Happy Surprise: Another Arts Funder Embraces Anonymous Nominating Grants

In the world of arts philanthropy, there's a tiny subset of grants we'd like to call "Phone Call of a Lifetime Grants." 

These grants—also known as "Email of a Lifetime Grants"—fund an artist even though she didn't apply for the grant. In some cases, the artist doesn't even know she is being considered for the grant in the first place.

One such example is the Windham-Campbell Prize to recognize writers from any country who write in English. The prize has no submission process and writers are unaware that they are in the running.

Another example is the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation's Biennial Grants, whose spirit is best summed up by artist and foundation trustee Kerry James Marshall accordingly: "Few events are more exciting and encouraging than being nominated to compete for prizes you can't apply for. It is the kind of endorsement that gets the wind at your back."

The New York City-based Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation recently announced its biennial list of 2015 grantees, who, in total, were awarded $600,000. Thirty unrestricted $20,000 grants—from a pool of 173 nominees—were awarded to artists working across a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, video, and craft media.

Much like how the Windham-Campbell Prize writers are judged under a shroud of secrecy, a cadre of art professionals from across the country selects an initial round of Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial nominees unbeknownst to them. It's only then that nominees get that phone call and submit visual images and support materials to a jury. 

These nominees are then reviewed by said jury composed of artists, critics, museum professionals, and representation from the foundation’s Board of Trustees. Awardees are selected for their talent and individual artistic strength.

And what about the foundation itself? Glad you asked. The grantmaker traces its origins back to 1918 when Louis Comfort Tiffany, a painter, interior director, and son of the founder of the famous New York jewelry store Tiffany & Co., established a foundation to operate his Long Island estate as a summer retreat/quasi-arts colony for young artists and craftspeople.

Fast forward to 1980. That's when the foundation consolidated its existing grant programs into the biennial competition where an invited jury nominates artists.

Check out the full list of winners here.