Don't get us wrong. We have nothing against, say, large family foundations doling out millions of dollars for an original piece of work, arts education programs, or a new library. (By now, this much should be obvious.) Elsewhere on the site, we've called these types of funders the "Medicis" of the philanthropy world—large, affluent family entities devoted to building out arts infrastructures on a large scale.
But what about the "Anais Nins" of the philanthropy world? You know, the experimental artists who, in turn, quietly fund other experimental artists?
We like those funders a lot, too. One such funder that falls into this category is the Off-Off Broadway visionary Don Russell. Another is Mike Kelley, a longtime supporter of experimental arts organizations in Los Angeles who passed away in 2012. Kelley's legacy lives on with his namesake foundation, which recently announced it will be awarding $250,000 in grants specifically designed to support LA arts groups.
Before taking a closer a look at this announcement, let's flesh out the definition of the "Anais Nin" philanthropist. Not only was the French/Cuban writer (1903-1977) a challenging and boundary-pushing author in her own right, she was primary benefactor of American writer Henry Miller.
Equipped with her wealthy husband's money, she paid for Miller's rent and living expenses for 10 years so he could write challenging and controversial fiction that subsequently went unnoticed for decades (proving, once again, that behind every successful writer is his mistress' husband's money).
And while the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts may not be paying anyone's rent for a decade, it will be funding arts organizations producing "compelling, inventive and challenging projects by visual artists or artists' collectives working in any medium."
"Mike helped establish Los Angeles as a really vibrant arts scene, and this is a part of that," says Mary Clare Stevens, the foundation's executive director. "He was very explicit in the paperwork that he wanted to fund arts organizations, especially smaller ones and ones that he believed were doing good work—work that other folks weren't paying attention to."
Applicants have until August 5 to submit a letter of inquiry, after which the foundation will invite those who qualify to submit full proposals. The application process will be completed in October, and recipients announced in March. Grants will likely be in the $500 to $50,000 range, with a focus on organizations that support artist projects. But like any good experimental arts funder, the foundation is trying to be flexible about what exactly those parameters mean.
To that end, Stevens seems to be channeling Kelley's inner Anais Nin (if such a thing were possible) when she notes, "This is LA. We're fairly cutting edge. We expect to see some great proposals."