The idea of the misunderstood artist or the piece of work that subsequently finds acclaim many years later is permanently etched in our collective psyche.
Moby Dick, for example, was a certifiable flop on its release, selling only 500 copies in the United Kingdom. As clichéd as it sounds, it may take generations for critics and the general public to appreciate an artist and their oeuvre. What's inspiring is when the artist establishes a foundation attuned to this very premise—funding experimental artists with an emphasis on the quality of the work itself, rather than its potential for mass commodification and capitalization.
Such is the case with Joan Mitchell Foundation. As we previously noted in a piece on the foundation's work in establishing New Orleans as an arts mecca, Mitchell set up the foundation before her death in 1992. The seed money, which came from the loan and sale of Mitchell's paintings, drawings and prints, was expected to generate a modest $500,000 a year in interest.
But a strange thing happened. Mitchell's reputation grew beyond anyone's wildest expectations. The foundation had $600 million in assets at the end of 2012, a nifty chunk of change that helps it to support diverse contemporary artists. Case in point: The foundation just announced the winners of its Painters and Sculptors Grant Program. Launched in 1993, the program acknowledges "painters and sculptors creating work of exceptional quality through unrestricted career support."
The foundation invited nominators from across the U.S. to submit artists at any stage in their career, whom they felt deserved "more recognition for their creative achievements and whose practice would significantly benefit from the grant." The foundation does not accept unsolicited applications or nominations.
The 25 winners, who were selected by a jury panel, will receive $25,000 each. Click here for the full list of winners.
Other foundation programs include its Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) program, established in 2006, which provides support to older artists in creating a comprehensive documentation of their careers, and its Art Education program, established in 1997, which provides opportunities for both emerging youth and young adult artists through inclusive and diverse arts education programming.
At the end of the day, the Joan Mitchell Foundation's work is a kind of perfect storm of arts philanthropy — including a forward-looking and talented founder, the beauty of compounding interest, and a financial commitment to unheralded artists.
If only the same could be said about Melville. He only earned $10,000 for his writing during his lifetime, and when he died in 1876, all of his books were out of print. To add insult to injury, the London Spectator wrote that Ahab's long ramblings in his magnum opus "induce weariness or skipping."