Foundation History

In October 1992, Joan Mitchell passed away in Paris. Continuing the generosity she showed to other artists during her lifetime, Mitchell’s will called for the creation of a foundation to “aid and assist” working artists and serve as the chief steward of her legacy. These two distinct yet intertwining components of Mitchell’s life and vision have remained at the core of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s mission, driving all of our work. We see the Foundation as a gift from one artist to many artists.

Since its inception, the Foundation has worked through several distinct phases of focus, each defined by the need to find balance between the Foundation’s dual purposes, setting a trajectory of sustaining our mission-based work into the future. We offer this overview of the Foundation’s evolution as a case study for other foundations and an affirmation of the power of artists and their legacies.

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, 1983. Photograph by Robert Freson, Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives. © Joan Mitchell Foundation.

1993-2003: Formation & Start Up Phase

In accordance with Mitchell’s will, the Joan Mitchell Foundation was incorporated in New York City in 1993 by Mitchell’s attorney and executor of her estate, John Somers. Over the next ten years, Mitchell’s estate was in a protracted settlement process. As with many artist-endowed foundations, the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s operating model uses funds from strategic sales of artworks in the Foundation’s collection to grow an investment portfolio and support mission-driven work.

While Mitchell’s estate was being settled, the Foundation began its work with modest resources. Carolyn Somers, the daughter of John Somers, led the Foundation in establishing its charitable purpose and through a subsequent decade of programmatic growth. This period was centered on start up and programmatic goals, as the board and staff considered what meaningful support for artists should be, as an extension of Mitchell’s life and legacy. In these early years, defining new programs also laid the groundwork for the Foundation’s core values: a commitment to equity, being artist-centered, and embodying a spirit of generosity.


Formation of the Foundation’s first Board of Directors


Inaugural group of Painters & Sculptors Grant recipients.

Eighteen artists are selected for the first Painters & Sculptors Grants, each receiving unrestricted awards of $10,000 to further their artistic practices and careers. With the goal of identifying artists from diverse backgrounds who are making extraordinary work in the fields of painting and sculpture, each year the Foundation invites a national pool of nominators to recommend applicants for this grant. Grantees are selected by an outside jury, with special attention to artists who are deserving of greater recognition on a national level.

No Rain installed at the Museum of Modern Art.

The Estate of Joan Mitchell gifts four significant Mitchell paintings to The Museum of Modern Art: Grandes Carrières (ca. 1962), No Rain (1976), Wood, Wind, No Tuba (1979), and Untitled (1963).


Tiro al Blanco by Raymond Saa, MFA Grant Recipient

Foundation introduces a second grant program, the MFA Grants, to recognize promising artists and support their transition out of graduate education. Artists in the final year of MFA programs are nominated by a national network of professors. Awards are selected through a jury process.


Joan Mitchell by Klaus Kertess, 1997

Curator Klaus Kertess’ monograph on Mitchell is published by Harry N. Abrams, with the support of Mitchell’s Estate.

Artist-Teacher and young artist during Saturday Studios.

Foundation begins the Art Education Program to serve New York City youth, with Saturday classes taught by working artists at community centers throughout the city.


Foundation steps forward to provide financial support to New York artists who suffered studio losses from the September 11 attacks.

Papers and posters in the Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives

2004-2014: A Decade of Expansion & Innovation

In 2004, Mitchell’s estate was settled and the Foundation received the bulk of its artwork collection, along with Mitchell’s archives, inclusive of student work, photos, letters, and personal objects. The Foundation expanded its staff accordingly to enable projects related to collections management. With the art collection in its possession, the Foundation began loaning artworks to museum exhibitions and worked with Cheim & Read on numerous exhibitions of Mitchell’s work. Increased revenue from artwork sales ushered in a decade of profound organizational growth, as the Foundation deepened and expanded its support for individual artists and began to fund organizations supporting visual artists nationally.

This period was marked by an interest in being creative and innovative in the Foundation’s programs for artists, with a willingness to venture into new areas of support as needs dictated—an approach inspired by artistic practices and what it means to sustain a lifetime of creativity.


Ginseng Extract by Renee Stout, 2005 Painters & Sculptors Grant Recipient.

Painters & Sculptors Grants increase to 25 grants of $25,000 per artist.

Rontherin Ratliff, Emergency Grant Recipient © Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

In response to Hurricane Katrina, the Foundation formally establishes Emergency Grants to provide direct financial support to artists re-establishing their practices after a disaster. More than 80 Gulf Coast artists receive grants of up to $6,000.

Participants contributing to Mel Chin’s “F.R.E.E. (Fundred Reserve Even Exchange) Bank of America, L.I.C.” at How Much Do I Owe You? exhibition by Organizational Grant Recipient No Longer Empty.

Foundation launches Organizational Grants, providing funding to arts organizations nationally that support visual artists in their communities, with an emphasis on ongoing support to organizations in New Orleans.


Clockwise from top left: Mildred Howard, Elemore Morgan, Jr., Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and Freddy Rodriguez

In an effort to support studio documentation and legacy planning for older artists, the Foundation launches the Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) initiative with grants and hands-on assistance to four pilot artists.

2007 - 2008

jumpstART artists preparing work for exhibition at CUE Foundation.

Art Education Program launches two teen programs: the jumpstART studio intensive program, pairing arts education with professional development training in partnership with CUE Art Foundation (2008-2016), and the Summer Portfolio Intensive, focusing on college art applications and preparation.


Foundation organizes a symposium on Joan Mitchell in New Orleans, concurrent with Mitchell exhibitions at Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Contemporary Art Center.

Legacy Specialists working with CALL Database in the studio of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, 2012

CALL initiative develops a Legacy Specialist curriculum, offering training on best practices to support artist studio organization, inventory management, and archiving. This group of knowledgeable and qualified artists become available to assist their peers and the field.

To complement its grant programs and deepen its relationships with artists, the Foundation purchases 2275 Bayou Road in New Orleans as future site of the Joan Mitchell Center artist residency program.


Foundation concludes MFA Grant program, reflecting a desire for the program to reach artists from a broader range of backgrounds and artistic experiences.

Foundation works to seed CALL programs nationally by awarding grants to four artist-centered organizations to adapt the CALL model for artists in their communities: Artist Trust (Seattle, WA), Bronx Council on the Arts (Bronx, NY), DiverseWorks (Houston, TX), and Space One Eleven (Birmingham, AL).

Foundation publishes first edition of the CALL Career Documentation Guide, reflecting a commitment to making the CALL program’s legacy planning tools accessible to all artists.


Installation views of Minnesota and ephemera from the Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives at the Poetry Foundation.

Foundation co-organizes symposium and exhibition Joan Mitchell: At Home in Poetry at Poetry Foundation, Chicago, Illinois.


Executive Director Carolyn Somers departs after more than 20 years with the Foundation.

Foundation partners with Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston to release the Estate Planning Workbook for Visual Artists.

Artist Tomie Arai and staff Kay Takeda with Joan Mitchell's Rivière, installed at David Zwirner New York

2015-Present: Strengthening Focus, Ensuring Sustainability

In its first two decades, the Foundation’s commitment to supporting artists at all career stages inspired a robust range of programs. When Christa Blatchford stepped into the role of director in 2015, board and staff leadership took a step back to consider the scale of the Foundation’s charitable work in relation to its sustainability. The Board and leadership carefully examined the Foundation’s roster of programs, with an eye toward clarity of vision, alignment with the priorities Mitchell set forth for the Foundation, and ensuring the Foundation’s stability in perpetuity. This led to the closing of the Art Education Program and refocusing of grant programs to affirm the Foundation's focus on unrestricted support for individual artists.

During this period, the Foundation’s board and leadership also developed a vision for Mitchell’s legacy in the next decade. The Foundation launched the Joan Mitchell Catalogue Raisonné as an independent research project and deepened staff skill-sets in the areas of collections and archives management, database development, conservation, and research.


Official opening of Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans. With ten studios and lodging for eight, the Center offers time and space for creative development and risk-taking, as well as opportunities to connect with fellow artists, arts professionals, and the vibrant New Orleans cultural community. Local artists and artists who have previously received grants from the Foundation are eligible to apply for one- to five-month residencies.

Detail of Joan Mitchell's Ladybug, 1957

Foundation establishes the Joan Mitchell Catalogue Raisonné, an independent project researching Mitchell’s paintings for the eventual publication of a multi-volume book documenting all of the artist’s painted work.

Installation view of Joan Mitchell Retrospective: Her Life and Paintings at Kunsthaus Bregenz. © Markus Tretter

Foundation supports Joan Mitchell retrospective at Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria. The exhibition travels to the Museum Ludwig in Germany.

Foundation begins partnering with VoCA (Voices in Contemporary Art) to produce an annual series of in-depth interviews with artists who participated in the CALL program, recognizing the artist's voice as essential to the understanding of their practice and legacy. CALL/VoCA Talks are typically presented publicly, with edited video recordings available online and preserved with full transcripts at the NYU Fales Library.

2015 - 2016

Joiri Minaya, Container, 2015

Foundation pilots Emerging Artist Grants over two years, awarding $12,000 to 10 recipients annually from across the U.S. The program concludes after its second year to focus grantmaking on Painters & Sculptors Grants, as inclusive of emerging and established artists.


Foundation concludes the Arts Education Program and its grants to arts organizations, re-focusing on direct support to individual artists through unrestricted grants, residencies, and professional development.

2017 - 2019

Foundation pilots Early Art Practitioners programs over three years, with residencies and professional development opportunities tailored to artists under the age of 26.


Foundation partners again with Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston to release Estate Planning for Visual Artists: A Workbook for Attorneys & Executors.

Installation view of Joan Mitchell: I carry my landscapes around with me at David Zwirner, New York.

Foundation shifts gallery representation to David Zwirner.

2019 - 2020

Baltimore Museum of Art
Baltimore Museum of Art © Eli Pousson

Foundation supports research for Joan Mitchell retrospective, co-organized by Baltimore Museum of Art and SFMOMA, and accompanying catalogue.


The changes of the past five years have realigned and strengthened the Foundation. During this period, we have focused on right-sizing the operating scale of the Foundation, clarifying vision and goals, taking stock of our impact, and prioritizing key strategic decisions to further the mission and expand Mitchell’s legacy. Our programmatic work is informed by our values in response to these crucial questions: Who becomes an artist? Who is recognized? Who is remembered?

Looking to the future, we are excited to continue being a resource and innovator in our field, demonstrating the importance of artists and their work, and the power of Joan Mitchell’s vision of generosity.

Celebrating Our Impact


In unrestricted funds distributed to individual artists


Artists awarded grants


Young artists supported or educated


Artists hosted in residencies at the Joan Mitchell Center


In funds given to organizations providing artist support