For the Arts and Cultural Heritage (ACH) program, 2019 was a year of transitions. In October, Program Director Emil J. Kang joined the Foundation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he had served as founding executive and artistic director of Carolina Performing Arts, a distinguished multidisciplinary performing arts program. Mr. Kang shares Mellon’s fundamental belief that art and culture are central to flourishing societies. He will guide ACH even more deeply toward a vision for an artist-centered society, one in which artists are empowered to act as a vital social conscience, and where artistic works are studied, promoted, and preserved for future generations. After fifteen years in various positions advancing the Foundation’s work in art history, conservation, and museums, Program Officer Alison Gilchrest departed in August to become the inaugural Director of Applied Research and Outreach at the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. Program Officer Susan Feder provided leadership continuity throughout the year.Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Apollo Theater’s inaugural Master Artist in Residence. Photo: Apollo Theater/Shahar Azran Photography.
Long at the center of ACH grantmaking has been sustained investment in the work of generative artists, curators, conservators, and leaders advancing their institutions as well as the field at large. In 2019, ACH continued to examine the individuals, structures, and systems that underlie a flourishing arts ecosystem, with a growing emphasis on those art makers, forms, and traditions that have long been underacknowledged by philanthropy. Across a broad range of institutional types—a balance of capacious cultural and academic institutions and small, nimble incubators—the supported activity includes efforts to strengthen and catalyze holistic institutional change; advance ongoing cohort-based initiatives concerned with equity and access; create, develop, and present new work; deepen dynamic relationships between artists and communities; and expand grantmaking into new locales.
As the chroniclers of humanity, artists critique society and propel us to imagine new, better worlds for humankind. Last year, ACH placed an increased emphasis on those practitioners and institutions whose work contributes to a fuller American story. Connecting narratives of the past to those of the future, the Foundation invested in the Apollo Theater’s Master Artist Residency program. For eighty-five years, the Apollo has served as a testing ground for artists of color. Mellon support will enable artists to contribute to Apollo New Works. The brainchild of visionary leader Kamilah Forbes, Apollo New Works is a collaborative commissioning initiative dedicated to creating a diverse American performing arts canon. An award to the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso supported a cross-border arts experience created by electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in partnership with the El Paso Community Foundation. Intended to create a US–Mexico border story counter to the militarization narrative so present in the media, the installation invited individuals physically located in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez to intersect searchlights in the night sky, opening a channel of two-way communication that created shared moments between strangers. Other new narratives will emerge from the ensembles served by the National Theater Project (renewed support to the New England Foundation for the Arts) and by theaters in Mellon’s longstanding New York Theater Program (NYTP). Following an external assessment and renewal, NYTP will now be administered by the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, which will regrant general operating funds to thirty-six small and midsized New York City–based theater organizations that have national impact on the creation and dissemination of new repertory.Performance of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC. Mellon is investing in a new generation of regional theater leaders, including Maria Manuela Goyanes at the Woolly Mammoth.
In 2019, efforts were made to move the “spotlight of philanthropy.” A cluster of first-time ACH grants in Jackson, Mississippi—to the Mississippi Museum of Art, Tougaloo College, and Jackson State University—are designed to strengthen networks and training pathways in museums and undergraduate art history departments across the city. In Chicago, a grant to the National Museum of Mexican Art established two curatorial research fellowships for recent PhDs in the fields of contemporary and Mexican art. At the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), funding will build conservation capacity through two new positions: a conservator of photography and a conservator of objects specializing in outdoor sculpture. This grant will support the care and conservation of NOMA’s collection as well as provide leadership within the Gulf South region regarding engagement and education about conservation and preservation in challenging environmental conditions. A set of first-time grants to three organizations in urban centers—Jazz Institute of Chicago, Jazz St. Louis, and New Orleans Jazz Orchestra—will lift up the legacy of jazz by supporting individual artists and collectives, enlarging the canon, cultivating appreciation, and increasing public visibility.
Initiatives such as these prompt institutions to reimagine their roles within their communities, which is critical to the durability of the arts and culture ecosystem. Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, quickly became a haven for dancers of color to excel in the world of classical ballet. The organization grew into an internationally acclaimed touring company and important training program. Following a period of financial insecurity, its current leaders, Virginia Johnson and Anna Glass have steadied DTH and will use a signaling $4 million grant to help this legacy institution flourish in its second half-century as it helps shape the future of ballet in America.Dance Theatre of Harlem in rehearsal for Passage. Photo: Dance Theatre of Harlem/Brian Callan.
In 2019, ACH extended its commitment to civic engagement with a cluster of grants that took inspiration from Mellon’s Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities’ (HESH) recent investments in college-in-prison programs. They reflect the conviction that participation in prison arts programs can inspire incarcerated citizens to pursue long-deferred or thwarted educational ambitions as well as ease reentry to society and lower recidivism rates. The Foundation awarded complementary grants to the New Mexico–based Keshet Dance Company and the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) in Los Angeles, which build on AIYN’s remarkable successes in reimagining partnerships between public agencies and nonprofit organizations of all sizes, while providing high-quality, healing-informed multidisciplinary arts education for system-impacted young people. A third grant to Prison Communities International (Rehabilitation Through the Arts) will expand its arts offerings in New York–area prisons and help prisoners prepare for the emotional complexity of reentry.
While investing heavily in individual contemporary artists and creative practitioners as they hone and disseminate their work, ACH has also long supported institutions that preserve, conserve, research, and make public important historical collections. Cognizant of cultural traditions philanthropy has often ignored, the Foundation awarded grants in 2019 to institutions uplifting art of Native American and Indigenous peoples. The Anchorage Museum Association received renewed support for curatorial capacity and research, while first-time grants went to the Gilcrease and Philbrook museums in Oklahoma, home to thirty-nine tribal nations. The Foundation also recognized work of artists from the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and their diasporas: A grant to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico will build on its estimable community engagement activities, while a first-time grant to the Pérez Art Museum Miami will enhance research and staffing capacity, allowing it to formalize a Caribbean Cultural Institute to link artists of the past and present through a curatorial and research platform within the museum.Antonio Martorellin his exhibition Retorno al hogar (Labrando), at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, which is expanding its community engagement activities. Photo: AP Images/GFR Media/GDA/Ramon “Tonito” Zayas.
ACH also fostered the development and renewal of talent, placing particular emphasis on diversifying the arts and culture professions. The Smithsonian Institution and the University of California at Los Angeles received funds to support paid and mentored conservation internships for students from communities historically underrepresented in the conservation profession. The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology will pilot a museum career pathway program intended to increase Native American and Indigenous representation. Chicago Sinfonietta’s Project Inclusion, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Diversity Fellowships, and the Sphinx Organization each received renewed support to offer early-career skill building to musicians. In addition, ACH’s Pathways for Musicians from Underrepresented Communities initiative—which aims to create alliances among local, regional, and national organizations that may not have formerly recognized their potential role in the larger ecosystem of robust training for musicians of color—built on early successes with renewed support for the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (Settlement Music School) and grants for a regional collaboration, the Baltimore-Washington Musical Pathways Initiative (Kennedy Center and Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University).
Inspired by new leadership grants to college presidents in the HESH program, Mellon invested in four artistic leaders whose dialogic ideas and modus operandi are dismantling exclusionary practices and advancing cross-institutional collaboration. Within regional theaters, these recently hired leaders are part of an unprecedented generational and cultural shift in which a considerable number of women and artists of color have assumed artistic director positions. Stephanie Ybarra at Baltimore Center Stage, Jacob Padrón at Long Wharf Theatre, Maria Manuela Goyanes at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Hana Sharif at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis received grants to approach their transitions collectively.Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Diversity Fellowships. Photo: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
ACH is also seeing greater emphasis on collaborative approaches to creative practice, thus deepening connections in the cultural ecosystem among artists, arts and culture organizations, and the communities in which they are situated. With a new generation of leaders, longtime grantee Appalshop, Inc., a cultural anchor in the heart of Appalachian coal country, plans to use its grant to strengthen a national cultural development network of local leaders, businesses, and grassroots organizations designed to create economic opportunities in similarly disenfranchised regions of the United States. Other initiatives bring such practices to scale. In 2019, OF/BY/FOR ALL received a first-time grant: Conceived by Nina Simon, the nonprofit aims to empower a global cohort of organizations and leaders to be more inclusive of their communities by providing them with online consultation and a curriculum of digital tools. A grant to Americans for the Arts will also help articulate the value of the arts in local communities. Its Arts + Social Impact Explorer, an interactive tool developed initially with Foundation funding, will be enhanced to make visible the societal impact of the arts at the local level.
Arts institutions on college campuses are also rethinking their roles. Recognizing an academic art museum’s ability to create a culture of deep and sustained questioning, Mellon renewed support to the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas for the Integrated Arts Research Initiative, which engages faculty, scholars, artists, and students in interdisciplinary research around artistic practice and material culture. Likewise, a grant to the Harvard Art Museums fostered efforts to address the gap between the practice of art history in museums, which is based on collections, objects, and curatorial and conservation protocols, and that in graduate programs. At Harvard’s Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art, doctoral students will be introduced to a thematic exploration of the materials and methods of art making as well as the vocabulary, methodologies, and ethics of technical study and conservation practice. In addition, a competitive program designed jointly by ACH and Mellon’s Scholarly Communications program to foster collaborations between campus libraries and art museums will result in more effective stewardship of and access to collections and have measurable effects on research, teaching, and learning at four universities. And an ACH-HESH collaboration, Arts on Campus, led to five grants designed to integrate performing arts centers at public universities into the research and pedagogical missions of their institutions.Kirsten Greenidge’s Greater Good, developed at Company One Theatre, Boston. The National Playwright Residency Program embeds visionary playwrights like Greenidge at theaters across the country. Photo: Company One Theatre/Natasha Moustache.
Finally, a healthy arts ecosystem depends on the creation of durable, sustainable infrastructure. The Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative continues to be central to ACH’s efforts to advance important arts and culture organizations that have been historically underserved by philanthropy. In 2019, five organizations received culminating change capital grants: Pangea World Theater; Coleman Center; St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation (Hayti Heritage Center); the Native American Community Development Institute’s All My Relations Arts Gallery, one of the few Midwest repositories for contemporary Native visual art; and The Theater Offensive, which uses the creative process as a cultural organizing tool for queer and trans people of color and their allies. Renewed support for the Performing Arts Readiness initiative at LYRASIS will continue strategic investment in resources and national network building to encourage emergency planning as a priority in the arts and culture sector. And to explore new collaboratives for small organizations, a grant to CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, whose innovative shared services model currently serves more than 200 small arts and humanities organizations, will enable replication of the model in other urban centers.