Why Is Mellon's Big Give To New York's Performa So Important?

You've got to give the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation credit. Some foundations take a wait-and-see approach toward larger trends in the nonprofits arts space — which, quite naturally, isn't an inherently bad thing. After all, with millions of dollars at stake, who can really afford too many multi-million dollar gambles that don't pan out?

Foundations can be particularly cautious across certain verticals that are susceptible to trends beyond their control. It's like how investors nervously watch the Fed. Foundations strategically allocate dollars based on the actions of third parties like government entities or private corporations.

But when it comes to articulating a vision for Ph.Ds in the field of humanities, Mellon isn't waiting around. Someone has to articulate a vision for the new curators of the 21st century, to which Mellon says, "Well, why not us?"

It recently awarded a $460,000 grant to New York's Performa, which will fund four new positions to coincide with events and programs tied to the arts organization's biennial celebration. More importantly, the fellowship's job description essentially acts as a road map for the types of skills humanities Ph.Ds will require in the future. For example, fellows will (and we're summarizing here):

  • Work with Performa staff to coordinate talks and events.
  • Develop new research projects.
  • Help produce live performances.
  • Work on developing editorial content for Performa Magazine.

Click here for a full listing of the fellowship's roles and responsibilities.

Applicants must have been awarded a Ph.D degree in either Art History, Performance Studies, Dance Studies, or related fields. The position is paid and full-time for two years, starting spring 2015.

To apply, qualified candidates should send their completed application, including a cover letter, CV, and two writing samples, one of which must be a dissertation chapter, to jobs@performa-arts.org with "Mellon Fellowship" in the subject line.

One last thing: We recently posted a piece on Mellon's concurrent work on boosting minority representation in the curatorial field. In it, we expounded on the fact that, while its $250,000 grant to Atlanta's Spelman College created supply by generating a pipeline of qualified minority curatorial candidates, it didn't create demand.

In an interesting twist, Mellon's gift to Performa does, in fact, create demand. Using Performa's upcoming biennial celebration as a pretext, the gift creates four positions out of whole cloth to supplement the organization's five-person curatorial staff, further proof that Mellon relishes its role as rule-maker.