United States Artists: Grants for Visual Arts

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

IP TAKE: United States Artists gives out as many as 50 unrestricted $50,000 grants directly to artistic creators each year. Support for visual artists is at the forefront of this giving. Needless to say, this is a competitive grant. It’s an elusive one too; you must be nominated for it, and the nominators are anonymous.

PROFILE: United States Artists (USA) was created in 2006 by the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson and Prudential Foundations to “address the lack of unrestricted funding available to artist.”

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 eight different creative disciplines: Architecture & Design, Crafts & Traditional Arts, Dance, Literature, Media, Music, Theater, and Visual Arts.

Support of visual arts is at the forefront of this giving, through the formally titled Visual Arts category, and also extending into Crafts & Traditional Arts and even Architecture & Design. As you well know, an artist's disciplines can be fluid; and sometimes the "category" under which an artist gets funding reflects this. It goes both ways. Many of the awardees of Visual Arts grants also work in live performance and/or film, for instance (see recent grantees below).

As USA formally categorizes it, Visual Arts accounts for almost 22 percent of all fellowships in 2014—and Crafts & Traditional Arts makes up more than 12 percent. In 2012, the Visual Arts category accounts for 16 percent of all grants, while Crafts & Traditional Arts hits 12 percent. (There were seemingly no awards given out in 2013, but other than that, there have been numerous grants every year since at least 2006—and all of the winners are searchable by year and/or category.)

Again, the catch here is that application for a USA Fellowship is by nomination only; nominators change from year to year, and they’re always anonymous. All that USA will share about its 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 visual arts professionals working across the United States? First, be inclusive in your art-making and sharing; the more collaborative you are, and the more broadly you showcase your work around the country, the more likely you are to hit on one of these anonymous nominators.

USA seeks to support quality, creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and diversity—which is reflected in the scope of visual artists whom USA has recently supported. (In particular, the grantees' geographic diversity reflects that it's easier to work anywhere as a visual artist as opposed to as a theater or dance artist, for example.)

Recent awardees in the Visual Arts category were Willie Birch (a New Orleans-based artist who works in a variety of media); Sandow Birk (a Long Beach, CA-based mixed-media artist); Edouard Duval Carrié (a Miami-based painter, sculptor, and curator); LaToya Ruby Frazier (a Chicago-based photographer and media artist); Mary Heilmann (a New York City-based abstract painter); Leslie Hewitt (a New York City-based artist who works in photography, sculpture, and site-specific installations); and Wangechi Mutu (a Brooklyn-based artist who works "on paper," "in space," and "in motion").

Recent USA Visual Arts fellows include Judith Baca, (a California-based artist who was the founder of the first City of Los Angeles Mural Program in 1974); Dawoud Bey, (a photographer from Chicago who uses the museum as an active and collaborative space to produce work and to let his audience participate in his projects); Frank Big Bear (a Duluth-based artist who has been drawing since he was a young boy).

Crafts & Traditional Arts grantees reflect the fluidity within the categorized Visual Arts. The distinction between the two categories seems to be based in the traditions that inspire creation (though even that isn't a strict line between the two categories). The 2014 Crafts & Traditional Arts grantees were Marcus Amerman (a Kooskia, ID-based "Choctaw bead artist who uses traditional Native American techniques to create contemporary art and imagery"); Einar de la Torre & Jamex de la Torre (San Diego-based brothers originally from Mexico who "work together to develop their signature style mix media work with blown glass sculpture"); Darryl Montana (a New Orleans-based "Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas 'Hunters' Black 'masking' Indian Tribe").

A full list of Crafts & Traditional Arts grantees since 2006, as well as a full list of Visual Arts grantees since 2006, is on USA’s website.

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 450 grants so far—a good start for its own championing and advocacy.


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