OVERVIEW: United States Artists provides unrestricted $50,000 grants to artists across nine different creative disciplines.
IP TAKE: United States Artists gives out as many as 50 unrestricted $50,000 grants directly to creative artists each year. Support for music is a significant part 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 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 eight different creative disciplines that USA delineates as Architecture & Design, Crafts, Dance, Literature, Media, Music, Theater & Performance, Traditional Arts and Visual Arts.
Support of music artists comprises a significant part of this giving. It made up more than nine percent of all fellowships in recent years. (All of the winners are searchable by year and/or category on USA’s website.)
With something this fantastic, 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 arts professionals working across the United States? First, be inclusive in your music-making; 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.
Also, be aware of USA’s guiding “values,” because they certainly apply to the selection of fellows. USA seeks to support quality, creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and diversity—which is certainly reflected in the scope of performers, songwriters, music producers and instrument-makers USA has recently supported (see below).
And though the grant money is unrestricted, the organization has stated that more than 91 percent of the grants it's given out have been used to “develop new art,” so as a musician looking to get USA’s attention, you’re better off creating new work rather than re-visiting an existing cannon (or, if you do so, approach it in a radically new way).
The music creators selected for the USA Fellowship recently were an eclectic trio: Allison Brown (a Nashville-based banjo player and scholar); Daoud Haroon (a Durham, NC-based trombonist and percussionist); and Meshell Ndegeocello (a Brooklyn-based bassist and songwriter).
Recent music grants recipients included Jack DeJohnette (a New York-based jazz drummer, pianist, and composer); the duo of Colin Jacobsen & Eric Jacobsen (New York-based founders of two string instrument ensembles); Claire Lynch (a Tennessee-based bluegrass singer and songwriter); Joanie Madden (a New York- based whistle player, flautist, and composer of Irish music).
A full list of music 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 more than 400 grants so far—a good start for its own championing and advocacy.