Inside Philanthropy on the Joan Mitchell Fellowship: "From an Award to an Investment”

For Inside Philanthropy, Mike Scutari interviewed Kay Takeda, Deputy Director, Artist Programs, about the strategic vision behind the new Joan Mitchell Fellowship. An excerpt follows; the full article is available here.

When the New York City-based Joan Mitchell Foundation embarked on a five-year strategic planning process in 2019, a big focus was how it could be more effective at supporting individual artists. The past year has only underscored the importance of such funding, as the sector’s historically tepid support left working artists uniquely vulnerable during the crisis.

“Outside of project funding, many grants to individual artists are one-time awards,” said Kay Takeda, the foundation’s deputy director of artist programs, when we spoke last March. “Very few funders commit to individual artists on a multi-year basis. Now might be a good time to consider why not.”

It’s against this backdrop that the foundation recently announced one of the outgrowths of its strategic planning exercise—the Joan Mitchell Fellowship, a new program that will annually award 15 artists working in the fields of painting and sculpture with $60,000 each in unrestricted funds. The award will be distributed over five years, with artists receiving an initial payment of $20,000 and annual installments of $10,000 across the subsequent four years.

Having funded artists at the $25,000 level for over 15 years, the foundation’s case for substantially increasing our grant was clear.”

Kay Takeda, Deputy Director, Artist Programs

Takeda was calling for more of this kind of funding back when the pandemic first hit, and a year later, the need is still strong. She frequently talks with artists facing losses from cancelled engagements and navigating speaking opportunities in the “geographically untethered world of Zoom,” often without offers of compensation. Some are staring down depleted savings, mounting debt, and increasing housing and food insecurity. Others are emerging from the pandemic relatively unscathed.

“There is no single story, although these conditions speak to a need for greater and more equitable capitalization of artists over a period of years as an essential part of rebuilding our arts ecosystem,” she told me. “For us, this makes asset-building and investment approaches even more necessary.”

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