United States Artists: Grants for Journalism

OVERVIEW: United States Artists provides unrestricted $50,000 fellowships to artists across different creative disciplines.

IP TAKE: United States Artists gives out $50,000 unrestricted fellowships directly to artistic creators each year. It's notable that this is an organization that perceives journalists as potentially being artists—a key factor being the creativity and platform with which a journlist reports his or her story. It's a competitive grant. And it’s an elusive one too; you must be nominated for it, and the nominators are anonymous.

PROFILE: United States Artists (USA) was established in 2005 by the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson and Prudential Foundations to “invest in America’s finest artists and illuminate the value of artists to society.”

Today the organization is funded by a range of foundations and individuals, and has its own permanent endowment that allows its USA Fellows program to provide unrestricted grants of $50,000 each to as many as 50 creative artists each year across different creative disciplines that USA delineates as Architecture & Design, Crafts, Dance, Literature, Media, Music, Theater & Performance, Traditional Arts and Visual Arts.

USA primarily supports audio and visual media-based journalists, with support falling under its "media" umbrella, though it has also shown support of print-based journalists under its "literature" categorization. In 2014, more than nine percent of all grants went to journalists.

It's notable that USA defines journalism—or at least some of it—as art. Journalism most likely to "qualify" fits within the organizaiton's “values:” Quality, creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and diversity. Creativity and innovation are two terms not always thrown around in the assessment of journalism, so they are particularly distinguishing characteristics when it comes to USA's interests in journalism. This is an organization that looks for journalists to be inspirational creators.

With something this fantastic and fantastically unique in the journalistic realm, you’re probably worried there’s a catch. And there is one, to a degree. Application for a USA Fellowship is by nomination only; nominators change year-to-year, and they’re always anonymous. All that USA will share about their nominators is that they're always a “group of arts leaders, critics, scholars, and artists who live in every state throughout the country, from small communities to major metropolises. They work in diverse practices across virtually every artistic discipline.” (There is a separate group of panelists who will assess the applications of those who are nominated and apply, and USA does share the lists of its previous panelists, which is also very diverse in geography, artistic discipline, and profession. Therefore those lists provide potential insight in terms of the nature of the anonymous nominators too.)

How do you get yourself nominated by an anonymous group of journalists and media professionals working across the United States? Beyond touching on all of the "values" USA prioritizes, be inclusive in your storytelling, reporting, and sharing; the more collaborative you are, and the more broadly and diversely you showcase your work around the country, the more likely you are to hit on one of these anonymous nominators.

Journalists recently receiving a USA grant under the media umbrella include:

  • Barrett Golding (Bozeman, MT-based), the founder and Executive Producer of Hearing Voices from NPR and whose work has also been heard on CBS Radio, American Public Media, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, PRI, Voice of America, and the BBC;
  • Kara Oehler & Ann Heppermann (Cambridge, MA-based), radio and multi-media producers who created Mapping Main Street and whose work has aired on This American Life, Morning Edition, and Marketplace;
  • Yowei Shaw (Philadelphia-based), a radio producer whose work has been showcased on This American Life, Studio 360, NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and created Philly Youth Radio;
  • Nicholas van der Kolk (Berkeley-based), who created his own podcast (Love + Radio) and Megapolis Audio Festival, and also contributes to NPR's Snap Judgment;
  • Ryan White & Ben Cotner (Los Angeles-based), whose work includes documentary specials for PBS and CNN.

Journalists who recently were awarded USA grants under its literature umbrella include:

  • Achy Obejas (Oakland-based), a monthly columnist for These Times and a contributor to the Chicago Tribune; 
  • Greg Tate (New York City-based), described as a "cultural critic," journalist and musician, who has been lauded as "one of the 'Godfathers of Hip-Hop Journalism.'"

A full list of Media and Literature grantees since 2006, is on USA’s website. The media grantees also include documentary filmmakers who often bridge into journalism; more inspiration for your pursuit of this grant.

USA wants to “close the gap between the love of art and the ambivalence toward those who create it,” believing that artists needs champions and advocates. It's given out some 400 grants so far—a good start for its own championing and advocacy.

PEOPLE: