2016 Report on Grantmaking Programs

Conference room with researchersGrants in the Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities initiative supported work in the global urban humanities. (Columbia GSAPP/Jesse Seegers.)

Report on Grantmaking Programs and Research

The Mellon Foundation’s strategic plan adopted in 2014 affirmed the Foundation’s commitment to the vital role of the humanities and the arts in promoting human flourishing and the health of diverse and democratic societies. While the plan outlined thrusts of anticipated continuity and change in our institutional grantmaking, it also foresaw that the plan would benefit from new research initiatives on complex problems that beset the disciplines and sectors we support. Such research had been central to the practices of the Foundation during the presidency of William G. Bowen from 1988 to 2006. President Bowen studied topics that launched long-lasting Foundation commitments such as the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program dedicated to making the American faculty more diverse. As his research legacy has served as a wellspring of inspiration and discussion, his passing in October 2016 was a moment of profound sadness as well as reflection for Foundation staff.

A renewed commitment to research that transcends individual institutions was implicit in the strategic plan’s goal to advance “deep and broad public understanding of and support for the humanities, arts, diversity, and education, in the U.S. and internationally.” Each of the five grantmaking programs identified areas where sustained research would be of special value, for example on structural problems in the American ecosystem of higher education, on the state of diversity and inclusive practices in the arts, on new potentials for digital tools and scholarly publication, and on inequality in the infrastructure of knowledge production around the world.

After the Foundation laid the groundwork in 2015 for more sustained investment in research that could both help inform the field and clarify grantmaking strategies, this past year we began to put these plans on a structural footing. The Foundation’s effort to study, document, and debate the evidence for the value of diversity across many areas of our collective and individual lives, led by President Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, saw early milestones with the publication of a first volume of essays, Our Compelling Interests, by Princeton University Press; public conversations about the papers in the book; and the development of manuscripts for several forthcoming titles in the series.

Mellon Research Forum

In 2016 the Foundation also developed a framework for the Mellon Research Forum, an umbrella organizational form for the pursuit of thorny research questions of the kind indicated previously. The Research Forum will identify and define such problems, break them down into plausible components, and, over a period of five to eight years, fund multidisciplinary studies that will yield data and interpretive answers that can clarify obstacles and solutions. The Forum will publish results over the course of the initiative, and invite 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 stakeholders such as students or audiences. The Foundation’s research efforts will have a reflective and formative relationship to our grantmaking programs, but also maintain appropriate investigative independence. President Lewis and I will jointly oversee these research initiatives.

In close consultation with dozens of field leaders in higher education, the Foundation began to define the first of the research initiatives to be undertaken by the Mellon Research Forum. The initial constellation of projects will be dedicated to the evidence that exists or could be generated about the value and effectiveness of a liberal arts education. While it is usually assumed that such an education prepares individuals to be well-rounded members and leaders in our society, democracy, and economy, it is clear that the evidence of these effects continues to be subject to skepticism and outright claims of irrelevance. Mounting student debt, sluggish economic growth, and prolonged student dependence on parental support have reinforced such doubts. The Foundation has had a longstanding commitment to liberal arts education in its various institutional forms, but also supports justifiable calls for clearer evidence of the efficacy of this form of education, a better understanding of how it actually works, and creative ideas about how it might be delivered more equitably. To structure and oversee the research, the Foundation constituted an advisory board co-chaired by Michael McPherson, an economist of higher education who is the outgoing president of the Spencer Foundation, and William Damon, a social psychologist of human development at Stanford University. The group began to craft a working topology of a liberal arts education, identify rubrics of educational practices and outcomes that could be studied, and explore the longitudinal datasets that might be newly created. The Foundation commissioned review essays on prior research on viable measures of liberal arts outcomes. On the basis of these efforts, the Foundation hopes to support a number of studies that can contribute rich data and fresh perspective to the public discourse about what higher education should contribute to the preparation of citizens for a productive, satisfying, and engaged life.

The Year in Grants

Although the Foundation’s renewed investment in research is highly energizing to staff and will eventually inform our programs’ activities in new ways, grantmaking remains the frontline responsibility and operational mode of our five programs. In 2016, the Foundation awarded 414 grants for a total amount of $286,473,300. The distribution of grants by size and by types of support is captured in Figures 1 and 2.


As Figure 2 shows, 84 percent of the Foundation’s grants provided spendable support, and 16 percent provided endowment funds, usually with a matching requirement. The matching endowment component of our overall grantmaking was unusually high because it included a $30 million challenge grant to the National Gallery of Art on the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary. The Gallery was first conceived by Andrew W. Mellon in 1936, and developed rapidly into a world-class museum for the nation with the vision and sustained support of his children Ailsa and Paul. While 371 grants were made to organizations based in the United States, 43 were made in countries abroad, including South Africa (19), Canada (6), the United Kingdom (5), Germany (3), and Lebanon (2). One grant each was made to institutions in Austria, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Senegal, Turkey, and the Vatican. Within the United States, grants were distributed across forty-one states, though through our regranting programs Foundation funds reached almost every state. Reviewing the year in relation to the goals of the Foundation’s strategic plan, it is clear that initiatives foreseen in 2014 have begun to take hold, with almost 85 percent of grants made in support of work that is directly aligned with strategic objectives articulated in the plan. While any funder benefits from maintaining strategic focus, the Foundation’s programs remain steadfastly open to ideas or findings that may suggest a need for adjustment of priorities, or that require a topical, one-off response to opportunities or challenges in the arts and humanities.

At Home in the World

As any humanist or artist will tell you, numbers matter, but the story they tell is partial at best, crude simplification at worst. In the following mini-essays, leaders of the five programs narrate the why of their priorities, and the how of their enactment through the remarkable organizations their grants supported in 2016. Acute social and political debates across the United States focused staff on the timeliness of certain initiatives that had already been in progress, including heightened commitments to diversity and inclusion across our programs, support for humanities pathways for disadvantaged constituencies in community colleges and other poorly resourced institutions, and expansion of work in support of high-quality college education in prisons.

Although investment in US-based programs will remain the core of our grantmaking, we believe that necessary attention to the domestic agenda should not have the unintended consequence of endorsing or fostering an isolationist stance. American higher education, the humanities, and the arts have always benefited from international engagement and exposure to ideas from around the world. To begin to articulate better when and how we make grants that could be considered “international” we studied our long history of supporting programs that either are based abroad or entail significant collaborations between US and foreign institutions to be successful. One immediate outcome of this study was the decision to sustain our longstanding commitment to strengthening higher education as the bedrock of civil society in South Africa, extend that work to a couple of leading universities in East and West Africa, and also support new supranational initiatives to build capacity in the humanities and social sciences across the African continent. Saleem Badat, program director for International Higher Education and Strategic Projects, describes the implications of these decisions in his report. Other Foundation programs will from time to time make direct grants to international institutions or to American organizations that will distribute those resources abroad. Those cases will arise when our support would facilitate the accomplishment of our goals in ways that investment in a US-based program could not. In a world of interdependent countries and regions, globally connected problems, and a need for systemic and international solutions such instances may become more frequent in the years ahead, to the extent that our resources will allow.

—Mariët Westermann

Backs of college students looking out to the seaNew College of Florida received support to strengthen and cultivate relationships with local colleges and arts organizations. (Courtesy of New College of Florida.)

Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities

In 2016, Executive Vice President for Programs and Research Mariët Westermann and Senior Program Officers Eugene M. Tobin and Cristle Collins Judd led the program for Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities (HESH). HESH approached its grantmaking with a commitment to view higher education as an integrated whole, to work collaboratively with the Arts and Cultural Heritage, Diversity, and International Higher Education and Strategic Projects programs, and to maintain a careful balance between continuity and new initiatives. To inform HESH grantmaking, the program gathered grantees and higher education leaders for convenings on topics including faculty diversity, graduate education, community colleges, arts on campus, and public humanities.

In 2016 HESH supported a rich panoply of artistic, curricular, pedagogical, scholarly, and community-based initiatives to strengthen humanities teaching and learning at the undergraduate and graduate levels across all sectors of higher education. The grants reflected the emphases of the Foundation’s strategic plan, including cross-cutting foci on diversity and inclusion, international collaboration, public humanities, and digital humanities along with programmatic interest in the renewal of doctoral education. A significant number of grants supported the efforts of organizations to offer timely responses to pressing social and humanitarian issues.

HESH grantmaking focused on three interrelated categories: (1) faculty and field development; (2) curriculum and pedagogy; and (3) special initiatives. Grants for faculty and field development included support for graduate education, postdoctoral and faculty fellowships, research collaborations, and new or emerging fields of study. Curricular grants responded to the collective focus of colleges and universities on integrating problem-solving, project-based, and community-based courses across the curriculum, using curricular and pedagogical renewal to create inclusive and integrated campus communities, and building new models of public engagement. Under the rubric of special initiatives, HESH awarded grants in thematic areas that included Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities; Arts on Campus; Community College and University Partnerships; Digital Humanities; Prison Education; and Public Humanities. While all of these initiatives had been foci of the Foundation’s recent grantmaking, contemporary international and domestic events have refocused attention on Migration and Refugee Studies and Support, which is likely to remain a recurring thematic emphasis.

Faculty and Field Development

Doctoral education marks the entry point of disciplinary framing and new field development and HESH supported a range of initiatives that focused on early stage interventions, including curricular innovation, cocurricular training, cohort creation, public engagement, summer programming, and timely completion. Related initiatives aimed at helping diversify graduate admissions and providing opportunities for alternative forms of the dissertation and broadened career trajectories. These activities reflected ongoing conversations about the ecosystem of higher education, particularly the relationship between graduate school training, the future composition of the professoriate, and opportunities for careers in and outside the academy. A grant to Brandeis University renewed assistance for a program of “just-in-time” prospectus and dissertation seminars. The University of Notre Dame received a grant aimed at shortening time-to-degree, strengthening student preparation, and preparing PhDs for a range of careers. A grant to Tulane University created a program in publicly engaged scholarship for graduate students in the humanities, and Emory University received a grant to prepare students in the humanities to address contemporary problems in forms that are accessible to other areas of the university and to institutions of public culture. Increased interest in the value of digital media, data visualization, and graphic design led a growing number of universities to broaden graduate training. A grant to The New School enabled faculty in The New School for Social Research and in Parsons School of Design to develop a shared interdisciplinary curriculum, while Vanderbilt University launched a newly designed graduate program that integrated work in the digital humanities and enhanced the university’s capacity to serve as a regional hub for digital scholarship. Grants to the Newberry Library and the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies supported specialized training in paleography and manuscript studies. A grant to the Council of Graduate Schools supported the collection and use of data on humanities PhD career pathways.

The New Directions Fellowships and the Sawyer Seminars remain signature programs in the Foundation’s toolkit for supporting faculty and field development. Both programs recognize the necessity of multidisciplinary approaches to tackle the most pressing issues of our time and acknowledge the crucial importance of faculty leadership. New Directions fellowships were awarded to twelve faculty members at liberal arts colleges and universities for topics that ranged from the international and cultural history of modernity and comparative work on medieval technology to the role of early twentieth-century mining engineers in the development of American capitalism, science, and foreign policy. Eleven research universities received Sawyer Seminar grants to support the comparative study of significant historical or contemporary issues such as comparative revolutions; environmental change; land use in the Middle East; and war, reconciliation, and commemoration. Other fellowships were administered by partner organizations of which the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) remains one of the most respected and valued. In anticipation of its Centennial campaign in 2019, ACLS received a matching grant to support vital fellowship programs and operating needs. The Social Science Research Council, American Historical Association, Council for European Studies, and the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin at Madison received support for continuing fellowship programs.

Building and maintaining a diverse faculty is one of the most important challenges facing higher education, and aspects of this work were interwoven among many of the grants in the HESH portfolio, with support of postdoctoral fellowships as one key aspect. Grants to Brown and Southwestern Universities (the latter in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin) provided support for postdoctoral fellowships for new PhDs from underrepresented minority backgrounds, in advance of the tenure-track positions they will hold following the fellowships.

Grants to the University of California at Irvine in support of the Humanities Research Institute serving the ten campuses of the University of California system and to the City University of New York’s Graduate School and Center for the Humanities connect the humanities to critical grand challenge questions, while a grant to Northwestern University assisted in the creation of a Native American and Indigenous Studies Center. Under the broad umbrella of bringing the humanities to bear on pressing social issues, two grants took religion and religious conflict as a point of departure: the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge would examine how the university can explore religious diversity through a series of interlinked workshops, seminars, and summer schools; a grant to the Interfaith Youth Core funded a longitudinal survey of student attitudes to determine the types of educational experiences that are most conducive to interfaith learning. A grant to the University of Oxford supported interdisciplinary research and teaching about race and gender at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

Throughout 2016, colleges and universities integrated project- and community-based courses across the curriculum and used undergraduate research and inclusive pedagogies to support diversity, integrative learning, and community engagement. Grants to Beloit, Hendrix, and Lewis & Clark Colleges, and Clark and Wesleyan Universities were designed to make the learning environment accessible to all students. The Associated Colleges of the South and the Claremont University Consortium received grants that supported faculty adoption of inclusive pedagogies. A grant to Ripon College is facilitating the creation of a new curriculum focused on a problem-solving core with humanities at its center. As is often the case, distinctions between curriculum and pedagogy blur when diversity, inclusion, civic engagement, and digital tools are central to the development work. Bryn Mawr, Hope, and Kenyon Colleges, and Bucknell and St. Lawrence Universities received grants that support innovation and curricular change. Grants to Eugene Lang, Wheaton, and Colby Colleges reflected the creative ways in which faculty and students connect the humanities to civic engagement, career exploration, and the environment. Consortial grants to the University of Chicago, to Michigan State University and the Big Ten Academic Alliance, and to Five Colleges, Incorporated, supported new pedagogies and partnerships that offer language instruction across multiple campuses. Davidson and Middlebury Colleges received grants that address the curricular, pedagogical, and scholarly intersections of justice, inequality, and inclusion.

Special Initiatives

Renewal grants in the Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities initiative supported continued work in the global urban humanities at the Universities of California at Los Angeles and at Berkeley, the development of the Humanities Institute at the New York Botanical Garden, and ongoing work at Cornell University and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. A grant to the University of California at San Diego, in collaboration with community-based organizations in the cities of Tijuana and San Diego, enables students and faculty to develop cross-border solutions to the challenges of uneven urbanization and socioeconomic inequality. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology received a grant to develop teaching materials for global architectural history. Rice University received a grant to integrate the historical, interpretive, and comparative tools of the humanities into a university-wide data science project.

HESH grantmaking continued to reflect the growing importance of partnerships between community colleges and research universities. The New Hampshire Humanities Collaborative, a partnership between the Community College System of New Hampshire and the University of New Hampshire, received support to develop a curriculum around grand challenge questions that can also facilitate credit transfer for community college students who transfer into humanities at the university. A pair of grants to the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and the San Diego Community College District supports the transfer of community college students into humanities majors at UCSD and fosters collaboration on curriculum and pedagogy. Public engagement and the public humanities were interwoven in many of the grants supported by HESH. A range of institutions, including Colorado and Haverford Colleges, New College of Florida, and New York University received support to explore connections with surrounding community and cultural institutions, and to use art and material culture to nurture interdisciplinary inquiry, curricular innovation, and creative collaborations. HESH grants supported artistic residencies, performances, and collaboration with faculty in non-arts departments, and, in collaboration with the Arts and Cultural Heritage program, HESH supported efforts by presenting organizations to deepen curricular connections at the Universities of California at Berkeley, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Michigan, and North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Prison education emerged as one of the most compelling special initiatives in HESH grantmaking. Even though a college education is one of the strongest predictors of success following release, significant numbers of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people lack access to higher education. A grant to the Opportunity Institute emerged from a collaboration with the Ford Foundation and seven other partners to support a prison-education initiative in California involving the community college and California State University systems and community organizations.

A recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees indicated that more than sixty-five million people have been forcibly displaced in or outside their countries as a result of armed conflict, repression, natural disasters, and climate change. In response, the Foundation made three grants: to the Institute of International Education to provide support for Syrian students studying the humanities who seek to complete educations that have been disrupted; to Vassar College, in collaboration with Bard, Bennington, and Sarah Lawrence Colleges, to develop a consortium on forced migration, displacement, and education; and to the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University to create a cross-university seminar on migration to explore how the humanities inform our understanding of the displacement, relocation, exclusion, and insecurity of refugees and undocumented immigrants.

Finally, in collaboration with the International Higher Education and Strategic Projects program, HESH made a number of grants reflecting the ways in which the humanities are crossing international borders, including support for a new partnership between the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto and the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape; the creation of an International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs led by the University of California at Berkeley and Northwestern University; the continued work of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, including its new regional humanities initiative in Africa; and two of the world’s preeminent centers for Byzantine, Islamic, and  medieval  Turkish  studies,  at  Harvard  and  Boğaziçi  Universities,  to train future scholars. Inter-regional collaborations were supported with grants to the Institute for Advanced Study to develop networks of scholars from Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, and to the International Institute for Asian Studies to create collaborations involving Asian, African, European, and North American universities.

Duo of performers on stage under fluorescent lightsEarly Morning Opera received a New England Foundation for the Arts National Theater Project grant to tour The Institute of Memory (TIMe) throughout 2016-17. (Early Morning Opera/Lars Jan.)

Arts and Cultural Heritage

In 2016, the Arts and Cultural Heritage (ACH) program was led by Senior Program Officer Ella Baff and Program Officers Susan Feder and Alison Gilchrest. While the year in review describes the intentionality of the program’s grantmaking, it also reflects the character and quality of the aspirations and achievements of the organizations with which it works. In 2016, ACH supported 115 such organizations across twenty-six states and three countries outside of the United States that served thousands of artists and culture workers as well as hundreds of thousands of people who participated in their programs. The emphasis of ACH grantmaking was on leadership and resilience in artistic achievement, creative practice, scholarship, preservation, civic engagement, and organizational health.

Organizational Health

“Continuity and Change: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Strategic Plan for Programs” set the stage for advancing ambitious ongoing and new initiatives. The Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative (COHI), launched in 2014, builds organizational resiliency within the national arts ecosystem by broadening access to resources in underserved regions, creating more equitable systems of support for artists and cultural organizations, and strengthening community participation. Working with the Nonprofit Finance Fund, cohorts of organizations progress through a sequence of financial capacity-building strategies and receive infusions of capital, peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and individualized technical support. COHI grants in 2015 served eight American art conservation service organizations and six members of the National Performance Network/Visual Arts Network (NPN/VAN). In 2016, COHI expanded to cover six additional NPN/VAN members as well as the International Association of Blacks in Dance. As part of the ACH program’s focus on organizational health, grants were also made to strengthen the infrastructure for emergency preparedness for the safeguarding of cultural heritage imperiled by natural or human-made disasters. While investment in the protection of material assets is common practice within collecting institutions, few performing arts organizations have developed plans to deal with potentially devastating emergencies. A grant to LYRASIS enabled implementation of a national program for disaster preparedness training for performing arts organizations in a partnership that includes the regional arts organization South Arts as well as several of the conservation centers in COHI.

New Work

Our commitment to the creation and development of new work continued with grants that supported opera, music, theater, and dance, as well as interdisciplinary art forms that assert their independence from any particular genre. A second round of the National Playwright Residency Program (NPRP), chosen through an open-application process, supported full-time salaries for a group of playwrights highly varied in terms of identity, artistic interests, and career stage. NPRP will embed them at nine theaters from Alaska to New Jersey, encouraging ambitious work as well as effective engagement within their theaters and with communities served; HowlRound at Emerson College will once again document the initiative. A grant to The MAP Fund supported a national regranting program for new works in interdisciplinary collaboration, technological innovation, and collaborations among artists from wide-ranging backgrounds. The MAP Fund is second only to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as an open-submission grant program for contemporary work in the United States. Across the spectrum of arts, cultures, and communities, the Asia Society, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Glimmerglass Opera Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, the Los Angeles Opera Company, the Network of Ensemble Theaters, New Music USA, New York Live Arts, and the Walker Art Center received support for new work development, artist residencies, and commissions to create new art and new forms.

Curatorship and Preservation

ACH grants also continued to fortify the field of curatorship and cultural heritage preservation, enabling institutions to assume leadership roles in filling critical gaps in knowledge, organizational capacity, and training. In indigenous and Native American arts, grants to The Denver Art Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Anchorage Museum, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and the University of Oklahoma provided resources for research, scholarly and curatorial exchange, training and professional development, and conservation and interpretation of significant collections. The Museum of Modern Art received support to create layered training opportunities for practitioners in the conservation of complex new media art works. A grant to Dance/USA enables the organization to assume responsibility for preservation activities formerly administered by the Dance Heritage Coalition, which is disbanding. The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries received the final grant in the Foundation’s five-year initiative to restore a training network for conservators of Chinese paintings in the United States.

Through a pair of grants the ACH program took significant steps to address the need for a greater plurality of participants in the preservation of the nation’s diverse cultural heritage. At the Smithsonian, a grant for the National Museum of African Art to provide advanced training in African art conservation catalyzed an effort to provide subsidized undergraduate training internships across all of the Smithsonian’s collections and laboratories that would help diversify applicant pools for graduate conservation programs. A grant to the University of California at Los Angeles to support a pilot program to introduce undergraduates from Native American, Chicano, and Latino communities to conservation practices had similar goals.

In 2016, the care and protection of art and culture around the world was a growing concern not only for objects, but also for endangered artists. A grant to the PEN American Center supported the implementation of a resource hub and central point of coordination for organizations around the world that provide services to artists at risk of persecution, violence, imprisonment, and death. This grant complements the Foundation’s existing support of the Artist Protection Fund at the Institute of International Education, which provides fellowship grants to imperiled artists and places them at host universities and arts centers in countries where they can safely continue their work.

Freedom of Expression, Diversity, and Inclusion

The values of freedom of expression, diversity, equity, and inclusion that are ingrained in the ACH program were further articulated through several other grants. Penumbra Theatre Company, a Minneapolis-based African American company, received support for a facilitator training program designed to strengthen competencies in inclusion and equity practices, and to build a national network of facilitators who can be change-agents within their organizations. Hunter College, a flagship of public higher education, established a program in undergraduate arts fellowships aimed at diversifying New York City arts organizations, creating a pathway for careers in the arts. American Ballet Theatre received continued support for Project Plié, an initiative to encourage a more diverse range of people to pursue arts administration, partnering with professional ballet companies throughout the United States. Support was also renewed for the Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship program, a national initiative to diversify curatorial cohorts in American museums led by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and including the Art Institute of Chicago, High Museum in Atlanta, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. To improve pathways for musicians from underrepresented communities, several grants fostered infrastructure for identifying and supporting young high-potential musicians: the Settlement Music School of Philadelphia, for a collaboration with ten organizations in the Philadelphia Alliance for Youth that are dedicated to such work; Carnegie Hall, for NYO2, a junior national youth orchestra that will nurture musicians from underrepresented communities; Chicago Sinfonietta for Project Inclusion; and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for an institute supporting the most advanced students in its Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. It is hoped that these grants, together with a pair of grants to the Sphinx Organization and the American Symphony Orchestra League, will help foster a new level of connectivity among local, regional, and national orchestras to increase diversity on their stages.

Traditional, Contemporary, and International Arts

In 2016, ACH supported several organizations dedicated to traditional and contemporary art forms in historically underrepresented communities. The National Association of Latino Arts & Culture in San Antonio established the Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI) in collaboration with the First Peoples Fund (Rapid City, South Dakota), Alternate ROOTS (Atlanta), and the PA’I Foundation (Honolulu) to offer a leadership development program for artists, culture bearers, and arts professionals. While these organizations are grounded in distinct cultures and communities, their intercultural approach to leadership training emphasizes shared themes of social memory, history, cohabitation, and mutual accountability. ILI also aims to challenge dominant norms of the arts and culture field and guide it toward greater intercultural awareness and action. A first-time grant to the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute on the occasion of the establishment of its new home in East Harlem supported its public arts programs, cultural advocacy fellowships for emerging leaders, and multidisciplinary art exhibitions exploring East Harlem’s identity.

Although the Foundation’s grantmaking is concentrated in the United States, first-time grants to three organizations recognized the value of international collaboration and exchange: the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA), to support its fellowship program and expand opportunities for emerging professionals from the Global South to attend the annual ISPA Congress; American Dance Abroad, to expand opportunities for American dance artists to connect with international presenters within and outside the United States; and Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, housed within the university’s School of Foreign Service, to support programs that gather emerging artists from around the world, policymakers, scholars, and the public in Washington, DC. Renewed support was provided for the USArtists International regranting program at the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, a public-private partnership with the NEA that provides travel support for American artists to perform abroad.

Arts and Civic Engagement

Throughout the year, ACH responded to a growing national movement of art and civic engagement practice among cultural organizations and artists. Support was provided to Appalshop, a cultural anchor in rural Kentucky, for new play development about the demise of the coal industry in Appalachia, and for convenings on social and economic development in distressed rural and urban communities. A first-time grant to the Herberger Institute at Arizona State University launched an artist-led initiative to advance artistic development and explore new ways for the artistic process to engage civic partners and create more equitable communities, particularly in light of pronounced demographic changes in Phoenix and Tempe. In San Francisco, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts received a first-time grant for a new initiative, The Creative Ecosystem, to advance the Center’s participatory approach to art and civic engagement by connecting a wide range of artists, thinkers, activists, entrepreneurs, and community members around challenging questions of our time.

The work of the organizations that were supported in 2016 would not have been possible without the intrepid imagination and finely tuned sensibilities of artists. In addition to thousands of artists who were supported through grants to institutions and regranting programs, a first-time grant to United States Artists (USA) established an Andrew W. Mellon fellowship within USA’s fellowship program, to be awarded annually to an artist in the performing or visual arts.


The year in review would be incomplete without noting the Foundation’s support of remarkable institutions in the cultural life of the country that celebrated landmark anniversaries. The National Gallery of Art, envisioned by Andrew W. Mellon and realized posthumously by his son, Paul Mellon, celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary and received a major endowment challenge grant. With Foundation support, Carnegie Hall celebrated its 125th anniversary with an initiative to commission 125 new works from a diverse group of composers. A grant to the Mid-America Arts Alliance recognized the fiftieth anniversary of the NEA with a program designed to demonstrate how the arts contribute to the creative ecosystem of the nation by forging connections between the arts and non-arts sectors. The most powerful milestone for an American cultural institution in 2016 was not an anniversary, however, but a profound testament to 397 years of US history that began when the first enslaved Africans arrived at Jamestown. The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, supported with grants from the Mellon Foundation and many other donors in prior years, was an unforgettable and overdue rite of passage for the nation.

InfographicStanford and Cornell Universities received support for national collaborations that develop and advance the use of linked open data. (Linked Open Data Project/Andrejs Abele/John P. McCrae/ Paul Buitelaar/Anja Jentzsch/Richard Cygania.)

Scholarly Communications

In 2016, the Scholarly Communications (SC) program was led by Senior Program Officer Donald J. Waters and, until May, Program Officer Helen Cullyer. After eight years of devoted service to the Foundation, Ms. Cullyer became the executive director of the Society for Classical Studies. In August, Patricia Hswe joined the SC team as program officer, leaving Pennsylvania State University, where she had served as digital content strategist and co-department head of Publishing and Curation Services.

Under the Foundation’s strategic plan, SC is focused on three major areas of emphasis: scholarly publishing, access and library services, and preservation. The strategic priorities in these areas are: (a) a multipronged program to develop infrastructure and business models for the production and dissemination of high-quality, web-based scholarly publications in the humanities; (b) initiatives that develop capacity within libraries, universities, and other cultural institutions to make collections and metadata broadly available and usable on the web; and (c) funding that accelerates the preservation of the scholarly and cultural record in all its forms, with particular emphasis on audiovisual media and web-based resources.

In each of these areas, SC launched a new grantmaking initiative in 2016. First, SC collaborated with the National Endowment for the Humanities to cofund three rounds of fellowship awards to assist scholars engaged in research projects that are best conceived, undertaken, and eventually published using nonprint, digital technologies. Second, the University of Miami received a grant as part of a joint initiative of SC and the Foundation’s Arts and Cultural

Heritage program to support collaborations between campus art museums and libraries that promise to enhance research and teaching uses of their collections. Third, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) received funding to administer a series of annual competitions designed to help support the preservation of the nation’s imperiled audiovisual collections.

During 2016 SC also continued to support previously launched initiatives. In its digital monograph publishing program, SC awarded funds to Johns Hopkins University for Project MUSE to develop a new service called MUSEOpen, which would host and disseminate titles being distributed on an open access basis; to The University of British Columbia, in collaboration with the University of Washington, for their presses to use the Mukurtu platform to publish multimedia works in Native American Studies; and to Yale University for its press to develop further its platform for the publication of richly illustrated digital monographs in art and architectural history. Building on Foundation-funded models already under development at Brown University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, both Emory University and the University of Connecticut received funds to support their faculties in the design and development of digital monographs, as well as to provide agent-like assistance in placing works with university presses. Meanwhile, George Mason University received a grant to explore how similar support services might be provided at a disciplinary, rather than institutional, level in the field of history. In addition, to help the nation’s university presses become better prepared to expand the publication of digital monographs, SC made grants to the Association of American University Presses for the dissemination to its members of a methodology, originally developed by Ithaka S+R, to account for the costs of digital monographs; to the University of Michigan to map the emerging chain of distribution for these kinds of works from the publisher to the reader; and to Emory University for the development of model contracts between authors and presses for the publication of digital scholarship.

Making Digital Resources More Accessible

To help make digital resources in the humanities more accessible and useful to scholars and the public, SC provided new rounds of funding to CLIR for the hidden collections digitization and the data curation fellowship programs; to the American Council of Learned Societies for its digital extension program, which is designed to extend the reach of existing digital humanities projects to new users and contributors; and to Duke University for the Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute, which hosts teams of scholars, librarians, publishers, and others to work collaboratively on selected problems in scholarly communications. SC also made a series of grants for the development of core digital technologies in libraries and archives. For example, Stanford and Cornell Universities received support for national collaborations designed to apply the software and protocols of the semantic web and linked open data in library cataloging and access systems. Meanwhile, with Foundation funds, Johns Hopkins University and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana will further develop and apply the International Image Interoperability Framework.

In its ongoing effort to strengthen key sectors within the academic library community, SC provided support for the Digital Public Library of America, which will use Foundation funds to implement its business sustainability plans. SC also made grants to three independent research libraries. On behalf of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Amherst College received funds to develop and test a prototype platform on which the Folger plans to aggregate and integrate a variety of its currently distributed digital collections. With an award to Brown University, the John Carter Brown Library will expand its staff support for digital resources and scholarly projects. In addition, the Newberry Library will create an online resource for the study of handwriting practices in Italian manuscripts.

In the preservation area, CLIR received funds to explore the feasibility of establishing a Digital Library of the Middle East. With an SC award, the library of The University of Calgary is now determining how to preserve and provide access to the complete archives of EMI Music Canada, which Calgary recently acquired, and includes company records as well as tapes and discs of released and unreleased studio recordings by jazz, pop, rock, and classical artists. LOCKSS, or Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe, which is a networked, cooperative approach to digital preservation based at Stanford University, received support to upgrade its underlying technology. In addition, Old Dominion University, in collaboration with the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico Consortium, is using its grant funds to develop prototype tools that would facilitate the preservation process as scholars publish articles, deposit software code, and upload presentations to the web.

Book cover art featuring an African American couple in a carSUNY Oneonta received support for a documentary film, made in collaboration with the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, based on The Negro Motorist Green Book. (Courtesy of New York Public Library.)


In 2016, the Diversity program was led by Armando Bengochea, who serves as program officer and director of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program. Mr. Bengochea is supported by Lee Bynum, senior program associate and associate director of MMUF. Now in its twenty-ninth year, MMUF is the model pipeline program for the Foundation’s efforts to support diversification of the nation’s professoriate. As of 2017, 705 fellows from forty-six colleges and universities and two consortia have earned doctoral degrees in the humanities or selected fields in the social sciences and sciences. Of these 705 fellows, 121 have earned tenure; 227 are in tenure-track positions; and 134 are currently postdoctoral fellows, visiting faculty, or instructors. Another 674 fellows are currently enrolled in PhD programs, and approximately forty-five to sixty graduate students complete the doctorate each year. Grants in support of related pipeline programs were made to the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for the continuation of its Humanities Summer Institute, and to The Library Company of Philadelphia for renewed support of a program for students particularly interested in pursuing work in early African American history. Pennsylvania State University received a grant to support programming to extend its department of philosophy’s already noteworthy success in recruiting diverse entering cohorts of graduate students and supporting them to timely completion of doctoral degrees.

Each year the Diversity program makes grants to expand or enhance academic capacity at a select group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In 2016, funds were awarded to Tougaloo College to support the establishment of a multidisciplinary Institute for the Study of Modern Slavery; to Xavier University of Louisiana for general education reform and assessment; to Johnson C. Smith University in order to strengthen curriculum in the interdisciplinary humanities; and to Dillard University for faculty career enhancement programs and the development of its Honors Program. In the same vein, support was renewed to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) for faculty career enhancement programs that benefit thirty-seven private HBCUs and include opportunities for faculty to participate in domestic or international summer seminars and teaching and learning summer institutes; to spend a summer residency at another institution; and to receive release time for research projects. 

In addition to continued support of HBCUs, the Foundation’s strategic plan calls for engagement with other Minority Serving Institutions, especially Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). The Latina/o population in the United States continues to be one of the country’s fastest-growing and youngest demographics, and it is critical that the future humanities professoriate incorporate greater numbers of Latina/o scholars. Grants were made in 2016 to two leading HSIs, the University of California at Merced and the University of Texas at San Antonio, to create opportunities for undergraduate research and preparation for the graduate school application process. Increasing the college-going rates of Native American students, meanwhile, is the goal of a grant to the American Indian College Fund (AICF). AICF’s efforts will focus on improving Native students’ rates of application to colleges, including TCUs, and on creating opportunities for students at two-year TCUs to transfer to four-year institutions. Finally, a grant to the American Philosophical Society (APS) for its Center for Native American and Indigenous Research will create opportunities for TCU faculty and students, Native faculty elsewhere, and other scholars working closely with Native communities to immerse themselves in the vast collections of the APS, with particular focus given to scholars doing work in support of Native language retention. Scholars and other participants may pursue new or ongoing research projects and will be required to share archival materials with the Native communities with which they work.

On the national level, many colleges and universities are making serious commitments to hire diverse faculty and support their early-career development. These efforts are often made in conjunction with curricular expansion, incorporation of emerging fields, or new institutional emphases on interdisciplinarity. Grants were made to support such efforts at the University of Chicago and Dartmouth College through the establishment or expansion of postdoctoral fellowship programs; to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to establish a pre-tenure research award to history scholars who can also demonstrate a record of exemplary campus service, including in advising and mentoring; to Georgetown University for bridge support of new faculty positions and to establish postdoctoral fellowships as part of the creation of a department of African American Studies and two affiliated academic centers; and to selected institutions from the City University of New York system in support of yearlong research and writing seminars for junior faculty members. Finally, a faculty-development grant to the University of California at Davis will support a series of meetings at Davis and three other University of California campuses to bring faculty together with consultants and university leadership in order to study graduate student selection processes from the point of view of diversity and inclusion goals.

Prompting and stimulating the general public’s engagement with the arts and humanities is a principal Foundation goal and one critical to building a truly diverse and inclusive democracy in the United States. In 2016 the Diversity program pursued a number of opportunities to develop public humanities projects intended to enhance cross-cultural engagement and understanding. These included a grant to Columbia University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics to support the making of a documentary film about the meaning of whiteness in America that promises to engage various constituencies in a complex dialogue about race and identity. Another grant to the State University of New York at Oneonta supports the production of a documentary film, made in collaboration with the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies, that will be based on The Negro Motorist Green Book, a popular guidebook published between 1936 and 1966 for a readership of African American motorists who were exploring interstate travel for the first time. A grant to the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York, which preserves historical materials on what was one of the largest independent African American communities in pre-Civil War America, will broaden public access to this neighborhood’s rich history through a combination of oral history, genealogy, storytelling workshops, lectures, and symposia. Finally, support was renewed for Community MusicWorks, a Providence, Rhode Island community-based arts organization that provides high-quality music education centered on college-bound mentoring for at-risk youths in several socioeconomically disadvantaged local communities.

Overhead view of a college campus.The campus at the American University in Cairo. (Courtesy of the American University in Cairo.)

International Higher Education and Strategic Projects

Led by Program Director Saleem Badat, with the support of Program Associate and Project Manager for the Foundation’s Our Compelling Interests initiative, Doreen Tinajero, the International Higher Education and Strategic Projects (IHESP) program witnessed continuity and change in 2016. The program continued the renewal, revitalization, and consolidation of the Foundation’s twenty-nine years of support for seven research universities in South Africa. Following the approval of the Board of Trustees, the program set into motion a broadening of support to universities and institutions beyond South Africa. Preparations were made to extend grantmaking to Makerere University in Uganda and to the University of Ghana; first-time grants were awarded to three institutions working across Africa and the Arab world; and the responsibility for grantmaking to the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo was transferred from the HESH program to IHESP. The focus for the next five years will be to contribute to building institutional capacities and individual capabilities at twelve universities in Africa and the Middle East, and to help strengthen key Pan-African and Pan-Arab institutions involved in higher education capacity building.

The support to South Africa and the new developments give expression to the Foundation’s commitment to the arts, humanities, and higher education; to building durable universities characterized by outstanding teaching, learning, and scholarship, and effective scholarly communication; to creating favorable conditions for universities and institutions in Africa and the Middle East to participate in global networks of research and culture; and to supporting fragile democracies.

The IHESP program made ten individual grants totaling $6.68 million to support the institutional priorities of seven South African universities. As a response to the call of the 2015–16 student protests for the “decolonization” of the curriculum, a group of three grants supported the efforts of universities to transform the curriculum in arts and humanities disciplines. Another three grants supported research and capacity building related to the arts and cultural production, including the establishment of a laboratory of kinetic objects and puppetry arts and a chair in aesthetic theory at the University of the Western Cape. A grant of $1.99 million supported a collaborative program of Rhodes and Stellenbosch Universities, with the Universities of Cape Town, the Free State, Pretoria, the Western Cape, and the Witwatersrand (Wits), that has the aim of transforming the arts and humanities curriculum. Last, three grants totaling $1.89 million supported transnational partnerships between universities in South Africa with the rest of Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe. First-time grants totaling $2.07 million were made to the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, the Wits University-managed African Research Universities Alliance, and The Arab Council for the Social Sciences.

The Foundation’s other programs also continued to make grants that were international in character, particularly when such support was critical to advancing international collaboration in humanities research, art conservation, and the development of scholarly communications. Across all grantmaking programs, the Foundation in 2016 allocated approximately $24.49 million to international grantmaking and support for international collaborations. The HESH program awarded approximately $8.04 million. Significant grants included $2 million to support a partnership with VolkswagenStiftung;

$1.3 million to the International Institute for Asian Studies; and $2.54 million for global partnerships in the field of critical theory. The Arts and Cultural Heritage, Scholarly Communications, and Diversity programs’ support of institutions internationally totaled over $4 million.

Urban garden with apartment buildings in backgroundGrowNYC’s garden program. (GrowNYC/Mike Rezny.)

Public Affairs and Contributions

In 2016, the Foundation’s Public Affairs grantmaking and Contributions continued to be overseen by Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Michele S. Warman. Public Affairs grants and Contributions support nonprofit service organizations, charities benefiting local communities, and projects aligned with the Foundation’s strategic priorities that do not fall neatly into its other program areas. In 2016, the majority of the Foundation’s contributions, totaling $320,000, were made to organizations that serve and strengthen the philanthropic sector. Contributions to Foundation Center, GuideStar USA, Inc., Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, Inc., and Philanthropy New York supported information and capacity-building resources crucial for the field, while a contribution to Silicon Valley Community Foundation supported a convening of philanthropic leaders to discuss the opportunities presented by technological innovation to advance the public good. In addition, a contribution to GrowNYC provided support for New York City-based ecology and conservation programs.