OVERVIEW: United States Artists provides unrestricted $50,000 grants to artists across 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 filmmakers is a significant aspect of this giving. 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 eight different creative disciplines that USA delineates as Architecture & Design, Crafts & Traditional Arts, Dance, Literature, Media, Music, Theater, and Visual Arts.
Support of filmmaking primarily falls under USA's "media" category, though every once in awhile it can fall under "visual arts" too, depending upon how you approach your art. USA supports fictional filmmakers, documentarians, experimentalists, and animators alike, with the product either being short or long form.
In 2014, more than nine percent of all grants went to filmmakers. In 2012, that piece of the pie was 14 percent. (There seemingly were no awards given out in 2013, but other than that, there have been numerous every other year since at least 2006—and 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 visual arts professionals working across the United States? First, be inclusive in your filmmaking 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.
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 filmmakers USA has recently supported.
The filmmakers awarded 2014 grants were all under the umbrella of the "media" category: Sydney Freeland (Los Angeles-based); Ken Jacobs (New York City-based); and Ryan White & Ben Cotner (Los Angeles-based).
In 2012, video and film installation artist Kerry Tribe (based in California) was awarded a grant under the visual arts category. In the media category, among the winning filmmakers were Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia (New York-based); Margaret Brown (Alabama-based); Lee Isaac Chung (New York-based).
USA believes in "risk-taking as central to promoting the power of art in American life and creatively impacting the world.” They have distributed over 450 grants so far—a good start for its own championing and advocacy.