Widening Circles: Tomie Arai

To celebrate the Joan Mitchell Foundation's 25th anniversary, we invited 25 artists to reflect on the impact of receiving support from the Foundation over the years, and to share how they activated the resources provided by the Foundation. We collected their stories, along with studio portraits of the artists by photographer Reginald Eldridge, Jr., into an exhibition and book entitled Widening Circles: Portraits from the Joan Mitchell Foundation Artist Community at 25 Years. Here is the 2nd story in our series, from Tomie Arai:

When the gift moves in a circle, its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be a part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith.
–Lewis Hyde

As one of the first artists to be awarded a Painters & Sculptors Grant in 1994, this year’s 25th anniversary also marks my 25-year connection with the Joan Mitchell Foundation—a connection that deepened into a working relationship when I joined the Foundation’s board of directors in 2010.

In the inaugural year of the grant program, I was invited to meet the other 17 grantees at a reception that was held at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. Posing together for the first group photograph of Joan Mitchell Foundation grant recipients, I remember the thrill of standing alongside Melvin Edwards, Howardena Pindell, Leonardo Drew, Terry Adkins, Tyrone Mitchell, and Emilio Cruz—artists who were each, in their own way, trying to change the face of the art world.

Since that very first round of grant recipients, I have always regarded the Foundation as a space of generosity. Direct and unrestricted support to artists is a rare gift, and in the spirit of reciprocity, my work with the Foundation has allowed me to reimagine a world in which cooperation and creativity across cultures, genders, borders, and race are valued and protected. By participating in the Foundation’s ongoing conversations about the need to build a more equitable and inclusive arts community, I’ve had the privilege of advocating for artists who truly reflect the diverse worlds in which we live. In the words of Lewis Hyde, these acts of social faith have been set in motion by a circle of giving. By joining this circle, the relationships I have built with artists, cultural spaces, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation have sustained my art practice and light my way in these very dark times.

Tomie Arai is a public artist whose work examines issues of cultural equity. A cofounder of the cultural collective The Chinatown Art Brigade, she lives and works in New York, NY.

© Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

Read more about Widening Circles and download the full book here.

All photos © 2018 Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

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