Our Learnings from 2020

Christa Blatchford
Ron Bechet

Landscape for a Friend, 1977, abstract painting by artist Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell, Landscape for a Friend, 1977. Oil on canvas, 24 x 69 7/8 inches (60.96 x 177.483 cm). © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Dear Artists and Colleagues,

What a hard, complicated, and intense year this has been for us all. As 2020 comes to a close, we are still deep in the pandemic, and deep in uncertainty. We want to take a moment to reflect and share the Foundation’s response over this year.

We’ve centered on our values.

Throughout 2020, we have looked to our core values to guide how we responded internally and externally to the evolving landscape. These values include being artist centered, cultivating a culture of generosity, and upholding our commitment to equity.

We organized with other funders for greater impact.

In March, our Artist Programs team recognized the devastating scope of COVID's impact on artists. We knew we needed to step forward, especially given our history of providing emergency grants, but it was clear we couldn’t do it alone. The needs of this time demanded partnership and coordinated effort. The Foundation pooled our emergency resources with more than 50 other arts funders—including many other artist-endowed foundations—to help launch rapid response grants to individual artists through Artist Relief. The initiative opened in April with $10 million in funding and has grown to a $20+ million national fund. To date, the fund has directly supported 3,600 artists across the U.S. We took a similar approach in New Orleans, home to the Joan Mitchell Center Residency. We contributed to the New Orleans Creative Response Relief Fund, a local initiative that raised and distributed more than $700,000 in COVID-19 relief grants to artists living and working in the Greater New Orleans Metro area.

Thank you for the beam of hope. But that’s what JMF is. Through it all you have, without fail, placed the spirit of art and the soul of the artist above all else.”

Arlan Huang, grant recipient

We re-envisioned how our assets could be put to work in service of artists.

Early in the year, we implemented a process of closely reviewing our budget each quarter, reorganizing our priorities for 2020 and applying any savings to direct aid to artists. In total, we more than doubled our annual grant budget by distributing $1 million in COVID relief: $478,000 in contributions to Artist Relief, $100,000 to the New Orleans Creative Response Relief Fund, and $433,500 in individual need-based grants to our community of alumni artists.

We looked deeply at our resources and considered the best use of the facilities at the Joan Mitchell Center, our artist residency center in New Orleans. After temporarily closing the Center in March to prevent COVID exposure on site, we saw the need to pivot the program to ensure artists could safely utilize the space. By early summer, our team had redesigned the program as a socially-distanced local residency, focusing on private studio space and virtual professional development for New Orleans-based artists. In addition, by converting bedrooms typically used by visiting resident artists into studios, we nearly doubled our available studio spaces. The locally focused program opened in September, and will be our model through the end of 2021.

We’re affirming our commitment to direct, unrestricted support to artists.

Since our formation, unrestricted support to artists has been central to the Foundation’s work. This year has only underscored the crucial need for significant, flexible financial support to stabilize artists’ practices over the long-term and break the project-to-project funding cycle. Holding firm in this commitment, in October we awarded unrestricted grants of $25,000 each to 25 artists across the country through our annual Painters & Sculptors Grants. We will soon announce our plans to deepen the grant's impact in future years.

[The grant] served as a guidepost during this year, the most unhinged, unpredictable year in a century. There were no instructions to turn to, nor roadmap to shepherd us through the dark night, yet the Joan Mitchell Foundation award was solid ground for me, a lifeline in 2020... The award acted as a positive example of what art institutions can do to sustain creativity and to build hope for a more equitable future.”

Gabriel Martinez, 2019 grant recipient

We’ve focused on fully sustaining our team.

In the face of the pandemic and related site closures, we have worked to ensure employment stability for our full- and part-time staff in New York and New Orleans. In turn, our team has shown tremendous flexibility and care in meeting the challenges of these times, working smarter and in new ways to ensure that our dual mission of supporting artists and stewarding Joan Mitchell’s legacy has continued without interruption.

We continue to apply an equity lens to our practices and priorities.

Over this year, in order to advance equity within our organization and in our work, we have begun the process of clarifying equity-related roles and responsibilities at the staff and board levels; completed an external full-staff compensation analysis; adopted a secular approach to paid holidays; and started mapping an equity framework for hiring. We’re identifying clear, actionable diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in each department for 2021. Building on racial equity trainings undertaken in 2018 and 2019, we are excited for our staff and board to embark on training in a restorative approach to strengthening working relationships. With the ongoing support of our Equity Committee, we continue to be committed to the learning, attention, and action that is required for building a substantial equity culture throughout the Foundation.

All of the work noted here is ongoing and ever-evolving. We look forward to keeping you informed as we continue to plot our path forward.

On behalf of all of the staff and board of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, we wish each of you a peaceful close to the year, as we look forward to a NEW year and the hope that it brings. Thank you for being a part of our community.

Sincerely,

Christa Blatchford, Executive Director
Ron Bechet, Board President

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