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Looking Back on 2021

Christa Blatchford
Jean Shin

Parasol II , 1976, abstract painting by artist Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell, Parasol II, 1976. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 105 inches (116.205 x 266.7 cm). © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Dear Community,

I hope this note finds you well as we look back on another complicated year. While 2021 has brought its share of challenges, this year we at the Foundation have been grateful to celebrate two significant milestones, representing our dual mission: stewarding Joan Mitchell’s legacy and fulfilling her mandate of direct support to artists.

In September, the long-awaited Joan Mitchell retrospective, curated by Sarah Roberts and Katy Siegel, opened at SFMOMA. This remarkable exhibition and accompanying catalogue shift the narrative on Mitchell and expand the world’s understanding of the depth of her accomplishments as an artist. It is wonderful to see the joy the work has elicited in viewers; writing for The Wall Street Journal, Lance Esplund effused, "Among these paintings, my own mouth agape, I agreed with the art historian Irving Sandler, who, in 1957, wrote about another Mitchell exhibition: "This show should be seen in the morning, for it can animate the entire day.'"

We are grateful to Katy and Sarah for their expansive vision for the exhibition and catalogue, as well as to the leadership and the many team members at both institutions whose commitment and hard work brought this show to fruition despite the obstacles posed by the pandemic.

[This] major retrospective tracks how Mitchell’s steely resolve to be written in history as one of the greatest painters produced a signature style that extended the contours of Abstract Expressionism.”

Tausif Noor, The New York Times

This year also brought the launch of the Joan Mitchell Fellowship—a rethinking of our direct support to artists from a one-time event to a five-year commitment of funding, connection, and professional development. In October, we announced the inaugural Fellows: 15 artists who will each receive $60,000 in unrestricted funding paid over five years. We will continue to award 15 Joan Mitchell Fellowships each year, making an annual commitment of $900,000 in unrestricted awards and building the Fellows’ community up to 75 participating artists at a time.

In addition to the financial support, this fellowship gives credit for the barriers I’ve broken, validates the energy I invest in my creative vision, and acknowledges the relevance of my work and my work ethic. Even as my hands grow painful from decades of sculpting, I continue to work to fully realize every day. The Fellowship registers a vote of confidence that, even at age 70, I still have more to give.”

Luis Tapia, 2021 Joan Mitchell Fellow

This year at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans, we continued to respond to the losses created by COVID-19 by providing residency opportunities to New Orleans artists—doubling the capacity of the Center by converting living spaces into additional studios. Despite the stops and starts from COVID surges and Hurricane Ida, we were able to provide 36 New Orleans artists with this opportunity in 2021—bringing the total to 54 local artists hosted in residences since the start of the pandemic. Most recently, in response to the compounding impact of Hurricane Ida on New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, the Foundation joined with other funders to support the work of the Creative Response Collaborative Relief Fund to support the City’s artists in tandem with providing relief funds directly to New Orleans-based alumni artists. You can find a full overview of our COVID-19 response here.

We had been in a state of flux without a studio to work in, and the stability and support of the residency has allowed us to flourish. The financial support has been valuable since jobs in the arts have seriously decreased during the pandemic. That said, the most important thing we have received is the friendship and community of our fellow artists and the staff of the Joan Mitchell Center.”

Milagros, Spring/Summer 2021 Artists-in-Residence,
Quoted in The Times-Picayune / New Orleans Advocate

All of this work has been possible because of the remarkable effort and persistence of our staff and board. We are ever grateful for their diligence in bringing the Foundation's mission to life. This year, we began training as a team in “restorative approaches”—a long-term commitment to centering relationships and building greater accountability in our work and with one another. As we look back on the year, we also carry forward the memory of Joan Mitchell community members who passed away in 2021, including Peter Williams, Hung Liu, and Julie Green. Each of these artists embody a remarkable commitment to their practice and to their communities, and affirm the power of art to tell our stories.

Looking into 2022, there is much to be excited and hopeful about. After the Mitchell retrospective concludes at SFMOMA in January, it will travel to the Baltimore Museum of Art (March 6–August 14), and later to Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (Fall 2022), with each venue offering a renewed opportunity for visitors to see Mitchell in a new light. Around the time the retrospective opens in Paris, a new documentary on Joan Mitchell will be released in France by Artline Films. On the artist programs side of our work, we plan to welcome national artists back to the Joan Mitchell Center in March; re-release the CALL Career Documentation Guide in May, bringing new voices to this long-standing resource; and gather the Joan Mitchell Fellows for their first annual convening in June.

Speaking recently with the Joan Mitchell Fellows, Jean shared how we see each of the artists we work with as a "Joan Mitchell" in their own right, with the ability to grow and give back to their communities in meaningful ways. Again and again, we see that generosity and know how it changes the world. As Joan Mitchell Fellow Angela Hennessy noted, “Simply put, we need artists now more than ever.” Thank you all for being a part of this work of centering artists. Wishing you a peaceful conclusion to 2021 and a wonderful start to 2022.


Christa Blatchford
, Executive Director
Jean Shin
, Board President

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