Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts: Grants for Visual Arts

OVERVIEW: The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts prioritizes architecture and its role in the arts, culture, and society. The foundation gives grants to both individuals and organizations with this directive.

IP TAKE: The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts is a very niche funder. However, visual artists or arts organizations that work in relationship with architecture, or vice versa, may find several lucrative opportunities here.

PROFILE: The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts was established in 1956 by the estate of Ernest R. Graham, a prominent Chicago architect who passed away in 1936. The foundation 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.” It supports the visual arts through two grantmaking programs: Grants to Individuals and Grants to Organizations.

The foundation seeks projects for which its support will contribute to the short-term and long-term creative, intellectual, and professional success of the individual creator. Like many grantors in the arts, this foundation also seeks to support its grantees in reaching new and wider audiences. The foundation sums up its selection criteria by stating, “Overall we are most interested in opportunities which enable us to provide critical support at key points in the development of a project or career.”

But the foundation also refreshingly distinguishes itself by stating that it seeks to “support new voices by giving priority to first-time applicants.” The architecture world is largely dominated by elders in the field, but through the prism of architecture-meets-art, the Graham Foundation sees a particular value in those in earlier stages of their career. The foundation itself made headlines in 2006 when it hired Sarah Herda as its Director; at the time, she was 32 years old, and came from a background in avant-garde architecture exhibition. At the time of her hire, she stated, “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.”

For Grants to Individuals, the Graham Foundation seeks to help “develop new forms of expression” and “engage debate.” Within its selection criteria, the foundation also uses terms very familiar to those working within the arts. The Graham Foundation looks for individuals and projects that display “originality,” that are “innovative,” that are “new or experimental” in their approach, as well as work that is a “catalyst,” that “raises awareness” and “promotes diversity in subject matter, participants, and audience.” The foundation also expects these artists/architects/creators to present a concrete and feasible time line, work plan, and budget.

Past Grants to Individuals for exhibition that combines architecture and the visual arts have supported Santiago Borja, Brennan Gerard & Ryan Kelly, Del Harrow & Joshua G. Stein, Sam Jacob, Michelle Provoost & Wooter Vanstiphout, Jiminez Lai, and Bernard Tschumi, among others. The Graham Foundation’s website provides a comprehensive annual list of its grant winners to peruse. Artists/architects can apply as a pair or team. 

For its Grants to Organizations, the Graham Foundation uses the same selection criteria terminology as for individuals. It seeks to do this at an organizational level in order for presenting entities to support individual creators, as well as in the recognition that support of organizations is an important way to “promote dialogue,” create awareness, and reach out into untapped audiences. Organizations apply for support in presenting a specific exhibition. Again, the bottom line for the foundation is to help organizations “realize projects that would otherwise not be possible without our support.”

Past grants to organizations for exhibitions of architecture-meets-visual art have supported a wide range of non-profit organizations and educational institutions: Artists Space (New York, NY), the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, LAXART (Los Angeles, CA), Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s List Visual Arts Center (Cambridge, MA), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Rice University Art Gallery (Houston, TX), and the Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War (Culver City, CA).

For both the grants to individuals and grants to organizations, grant seekers should keep in mind that visual artists and visual arts organizations will be competing for funding with those working in the art and architecture fields in other ways. This foundation also supports publications, film work, conferences, and scholarly research, but support of exhibitions of artist/architecture work is the most significant aspect of the foundation’s focus.

The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts has an open application process. Applying for the grants to organizations is a one-stage process—a singular application due in February. Applying for the grants to individuals is potentially a two-stage process. An open letter of inquiry phase is due in September; a second-tier application follows for artist-architects who make the cut.

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