Building on its early indications of success, the Foundation awarded grants for similarly modeled collaborative programs in Chicago and Boston. (Related grants to Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra 2 and the Atlanta Symphony’s Orchestra Talent Development Program have similar goals and strategies.) Renewal grants are strengthening and sustaining existing collaborations such as the museum career program between LaGuardia Community College and the American Folk Art Museum in Queens, New York, and the Baltimore area consortium in art conservation science led by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Collaborative efforts to integrate object-based methodologies into graduate art history curriculum also received renewed support, including a program of Chinese object-study workshops led by the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution in partnership with several North American museums; a partnership between Emory University and the High Museum in Atlanta; and the Chicago Object Study Initiative, a collaboration among the Art Institute of Chicago and the art history doctoral programs at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. A complementary grant to Northwestern will sustain the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, a fifteen-year partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago. The Center has become an aspirational model and provider of research services for the international conservation field as well as a major training hub for conservation scientists in North America.

Having concentrated in recent years on building capacity for emergency preparedness among arts and culture organizations in the wake of increasingly destructive environmental phenomena due to climate change, in 2018 ACH responded to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Three grants will support artists and museums that offered their communities opportunities to process the aftermath through engagement with the historic and contemporary artistic heritage of the island. In addition, Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+) will use first-time funding to develop and implement a pilot program on behalf of individual artists nationwide, thereby filling a gap in Mellon’s set of support systems that meet increased demand for emergency assistance.

Leveraging Regranting Partnerships to Extend Our Reach

With five new initiatives, 2018 was an unusually active year for the inauguration of regranting programs. While the Foundation predominantly works directly with grantees, the strategic use of regranting partnerships enables ACH to support a much wider range of organizations and artists by relying on local or sectoral expertise that far exceeds in-house capabilities. The regional arts organizations (RAOs) affiliated with the National Endowment for the Arts have proven to be capacious and reliable regranters in this vein. In yet another collaboration (this one with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation), the RAO South Arts launched Jazz Road, offering jazz artists touring subsidies, support materials necessary for successful touring, and residencies; this will be the largest initiative on which all of the RAOs have collaborated. A second South Arts grant will build touring capacity for dance companies based in the South, with the intention of their becoming competitive for national programs such as the Foundation-supported National Dance Project. To help convey the value of the arts and humanities more effectively in the so-called American heartland, which has historically received relatively little attention from Mellon, Arts Midwest and Mid-America Arts Alliance received grants to develop artist-centered regranting programs. Each will generate opportunities for creative exchange intended to elevate diverse voices and perspectives, foster community engagement, and develop the professional skills of both artists and community leaders. The Western Alliance of Arts Administrators, which functions similarly to the RAOs mentioned above, will use its grant to advance the national presentation of Indigenous performance.

The Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative (COHI)—a multiphased, modular program designed to build and maintain the structural and financial health of important small- and midsized groups of arts and culture organizations—continues to be central to ACH’s grantmaking strategies, with an emphasis on organizations dedicated to serving communities that have historically been underrepresented and underfunded. This year, five participating organizations received COHI’s culminating change capital grants. In a significant programmatic evolution, grants to the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) and Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) will not only provide COHI’s in-depth financial and technical support to IABD’s five founding dance companies, but concurrently enable another twenty-five IABD member companies to receive modest regrants for general operations, as well as NFF’s live and web-based technical training. Following the pattern of the Foundation’s support to IABD, a first-time award to the Association of African American Museums will enable this currently all-volunteer membership organization to recruit and retain its first executive director in order to build up its professional development services.

Reconsidering Knowledge Management in the Museum Sector

An emergent but pressing sector health concern for ACH is the lagging capacity within the museum field to build and sustain robust twenty-first century knowledge-management cultures. Most museums rely heavily on commercial vendors and inherited makeshift practices that over decades have segmented content production, storage, and dissemination in ways that are unsustainably expensive and run counter to a public access mission. A grant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art will support a first-of-its-kind pilot effort to examine data integration potentials across the museum’s various digital information resources—library and archives, curatorial and registrar files, collections and image databases, conservation records, and time-based media acquisitions. On a smaller but no less ambitious scale, the Milwaukee Art Museum will undertake planning to examine its knowledge production and storage practices, in anticipation of a similar enterprise-wide rationalization and deep culture change. Two other grants have the potential to yield case studies of benefit to the intersecting practices of libraries, archives, and museums: the Chinati Foundation will facilitate the processing of the institutional archives for the legacy site of artist Donald Judd, while at the Armand Hammer Museum work will continue to expand a new model of a web-accessible archive of its collections, exhibitions, and public programs. 

Development of Talent and of New Work

A healthy arts ecosystem depends on constant renewal and development of talent. Grants in 2018 broaden and sustain early- and midcareer training opportunities across the ACH portfolio. With awards to three new grantees serving movement-based artists, the Foundation made noteworthy forays into fostering physically integrated dance ensembles, trans artistry and leadership, and the creation of African diasporic dance by women. The underrepresentation of women artists is likewise targeted by the Dallas Opera’s Institute for Women Conductors and by the Pangea World Theater’s National Institute for Directing and Ensemble Creation (also serving Indigenous artists and immigrant communities). The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will continue its important role as an early-career training center for art conservators, while the service organizations American Association of Museum Curators and SmartHistory each received grants to develop essential handbook and reference materials to undergird educational and professional development efforts. While support for the creation and development of new work took a number of forms in 2018, bolstering developmental resources remains a priority—whether for open-ended research and development or for specific projects. Most substantially, the Foundation turned to Dance Service New York City (Dance/NYC) to administer its Dance Rehearsal Space Subsidy Program for local artists. A renewal grant to the Cincinnati Opera for its acclaimed Opera Fusion: New Works initiative will continue to be utilized by many leading producing companies that lack such robust developmental capacity. The Public Theater, which has a generous history of sharing best practices with the field, received support to disseminate the methodologies of producing its Public Works pageants with amateur and professional performers; the Public’s grant also supported a Midwestern tour of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-prize winning play, Sweat, to bring it into the types of post-industrial communities the work addresses, and hold audience conversations around its themes. Along with the grant to South Arts for Jazz Road, ACH’s nascent jazz portfolio was expanded with grants to San Francisco Jazz Organization and the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance of New York, both of which will support commissioning, development, and dissemination of new work. A residency program for sound artists will be established by first-time grantee Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, while Penumbra Theatre will pilot the Ashé Lab, an interdisciplinary developmental collaboration.

Pathways for Native and Indigenous Cultural Heritage

Throughout the year, ACH deepened its commitment to supporting the care, study, and development of academic and professional pathways for Native and Indigenous cultural heritage. A signal grant of $5 million went to Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology to expedite its ambitious plan to relocate the museum from disputed tribal lands to a centrally located site in downtown Providence, where it will be a resource for the public as well as Brown’s community of scholars and students. The Peabody Essex Museum will continue its highly regarded Native American fellowship program for emerging leaders, while the Minnesota Historical Society will pilot a new training effort focused on working with Native youth in tribal communities. The American Museum of Natural History and Joslyn Art Museum will expand scholarship and stewardship of their respective Native collections, and first-time grantees the PAʻI Foundation and Institute of American Indian Arts will expand their programmatic efforts. Finally, three grants aim to improve overall sector health. Artists at the Community Development Table, a project of Americans for the Arts, will use in-person and virtual training workshops to integrate artists more effectively into public policy discussions; SMU DataArts at Southern Methodist University aims to build a culture of data-driven decision making in the service of the health, vibrancy, and long-term sustainability of the arts and culture ecosystem; and a first-time grant to the nonprofit real estate developer Artspace Projects, which has operated for forty years at the intersection of the arts, urban planning, social justice, historic preservation, and real estate, will advise cohorts of arts and cultural organizations in Memphis and Detroit.

archivist studying a reel of filmKnowledge for all in a digital world—Photo: Southern Folklife Collection/UNC Chapel Hill Libraries

Scholarly Communications

In this digital age, internet trolls spew misinformation. National leaders regularly dismiss unwelcome reports by journalists as “fake news.” Social media giants fail to protect, and even actively misuse, the personal data of the millions who use their online systems. And now, when educated citizens are needed more than ever, polls indicate that 60 percent of all Americans believe that higher education in the United States is “heading in the wrong direction.”[6]

Countering these threats to an informed public and a flourishing democracy is no simple matter. However, one part of the solution involves ensuring that higher education and the public at large possess a flexible, up-to-date, and inclusive digital knowledge infrastructure. They must trust this infrastructure and rely on it for publishing and broadly disseminating works that facilitate the human quest for truth and meaning, and for preserving and providing access to the scholarly and cultural record as fuel for creating new knowledge. Through its Scholarly Communications (SC) program, led in 2018 by Senior Program Officer Donald J. Waters and Program Officer Patricia Hswe, the Foundation seeks to create, strengthen, and extend this digital infrastructure, and to make it more genuinely inclusive.


Universities, their presses, and a wide range of partners continued to participate in SC’s Monographs Initiative, a bold, coordinated effort to establish the trusted infrastructure needed for the peer-reviewed publication of digital monographs in humanities fields. Aspiration, a technology incubator, received support for the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation to enhance Editoria, a digital publishing platform. The University of Michigan (UM) Press continues to develop Fulcrum, a set of tools for producing digital monographs with hyperlinks to online supplementary materials. The University of Minnesota Press is improving Manifold, an application for publishing dynamic works in which readers comment and authors respond. In addition, the Rebus Foundation is developing a web-based reading tool. Because annotation is such an important feature of such tools, SC also supported the Hypothes.is Project, for the further development of its standards-based annotation services, and Johns Hopkins University, to make different kinds of annotation mechanisms interoperable.

In related publishing initiatives, the online, daily news magazine The Conversation US is using grant funds to produce well-written, easily accessible articles that improve the public visibility of the humanities; the University of North Carolina (UNC) Press is experimenting with authors in the field of history to establish a new digital-first model of publication; and George Mason University (GMU) is organizing a series of workshops to help prospective authors use digital evidence and tools more effectively. The Foundation has also renewed its collaboration with the National Endowment for the Humanities to support further publishing efforts. One program provides fellowship awards to scholars whose research requires digital publication. In the second initiative, called the Humanities Open Book program, Foundation funds are enabling Ithaka Harbors, Inc., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and the University of Hawaiʻi to digitize almost 670 out-of-print books and distribute them on an open-access basis.


In the realm of preservation, SC awarded funds to the University of California at San Diego, which is addressing the interoperability of local and national digital preservation storage systems, and the Rochester Institute of Technology, where its nationally recognized center for image preservation research is assessing national and international research needs. SC also maintained its focus on the urgent need to preserve the nation’s audiovisual records with awards to design online learning resources about technical preservation standards (UM); automate the production of metadata describing audiovisual content (Indiana University); continue the development of Tropy, an image management tool for describing, organizing, and storing digital photographs of archival items (GMU); and preserve almost 11,000 at-risk recordings (UNC). In addition, to meet the challenges of archiving online media content, UNC is creating tools for preserving email, while the University of Maryland at College Park is leading the second phase of the Documenting the Now project for archiving social media.

Access Services

To help make digital resources in the humanities more accessible and useful, the University of Virginia is creating an interinstitutional network for sharing learning materials among students with print disabilities. In addition, SC awarded funds to simplify the installation and maintenance of the Islandora repository platform (Williams College); help libraries organize their collections as data so that they are more easily incorporated into computational research in the humanities (University of Nevada at Las Vegas); support an ongoing effort among academic libraries to adopt semantic web technologies and practices (Stanford University); examine how knowledge transfer along Silk Road trade routes influenced the development of book bindings in Africa and Asia (University of Toronto); and develop the technical platform for a Digital Library of the Middle East (Council on Library and Information Resources, or CLIR). With additional support from the Arts and Cultural Heritage program, SC also awarded a grant to LYRASIS to change the business model for CollectionSpace, a collections management system for museums.

SC continues to make a concentrated effort to bring the histories and cultures of underrepresented people into the mainstream of scholarship in the humanities. Renewed fellowship programs at the American Council of Learned Societies and CLIR are meant to support digital scholarship as well as to emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion. The University California at Los Angeles is piloting a paid internship program for master’s students to serve in local community-based archives. Spelman College is collaborating with five other Historically Black Colleges and Universities to train undergraduates in the collection of oral histories and artifacts that document historic black communities in the South. In other grants, the University of Delaware is collecting and sharing information about the Colored Conventions, a little-known political assembly movement that brought together black Americans during the nineteenth century; the University of Virginia is broadening the reach of The HistoryMakers, an audiovisual collection of oral histories about prominent black Americans; the New York Public Library is archiving the #FergusonSyllabus and other online syllabi about contemporary black life; and Yale University is filling significant gaps in the scholarly bibliography of black American and black diaspora authors.

Two students standing at a podiumExtending the benefits of higher education to all students—Rutgers University-Newark


The Diversity program was led in 2018 by Armando Bengochea, program officer and director of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program, with support from Lee Bynum, senior program associate and associate director of MMUF, and Emma Taati, senior program associate. The program continued its work to support institutions and programs that are vital to the creation of a more equitable and representative higher education system, and that promote innovative humanities programs for faculty and students, especially from communities that have historically been underrepresented in the sector.

The MMUF program, which in spring 2019 celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the selection of its first cohort of fellows, continues to be the Foundation’s principal initiative to remedy the problem of racial and ethnic underrepresentation in the professoriate. The program also serves as a model for efforts to address the urgent problem of diversification in other areas of interest to the Foundation, including libraries, academic publishing houses, and arts organizations. A new regranting arrangement brings the American Council of Learned Societies into a deepened partnership with the Foundation in the management of MMUF, chapters of which can now be found at fifty-one institutions, including forty-eight colleges and universities and three consortia. At the time of this writing 835 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows have earned PhDs, 555 of whom now teach throughout the higher education system in the United States and South Africa. The cohort of almost 700 fellows who are annually enrolled in PhD programs ensures that as many as sixty complete the degree each year, and 80 percent of these fellows accept a position in the academy right after graduate school. Fellows who have completed the PhD can also be found throughout the professional world in nonprofit organizations, research institutes and think tanks, museums, libraries, government, and elsewhere.

Academic Career Pathways and Professional Development

The work of MMUF begins at the undergraduate level but also provides fellows with various professional advancement opportunities in graduate school and as early-career scholars. Beyond the MMUF program, the Foundation supports professional development activities that help strengthen career pathways for faculty. In 2018, the latter category included grants made to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to continue support for an established and successful career enhancement fellowship for junior faculty; to Duke University in support of a program that gathers selected scholars to participate in the Summer Institute on Tenure and Professional Advancement; and to Yale University for its leadership of a small group of institutions planning to address the present and future character of public humanities scholarship focused on race, as well as to imagine new pathways to institutional leadership for underrepresented and other scholars engaged in this work. Similarly, a grant to support The Latinx Project at New York University facilitates gatherings of scholars, artists, and activists focused on cultural impact in the academy and in New York City, as well as on interdisciplinary study of Latinx people. Finally, the Diversity program’s support for junior humanities faculty at Hispanic-Serving Institutions deepened the Foundation’s engagement with this rapidly expanding higher education sector. Grants in this spirit were made to the University of California at Merced to pilot summer orientation programs for new graduate students and faculty, and to support an institutional study of campus service disparities as part of overall faculty workloads; to Florida International University to support pedagogical innovation and excellence in the teaching of the humanities; and to the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which will host dissertation-completion and postdoctoral fellowships in Latino Studies.

Support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

The Foundation has a long-standing goal of expanding academic opportunities and institutional capacity at a select group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As part of this work, support was extended to Morgan State University for its Benjamin A. Quarles Humanities and Social Sciences Institute; to Spelman College to establish an institute for the study of gender and sexuality; to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to strengthen its college-wide writing program in the context of new general education reform efforts; to Prairie View A&M University to establish a program in African American studies and expand its humanities offerings; to Lincoln University in support of faculty and curricular development opportunities in the humanities as well as a summer undergraduate research program; to Hampton and Winston-Salem State Universities for programs and activities promoting curriculum redesign in the humanities, social sciences, and arts; and to Morehouse College to support continuing development of its academic major in Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media Studies, and its effort to strengthen the college’s writing program.

For more than two decades, the Foundation has invested in the success of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), as well as in Native student success outside that sector. In 2018, a grant was made to the American Indian College Fund to continue support for fellowships enabling TCU faculty to complete master’s and doctoral degrees. Arizona State University, which enrolls more than 3,000 Native students, received support for its Center for Indian Education and other academic units to launch a Native Narratives program. This program provides undergraduates with opportunities for academic, personal, and professional advancement that enable them to prepare for graduate school in the humanities, and for potential careers in
the professoriate.

Georgia State University and Rutgers University-Newark, which boast notably diverse student populations, are known for innovative approaches to support academic success. These institutions received support to build undergraduate research programs in the humanities, the former as part of its new Center for the Advancement of Students and Alumni, and the latter as part of its newly established Honors Living-Learning Community, which will also include new curriculum development. Students will be selected for the new program at Rutgers University-Newark using a process of evaluation rooted in recognizing student potential for leadership that was first developed by the Posse Foundation in New York City. The Posse Foundation itself received support for an expansion of its model programs for student success that would initiate new college and university partnerships over the next two years.

Finally, in recognition of the continuing struggles by colleges and universities to stay abreast of developments in US immigration policy, a grant was made to the National Center for Civic Innovation to support the new Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. This new organization will provide educational information and analytical resources to facilitate the sharing of best practices among higher education institutions seeking to assist international students and those who are either undocumented or enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

view of an artist paintingSupporting emerging democracies’ participation in global networks of research and culture—Image: © Scott Eric Williams

International Higher Education and Strategic Projects

In 2018, in the face of growing populist nationalism, manifestations of xenophobia, hostility to refugees, restrictions on movement in many countries, and increasing questioning of higher education as a public good, the Foundation continued to raise a flag for international cooperation and collaboration through grantmaking by the International Higher Education and Strategic Projects (IHESP) program led by Program Director Saleem Badat.

The program’s grants in 2018 were predicated on an internationalism based on social solidarity and mutual benefits for countries, institutions, and individuals. Goals included promoting equitable development in higher education and the role of the arts and humanities in fostering inclusive societies; enhancing communication between people of different nationalities, cultures, languages, and religions; and valuing difference, diversity, and inclusion. IHESP grants supported new scholarship in the arts and humanities; innovation and outstanding teaching and learning in graduate education; cultivation of new generations of scholars; and the participation of African and Middle East institutions in global networks of research and culture.

Artist Residencies and Early-Career Scholar Initiative

The Foundation’s Board of Trustees approved an additional $3 million for special programs that celebrate thirty years of Mellon grantmaking in South Africa. These initiatives included a competition for artist residencies in research universities as well as a program that supports four teams of a total of twenty-four early-career scholars from thirteen universities on four continents to pursue joint research and forge scholarly networks across the
Global South.

The IHESP program provided continued long-term support, in the form of eight grants totaling $6.027 million, for the institutional priorities of seven major South African research universities—Rhodes and Stellenbosch Universities, and the Universities of Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Pretoria (UP), the Western Cape (UWC), and the Witwatersrand (Wits). Grants to these institutions included support for consolidating creative writing and creative performance programs; building a spatial humanities graduate program; and promoting research related to Southern African literatures, South African archives, and urban mobility and its implications for African politics. The building of new generations of scholars through graduate training and scholarships, and the promotion of equity, diversity, and inclusion remained a strong feature of IHESP’s grantmaking.

Africa and the Middle East

Beyond South Africa, following first-time grants in 2017 to Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Ghana (UG), the IHESP program continued its support of initiatives at these institutions. A grant to Makerere was made for an early-career program aimed at building faculty research and leadership capabilities, and another to UG aimed to enhance research in the humanities. In the Middle East, the American University of Beirut was awarded $1 million for a project to collect and archive oral histories of women.

IHESP continued to promote collaboration among South African universities. A grant of $890,000 enabled UWC to implement a transdisciplinary research and graduate training project on food studies in partnership with UP and UKZN. Supranational collaborations among the Foundation’s African and Middle East partner universities and international universities was promoted through four grants totaling $3.514 million. A first-time award was made to The Conversation Africa, an online nonprofit daily news magazine, to improve the public visibility of arts and humanities scholarship through workshops at African universities that train faculty to write for popular media.

Museum gallery tourPromoting broad access to the arts and humanities, opportunity, and democracy—The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Public Affairs

Overseen by Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, General Counsel and Secretary Michele S. Warman, Public Affairs grantmaking supports projects and organizations aligned with the Foundation’s broad strategic priorities, particularly those that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; democracy and opportunity; and a strong infrastructure for the philanthropic sector. The largest set of Public Affairs grants made in 2018 is rooted in the Foundation’s dedication to the role of the arts and humanities in fostering human agency and dignity. These grants supported programs for individuals with dementia and their care partners at museums and performing arts centers committed to equity of access and the ethical imperative of welcoming people of all abilities. Another series of grants supported democratic participation and engagement, as part of the Foundation’s belief in the power of educational and cultural institutions to shape durable and just societies. These included a civics education program for prospective citizens that draws on museum art and historical collections, and a program promoting college students’ democratic participation. Grants also supported library services in the area of civil legal aid and journalism initiatives encouraging broad coverage of the arts and robust national conversations about diversity. Additional contributions supported a range of information and capacity building resources to strengthen the operations of exempt entities.


1 The annual report Free to Think 2018 produced by Scholars at Risk (which received grant support for its monitoring of academic freedom) documented an increase in attacks on higher education communities and scholars and students around the world, including the United States, https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/resources/free-to-think-2018/.

2 Benjamin Schmidt, “The Humanities Are in Crisis,” The Atlantic, August 23, 2018, revising his more optimistic views of a few years before in his “The Data Shows There’s No Real Crisis in the Humanities,” New York Times, November 4, 2013 and updated December 15, 2015.

3US Trends in Arts Attendance and Literary Reading: 2002–2017; A First Look at Results from the 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, September 2018), https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/2017-sppapreviewREV-sept2018.pdf.

4 The survey was conducted by Ithaka S+R and commissioned by the Mellon Foundation in close collaboration with the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums.

5 See Open Doors 2018, the rich data and report compiled by the Institute of International Education on international education exchange, with sections on international students in the United States, American students studying abroad, and global student mobility, https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Open-Doors-2018-Media-Information. Although numbers of students in each of these categories increased slightly in 2017–18, patterns of student mobility suggest that foreign students are finding alternatives to the American system of higher education that has for decades been the most sought after in the world. For the second year in a row, the enrollment of new, first-time international undergraduate and graduate students declined, reversing a steady upward trend for most of this century.

Anna Brown, “Most Americans Say Higher Ed is Heading in Wrong Direction, but Partisans Disagree on Why,” Pew Research Center, July 26, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/topics/education/.