New Humanities in Place Program Awards More than $15 Million to Organizations Doing Place-Based Work, While Bringing More Voices and Experiences to Public Spaces

interior view of place of worship with amphitheater-style seating, stained glass, and a pipe organ Historic Clayborn Temple interior. Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation/Steve Jones.

Program Officer Justin Garrett Moore Lays Out Three-Fold Grantmaking Strategy Aimed at Enriching Public Spaces, Encouraging Institutional Evolution and Promoting Greater Community Engagement Across the Nation

NEW YORK, NY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 - The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation today announced $15 million in grants supporting 19 projects and organizations through the Foundation’s newly established Humanities in Place program.  Humanities in Place will focus on work that includes or incorporates historic and community spaces, museums and other institutions, and media and conveners of cultural heritage and public experiences as spaces of learning, expression, and exchange.  Organizations engaging in this work play a pivotal role in determining how and where the stories of our histories and communities are told across public experiences as varied as built environments, digital platforms, and ephemeral programs.  

With these first grants, ranging from $150,000 to $3.5 million, the Humanities in Place program aims to support a diverse collection of bold, innovative organizations and places that are rethinking past practice and creating visionary new approaches for how to collectively understand, uplift, and celebrate more complete stories about who we are as a nation—both within distinct communities and as a broader society.  

Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander conceived of and launched Humanities in Place—the first newly established program area at the Foundation in more than 30 years—in December 2020 under the direction of inaugural Program Officer Justin Garrett Moore. 

“This vital program is now fundamental to the architecture of the Mellon Foundation itself,” said Dr. Alexander.  “With the creation of Humanities in Place, we have begun to address the urgent need to expand the range of voices centered and celebrated in our public spaces and to better fulfill our mission as a social justice philanthropy.”  The program is distinct from but complementary to the Foundation’s five-year Monuments Project, which commenced in 2020 as a means of reimagining and rebuilding commemorative spaces. 

As Humanities in Place approaches its one-year milestone, Moore, an urban designer who served as executive director of the City of New York Public Design Commission before joining the Mellon Foundation, has laid out a three-fold strategic approach that will guide the program in its work to reshape our nation’s public and cultural landscapes in the years ahead: 

  • Keeping & Shaping Our Places - The Mellon Foundation’s Humanities in Place program will support projects, initiatives, and infrastructure effort working to better identify, document, create, and care for our places, in addition to supporting innovative ideas and actions that work to design a more just present and future. 
  • Evolving Our Institutions - The program will work to catalyze initiatives and programs that support the evolution and sustainability of institutions focused on advancing social justice through place-based approaches. 
  • Promoting Greater Engagement & Understanding - Finally, Humanities in Place will support projects and programs with a place-based focus that promote greater access, interaction, and exchange of stories and experiences, working toward a fuller appreciation and understanding of a more complete representation of our histories, narratives, and expression.

“Humanities in Place focuses on elevating the people and places that have long been under-resourced and at times left out of or diminished in our public, cultural and historical landscapes and narratives,” said Program Officer Justin Garrett Moore.  “It is an exciting and critical time to direct much-needed and deserved resources to shaping these landscapes and narratives to better reflect our complexity and toward advancing social justice.  This inaugural group of grants and our continued work will facilitate greater access to our shared past and fuel the possibilities for more just futures.” 

The Mellon Foundation’s inaugural Humanities in Place grantees include the following (please see a complete list of supported projects below):

1882 Project Foundation (Washington, DC); African Futures Institute (Accra, Ghana); Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (San Francisco, CA); Black Reconstruction Collective (State College, PA); Daisy Wilson Artist Community / August Wilson House (Pittsburgh, PA); Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills (Deer Park, NY); Historic Clayborn Temple (Memphis, TN); Historical Preservation Authority of the City of Birmingham (Birmingham, AL); IDEAS xLab (Louisville, KY); Lower East Side Tenement Museum (New York, NY); National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States (Washington, DC); Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice (Durham, NC); The Rebuild Foundation (Chicago, IL); Scalawag (Durham, NC); Sweet Water Foundation (Chicago, IL); The Soapbox Presents (New York, NY); Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL); University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA); and Zócalo Public Square (Los Angeles, CA). 

“The Mellon Foundation’s Humanities in Place program gives voice to historical storytelling—important work that is consistent with our organization’s mission to provide expressive and creative artistic spaces through our backyard theater and artist housing that will honor the legacy of August Wilson,” said Denise Turner, Acting Chief Executive and Board President for the August Wilson House.  “We are grateful to be among the inaugural recipients of this esteemed grant as it supports a critical step toward the final completion of our arts center.  Through his plays, August Wilson always emphasized the importance of not tossing away the history of the Black experience, and the funding from this grant allows us to literally honor the ground on which he stood.” 

Mellon Foundation’s Inaugural Humanities in Place Grantees:

  • The Rebuild Foundation (Chicago, IL):  Grant of $3.5 million over two years to provide support for the completion of the St. Laurence project, including new studio, fabrication, and co-working spaces for BIPOC artists and creatives, in addition to a permanent archive for Rebuild’s collections.  Funding will also support ongoing collections work and public programming at the existing Stony Island Arts Bank and the new St. Laurence facility on Chicago’s South Side. 
  • Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice (Durham, NC): Grant of $1.6 million over three years to support renovation of the landmark home of the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray—a critical player in the fights for African American and women’s rights.  The grant will also support renovation of an adjacent structure, transforming it into an education and welcome center, exhibits, and general improvement of accessibility to the site.
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States (Washington, DC): Grant of $1.15 million over two years to support the National Trust’s Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, an initiative aimed at addressing the critical funding gap in preservation planning for the significant cultural assets at HBCUs.
  • Historical Preservation Authority of the City of Birmingham (Birmingham, AL): Grant of $1.1 million over one year to help complete restoration of the historic A. G. Gaston Motel’s publicly accessible coffee shop and dining room and the installation of interpretive exhibits on the legacies of both the civil rights movement and of Gaston, the celebrated Black businessman and Birmingham native after whom the motel is named.
  • Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (San Francisco, CA): Grant of $1 million over three years to support the organization’s efforts to improve public access and engagement and improve the museum’s digital storytelling infrastructure.
  • Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills (Deer Park, NY): Grant of $1 million over three years to support preservation of The John and Alice Coltrane Home, including general rehabilitation of the home and hiring of an executive director to lead the organization’s long-term vision for public programs and onsite artist residencies.   
  • Daisy Wilson Artist Community / August Wilson House (Pittsburgh, PA): Grant of $750,000 over two years to support the build out of the August Wilson House backyard theater, construction of a backyard environment designed by landscape architect, artist, and MacArthur Fellow Walter Hood, as well as the rehabilitation of 713 Cassatt Street—an adjacent row house—for artist residencies.
  • Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL) and University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA): The two institutions will each receive grants of $750,000 over three years to support a trans-institutional partnership for preservation education, outreach, and practice centered on Black heritage.  The collaboration aims to address historic deficits in the capacity to train, commission, and direct preservation efforts, including design, documentation, storytelling, and community development.  
  • Lower East Side Tenement Museum (New York, NY): Grant of $650,000 over two years to support a new permanent exhibit, including a recreation of the home of Joseph and Rachel Moore, a Black family who lived in Lower Manhattan during the 1860s that will be brought to life through interactive storytelling.  In addition, the grant will support a postdoctoral fellowship, and scholar consultations focused on race, migration, and American identity.
  • Sweet Water Foundation (Chicago, IL): Grant of $500,000 over two years to support the organization’s new Civic Arts Church project, which links cultural preservation, neighborhood development, and reconciliatory practices to actively re-story and reconstruct a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side that has endured decades of disinvestment.  
  • Historic Clayborn Temple (Memphis, TN): Grant of $500,000 over two years to support organizational capacity and development, community engagement, and public programming for the temple.  Most known for its civil rights legacy and as the organizing headquarters for the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ Strike, Martin Luther King’s last campaign, the temple is being restored and reimagined as a center for the arts, cultural heritage, and social justice.  
  • 1882 Project Foundation (Washington, DC): Grant of $500,000 over three years to support organizational capacity, storytelling programs for the new Chinatown Social Workplace and Story Center, and efforts for increased collaboration among Asian American organizations in their cultural and educational programs, including addressing gentrification and heritage conservation concerns in DC’s Chinatown.
  • Scalawag (Durham, NC): Grant of $350,000 over two years to support expansion of engagement programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.  In addition, the grant will support Scalawag’s Race & Place editorial efforts, which push the boundaries of traditional conversations about incarceration, segregation, gentrification, environmental racism, migration, and other issues to examine the role and legacy of race in the South. 
  • IDEAS xLab (Un)Known Project (Louisville, KY): Grant of $300,000 over two years to support a project to mark Black history and heritage in Louisville through public-realm installations and arts-based experiences.
  • Zócalo Public Square (Los Angeles, CA): Grant of $250,000 over two years to support the organization’s editorial and event series “How Should Societies Remember Their Sins?”, including written and visual essays, poems, and live and virtual events.
  • African Futures Institute (Accra, Ghana): Grant of $150,000 over one year to establish an independent graduate school of architecture and public events platform in Accra, Ghana. 
  • Black Reconstruction Collective (State College, PA): Grant of $150,000 over two years to support organizational capacity, convenings, and a new prize for Black architects and designers investigating the work of reconstruction.
  • The Soapbox Presents (New York, NY): Grant of $150,000 over one year to support community-centered arts and culture programming in Harlem and the South Bronx.

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ABOUT THE ANDREW W. MELLON FOUNDATION

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom to be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.
 

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