United States Artists: Grants for Music

OVERVIEW: United States Artists provides unrestricted $50,000 grants to artists across all different creative disciplines including architecture & design, crafts, dance, media, music, theater & performance, traditional arts, visual art, and writing.

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. However, this is a competitive grant. It is an elusive one too; grantseekers 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 including architecture & design, crafts, dance, media, music, theater & performance, traditional arts, visual art, and writing. Support of music artists comprises a significant part of this giving.

Application for a USA Fellowship is by nomination only; nominators change year-to-year and are always anonymous. All that USA will share about their nominators is that they are 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.)

In order to get nominated by an anonymous group of arts professionals working across the United States, grantseekers should be inclusive in their music-making; the more collaborative they are, and the more broadly they showcase their work around the country, the more likely they 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 quality, creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and diversity—which is certainly reflected in the scope of performers, songwriters, music producers and instrument-makers USA has supported (see below).

And though the grant money is unrestricted, the organization has stated that more than 91 percent of the grants it has given out have been used to “develop new art,” so as a musician looking to get USA’s attention, grantseekers are better off creating new work rather than re-visiting an existing cannon.

Past music grants recipients include 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); 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 searchable database of past grantees is available on USA’s website. 

USA seeks to “close the gap between the love of art and the ambivalence toward those who create it,” believing that artists need champions and advocates. It has funded more than 400 grants so far—a good start for its own championing and advocacy.

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