At United States Artists, trusting artists informs everything we do. We strive to place money, opportunities, and power into the hands of artists, knowing that they will make the best decisions about how and when to use those resources.
Over the past year, we have been able to grow our investments in artists. In response to the ongoing pandemic, we joined with six other organizations to raise $25 million to provide financial relief to 4,682 artists.
We were also able to grow our ongoing support for artists. This year, we awarded more USA Fellowships than we ever have before, providing sixty artists from rural, suburban, Tribal, and urban communities across this country with $50,000 each in unrestricted support. We also launched two new Fellowship programs with our partnering organizations: The Knight Arts + Tech Fellowship and The Rainin Fellowship (which invests in artists living and working in California’s Bay Area).
As we approach the end of this year, we are committed to our work of bringing together our colleagues, donors, and partners across the field and around the country to envision and enact an even more robust ecosystem that uplifts and celebrates artists and, more importantly, one that also trusts them.
Thank you for sharing that trust.
Interim President and CEO
He // Him // His
Learn more about the 2021 USA Fellows here.
Photo by Gale Zucker.
[ID: Carolyn, an African American woman, sitting in her studio surrounded by beadwork. She wears a green shirt, smiles at the camera.]
“I like to make pieces to make people stop and think and maybe change their attitude about some certain thing. For me, the artwork is about education.”
From an interview with Cincinnati Public Radio.
JanpiStar, 2019. Photoshoot for AXIS Dance Company. Photo by David DeSilva.
[ID: JanpiStar, a Puerto Rican wheelchair user, springs from their chair, supporting themselves with their lower limbs and their upper limbs open like wings. They wear a red long sleeve shirt, long black pants, and printed sneakers.]
“I feel that my work as an artist is validated by receiving this fellowship…I think artists need more support like this because art is important for our society and sometimes we don’t have the necessary resources to work and create.”
From an interview with Dance Enthusiast.
Portrait photo by Marisa Klug-Morataya.
[ID: Salvador, a Latinx man with dark wavy hair and a black mustache, stands against a green bush. He is wearing a mariachi suit without the hat.]
“We are creatures who have the urge to create for function, for food, for shelter, for beauty, and for self-expression. Craft is a form of resistance and acceptance, and it helps us connect as humans.”
The 2021 USA Fellowships were generously made possible by: Anonymous, Sarah Arison, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Laura Donnelley/Good Works Foundation, Shawn M. Donnelley and Christopher M. Kelly, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, David Horvitz and Francie Bishop Good, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Steven H. and Nancy K. Oliver, Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, Reis Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Fred and Eve Simon Charitable Foundation, The Todd and Betiana Simon Foundation, Paul and Annette Smith, Walder Foundation, Katie Weitz, PhD, Windgate Foundation, USA Ambassadors, USA Board of Trustees, and USA Endowment Fund.
She // Her // Hers
In a year when resources continued to be in high demand and donors were hearing from many organizations in need, we felt it was important to engage our supporters with even greater sensitivity and care. We set out to meet donors where they are and were blown away by the generosity of our institutional and individual funders, Fellows, and Board who joined us in helping to make a pivotal difference in the lives of artists and the arts ecosystem.
Photo courtesy of Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
[ID: Lulani, a Native Hawaiian woman wearing an a`ahu `aha, coconut cord wearable piece made by artist Marques Marzan and matching hoop earrings over a black dress, smiles warmly at the camera.]
“There are two Hawaiian values that inform my leadership. ‘Hoomau’ which means persevere, persist and drive forward, and the value of ‘nalu,’ which generally means to ride the wave, go with the flow, and let others step ahead. The lesson is that as a leader, you don’t always have to be the one driving the process. My leadership style is really about balancing those values, and creating ‘lokahi,’ which means balance and harmony.”
From Colors of Influence.
Photo by Bryan Mitchell, courtesy of Grantmakers in the Arts.
[ID: Photo of Roberto, who wears glasses and a grey suit and grins at the camera.]
“It’s thoughtful for a foundation supporting artists to think about what kind of support system they have. There’s nothing glamorous about being the stage manager or the house manager, but they’re incredibly important to the production.”
From an interview with KQED.
She // Her // Hers
As practitioners who have made their care for the artistic community keenly felt throughout their careers, Lulani and Roberto represent complementary approaches to supporting and elevating artists in our society. Lulani has long been an advocate for investing in diverse indigenous communities on a national scale, and Roberto’s thinking on the politics of space and belonging has been seminal to the cultural policy sector. They are ideal recipients of the Berresford Prize, as they represent a deep commitment to artists, placing them at the heart of their life’s work.
We continued our programming of Virtual Salons, giving access to intimate and rich conversations with USA Fellows to all of our supporters and friends. We were delighted to feature incredible artists like Ann Hamilton, Natalie Diaz, Lee Isaac Chung, and Nicholas Galanin in conversation with arts leaders across the country, diving deeper into questions artists are grappling with today. It is through these gatherings that we strive to bridge the gap between artists and individuals who love art!
We took our Artist Crawl virtual this year to the expansive communities of Alaska! The Artist Crawl, our annual donor event, highlights the cultural fabric of a city or region that has a concentration of USA Fellows. Given the flexibility of virtual settings, we charted across the various regions of the great state of Alaska to celebrate the breadth of artists and the communities they live and practice within. We went to the studio of woodcarver Nathan P Jackson, listened to the tunes of musician Stephen Qacung Blanchett, heard from politician and author William Hensley, and participated in nearly a dozen experiences of Alaska’s vibrant art scene. Many thanks to the Rasmuson Foundation for making this virtual Artist Crawl possible!
She // Her // Hers
By moving the Artist Crawl to a virtual platform, we had the perfect opportunity to foster connection and curiosity with our Alaskan Fellows in a way that wasn’t feasible for an in-person event given the size of the state. Through studio visits, artistic interludes, and conversations, participants were able to gain a deeper insight into the unique history and culture in Alaska and enjoy rich and meaningful engagement with the artists.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
[ID: In a workshop, Nicholas Galanin wears overalls over a t-shirt and leans over an animal fur, which he is painting bright blue using a broad brush.]
“The USA Fellowship has been deeply impactful on my life and creative practice. The greatest part about being a USA Fellow alumnus is the connections I have been able to make with other Fellows. We have shared, collaborated, and continue to grow in this space. I have been grateful to be part of the USA Alumni for several years now and look forward to meeting future Fellows.”
I was not Discovered, 2015. Photograph, 36 × 48 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.
[ID: Photomontage of visitors to a bronze statue of Captain Cook, around which Da-ka-xeen Mehner has installed large, steel, knife-like sculptures. In several places the artist stands facing the camera with his arms crossed.]
“The work that I do is part of the tradition, that I am adding to the culture, and it is a continuum of that tradition. I’ve come to consider myself a traditional artist, but in a modern context, doing it my own way.”
In April, our Program and Communications team launched our first editorial project, New Suns: Listening with Artists, an online publication of commissions, experiences, and stories from artists. We have been working with artists in unrestricted ways through our award programs and wanted to expand on what “unrestricted” could mean within content development and editorial processes.
The commissioning process is generative and flexible, an exchange between our staff and the artists, who are provided a paid space to reflect, practice, and play. We also wanted to create a space for audiences to get a more intimate look at how artists process new ideas, ask bigger questions, and make outside of a traditional context. This year we worked with nineteen artists across three issues to think through the possibilities and limits of the future, kinship, and notation.
In March, our Initiatives team launched Shift Space, a digital publication exploring the field of new media and the creative practitioners who are building, expanding, and transforming it. The publication spotlights the inaugural class of Knight Arts + Tech Fellows through a diverse collection of essays and interviews. We welcomed artist and researcher Salome Asega as our Guest Editor and commissioned eight new texts highlighting the fellows and the field. The first issue explores emerging technology as both a dangerous source of algorithmic bias, technofetishization, and surveillance, as well as an imaginative platform for gathering, collaboration, and future-building.
She // Her // Hers
One of the most important questions we ask ourselves throughout the New Suns editorial process is, “What is fair to ask of an artist?” From the types of commissions we propose to how much a contributor gets paid, our team strives to facilitate a process that respects their labor and time. We are also firm believers in the idea that working small doesn’t mean thinking small, so most pieces can be encountered in the same amount of time as a coffee or lunch break while still delivering a surprising message.
They // Them // Theirs
Artists work within an ecosystem of writers, critics, and curators, and these roles are interconnected and symbiotic. Shift Space provided us the opportunity to support the key writers in this field, especially during a particularly precarious year for freelancers, while also surrounding artists with substantial research and writing about their work.
Our foundation partners, the Ford and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations, renewed Disability Futures for two additional fellowship cycles. Launched in 2020, Disability Futures is aimed at increasing the visibility of disabled creative practitioners across disciplines and geography and amplifying their voices individually and collectively. The fund supports disabled creative practitioners whose work advances the country’s cultural landscape across disciplines, including art, film, and journalism. Over the course of the initiative, Disability Futures will award sixty fellows with unrestricted funding of $50,000.
The Knight Arts + Tech Fellowship provided $50,000 in unrestricted funding to artists whose practices span across Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, immersive installation, performance, Artificial Intelligence, and more. The inaugural Knight Arts + Tech Fellowship cohort are critically examining and innovating within their practices while advancing the field of technology and new media.
The Rainin Fellowship celebrates Bay Area artists working in dance, film, theater, and public space who are anchors in their communities. Fellows receive $100,000 in unrestricted funding and supplemental stipends to holistically support their lives and professional goals. Examples of what artists have used this supplemental support for include design support, financial planning, legal services, and mentorship opportunities.
Photo by Ryan Collerd, courtesy of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
[ID: Camae and Rasheedah, collective members of Black Quantum Futurism, stand in front of a beige stone wall. Camae has long locs and wears a jean jacket and camo shirt, and Rasheedah wears a black dress, white tassel earrings, a beaded yellow necklace, and blue lipstick.]
“The work is about developing and building tools to create alternative futures for ourselves and recover our past.”
From an article in WHYY.
Photo by Lisa Keating.
[ID: Margo, an African-American woman wearing a bright pink and yellow top, dangling metal hoops, and pink lipstick, beams into the camera against a bright red background.]
“[The Rainin Fellowship] solidified the fact that all the work I’ve done is paying off. Not just because of the financial award, but because of the true recognition for the work I’ve done in the Bay Area. . . I decided long ago that this was my home and I wanted to dedicate my energy and time to a community I believe in. I’m so happy that I did because I have built relationships that have carried me through my career and will carry me through my lifetime.”
From an article in KQED.
[ID: Mia Mingus, Perel, and Ryan J. Haddad in conversation during the Disability Futures Festival Session “Description, Language, and Access.” They each appear in individual squares of a grid.]
“When we are able to come together I think there is such an amazing magnificence to that. I think [for] people in an ableist and capitalist society, vulnerability is seen as such a weakness… [but] actually, in a disability justice world where we embrace interdependence and embrace need, in the ways that steel can hold up a bridge or hold together a building, it can actually be used to forge structures and forge powerful things that can house us.”
From the Disability Futures Virtual Festival session, Description, Language, and Access.
To celebrate the inaugural cohort of twenty Disability Futures Fellows, we co-curated the Disability Futures Festival, which gathered creative practitioners, field leaders, and funders across disciplines in conversation and celebration. We worked closely with participating fellows to design each session. Held virtually over two days this summer, the festival highlighted fellows and their collaborators to an audience of almost 2,500 attendees.
Responding to the ongoing health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Artist Relief mobilized a vast network of partner organizations and funders to provide $5,000 emergency grants directly to artists facing dire financial circumstances. While the fund initially closed grant-making in December 2020, we were able to relaunch the effort in early 2021 thanks to a generous $1 million lead gift from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation matched by the artist-endowed foundation community and other supporters. By the time the fund closed in June 2021, the total amount raised for Artist Relief was over $25 million, with over $23.4 million that went directly into the hands of 4,682 artists in need.
Disability Futures Manager
He // Him // His
They // Them // Theirs
The Disability Future Fellows expressed the need for more opportunities to come together and connect across discipline and geography, especially as the pandemic kept us apart. We addressed this through the Disability Futures Festival curation process which opened opportunities for building fellowship and fostering new collaborations between fellows. It was deeply moving to have facilitated and witnessed the magic that happens in bringing artists together, in offering space and support for deep connection and new artistic collaborations.
Our work on Artist Relief sparked increased interest in the Fellowship and how United States Artists is evolving, which led to important new and renewed support. To enhance digital communications, we featured original creative content by USA Fellows in our online newsletters to amplify their voices and put more funds into the hands of artists. With a focus on building a grassroots following, we also launched the Show Up For Artists virtual campaign, raising more than $50,000, which will allow us to make a 2022 Fellowship possible. From philanthropic foundations to corporate and government donors to art enthusiasts across the country, our work would not be possible without a loyal network of supporters of all sizes to whom we extend huge gratitude!
Our staff is motivated by the idea of trusting artists at every step of the way. Many of us are artists ourselves, and the trust we extend to artists is born from a culture of care, respect, and collaboration among each USA staff member. Every part of our process — programming, research, communications, fundraising, budgeting, financial processes, database maintenance, and so on — is framed through the lens of our mission. We often ask ourselves: Are we supporting artists in the best way possible?
Listening is an important part of our process, not only to the artists and funders we work with but also to one another. We respect the breadth of knowledge, curiosity, and love that each team member brings to the organization and hope the work embodies this spirit.
Anna Harris, MBA, CPA
She // Her // Hers
Going into the second year of the pandemic the goal was two-fold – to support the staff’s emotional wellbeing and assist them with any barriers to working remotely. We accomplished these goals by shortening the workweek and assisting staff with at-home expenses like internet, office furniture, or electronic equipment. We also provided well-being days and one-on-one personal check-ins with every team member. These measures also helped us complete Artist Relief, a major endeavor that required collaboration and support from all departments. Our support structures for staff and collaborative work culture helped USA issue the most artist awards to date for the organization.
[ID: a collage of individual staff photos, each one overlaid with filters of purple, green, yellow, or red. The photos are arranged in a grid so that staff members appear to look over the frame at one another.]