Susan Feder, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer for the Performing Arts

FUNDING AREAS: Performing arts

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: What stands out about Feder is not her lifelong devotion to music history, criticism, and publishing, nor her personal unbridled love of music. It's that, above all, Feder thinks of herself as a champion of all "generative artists," which includes not only composers, but also playwrights and choreographers.

PROFILE: Feder's work in music composition has nearly made her a household name in her own right.  She notably served as editorial coordinator of the four-volume New Grove Dictionary of American Music (1986), the musicologist's bible, and you can find her enthusiasm splashed all over the liner notes of published recordings by esteemed composers like Phillip Glass and Joan Tower. 

Before becoming program officer for Performing Arts at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2007, Feder spent 20 years nurturing the careers of composers at G. Schirmer, Inc. It took a seat at Mellon to lure her away from the excitement of working directly with artists and "hearing their music created and sustained by the world's finest performers."

Feder is intimately familiar with how difficult it is for artists to take risks while swimming against a current of funding that favors safe and market-tested work. Her commitment to musicians is paralleled in the Mellon Foundation's emphasis on new work and the artists creating it. Performing Arts grants give special consideration to artist-led programs and initiatives that direct resources to playwrights, composers, and choreographers.

If you're worried that Feder will funnel all of Mellon's Performing Arts funding into music, fear not—she gets to do that in her simultaneous role as vice president of the Amphion Foundation, which grants exclusively to contemporary concert music. At Mellon, grant money totaling upwards of $40 million per year has been equally distributed across music, dance, opera, theater, education, and cultural incubators. Regardless of the discipline, Mellon outlines that it's looking to support: Leadership and Training Development, Commission and Production Support, and Cultural Exchange.

Feder is focused on performing arts programs that bring together creators, interpreters, and their communities in support of adaptive practices and collaborations. In 2007, she was featured in a New Strategies Lab panel discussion on how orchestras can foster new and inventive ideas. And in 2010 she spoke again on Re-Conceptualizing the Symphony. She's positioned herself squarely at the intersection of pioneering and relevant, and she is calling for artists and organizations to meet her there.

Feder's passion for "the new" could be good news for underdog grantseekers. Your imagination and ability to generate more participants than spectators will speak louder than all the fancy programming of a stagnant institution. That said, Mellon's grants are invitation only, so you won't get anywhere without a certain level of visibility. When crafting your inquiry, think like Feder and champion your artists and your community.