Art Matters Now More Than Ever. Here's a Funder That's Long Backed "Artists as Activists"

It seems like every week I write a new post looking at the omnipresent "artist as activist" trend that's so big in arts philanthropy right now. But there's been a lull as of late. Seems like I have some catching up to do.

So here's the latest installment.

The latest news comes to us from Art Matters, a New York City-based foundation whose mission is to support "experimentation in the arts." In fact, while the "artists as activist" may be the cool new kid on the art philanthropy block, Art Matters has been doing their thing since 1985. Founder Laura Donnelley wanted to assist artists struggling to say something with "bite and punch," artists who made “art that mattered.”

Due to lack of funds, Art Matters went on a hiatus from grantmaking starting in 1996. By that time, the foundation had given over $2 million to almost 2,000 artists. That hiatus ended in 2005 when Donnelley and the board restored Art Matters' grants program. Since 2007, the foundation has given over 300 grants to U.S. artists for fellowships and collaborative projects all over the world.

Which brings us to the present day. In December, the foundation announced it awarded 26 artists with grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 for ongoing work and projects that "break ground aesthetically and socially." You can check out the winners here.

Commenting on the winners, Art Matters Director Sacha Yanow said, "We are thrilled to support this extraordinary group of artists from across the U.S. Their practices are diverse, engaging issues of social justice and experimenting with form. We feel their voices are particularly important at this moment in the world, and through our funding we hope to help amplify them."

Yup, the arts world is freaking out about Donald Trump's election, too. And Yanow is right that activated artists have an important role to play right now. In fact, given what's going on politically, our bet is that grantmaking for artists as activists will only increase in coming years. To the extent that Trumpism is a cultural phenomenon, it make sense to fight it with cultural tools. And in an "all-hands-on-deck" moment, look for more funders in the arts space to find a way to step up. As we've said before, if you're an artist-activist, you're living at the right moment (at least when it comes to snagging a grant.) 

Art Matters considers applications by invitation only. Each year it selects a group of artists, curators, and other arts leaders from across the country to nominate artists to apply. Priority is given to artists working with "social issues and experimenting with form." It funds activities at any point in the artistic process, from early research to production and presentation.

Click here for more information and to check out winners dating back all the way to 1985.

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