Unique Support for Architecture as Art: Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts

The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts mission statement says that it “makes project-based grants to individuals and organizations and produces public programs to foster the development and exchange of diverse and challenging ideas about architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society.”

This intersection of architecture, arts, culture, and society was established from the get-go in 1956, when the foundation was created by the estate of Ernest R. Graham. Graham was a prominent Chicago architect during his time (he passed away in 1936), creating major theaters, railroad stations, banks, office buildings and more—architecture engaged with how people live.

But the foundation has always understood and appreciated the visual arts aspect of architecture, too, and this was reinforced when it hired Sarah Herda as its director in 2006. Herda was 32 years old, and came from a background in avant-garde architecture exhibition. At the time of her hire, she said, “Architects may not be building until they're older, but they're incredibly active in their younger years. This is when more experimental work might happen.”

The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts supports architecture as visual arts by giving grants to individual content creators as well as to exhibiting organizations.

For individuals (called its Grants to Individuals program) the foundation's overall goal is to engage "in opportunities which enable us to provide critical support at key points in the development of a project or career.” Like many other visual arts supporters, the foundation seeks opportunities to expose work to new audiences, but the Graham Foundation is also refreshingly different in that it also seeks to support new architect/artists with an aim of supporting "new voices by giving priority to first-time applicants.”

In 2014, the Graham Foundation dispersed $520,000 to 68 projects initiated by individuals. Artist/architects are competing for these funds with scholars and filmmakers, but the foundation is unfailingly dedicated to the exhibition of individuals' work (which also includes teams of artists/architects). In 2014, 12 grants went to individuals for the exhibition of their work. The foundation maintains a detailed list of its grantees and their work, which you can peruse here.

For its Grants to Organizations program, it seeks to support organizations that will showcase the work of individual creators, and the foundation also recognizes that its support of these organizations is an important way to “promote dialogue,” create awareness, and reach out to untapped audiences. Organizations apply for support in presenting a specific visual arts-meets-architecture exhibition. Again, the bottom line for the foundation is to help organizations “realize projects that would otherwise not be possible without our support.”

In 2014, the Graham Foundation gave out $480,000 to 42 projects spearheaded by organizations. Visual arts organizations are competing for these funds with conferences and publications, but the support of organizations that exhibit is a signficant focus of the foundation. In 2014, 20 exhibiting organizations received grants. These included galleries, cultural foundations and independent museums (all non-profits), as well as university centers.

The Graham Foundation isn't geographically biased; grants to both individuals and organizations working with architecture as visual art have gone to exhibits in big cities and smaller towns coast-to-coast in the United States (as wel as veturing beyond U.S. borders).

Grants for individual artist/architects and for organizations are both an open application process. The former is a two-stage process with an initial deadline in September; the latter is a one-stage process with a February deadline.

Related - Graham Foundatin for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts: Grants for Visual Arts