Mission

We believe in artists and their essential role in our society.

 

History

In 2003, the Urban Institute conducted a study, which revealed that 96% of Americans valued art in their lives, while only 27% valued artists.* Motivated by the study and in response to the NEA’s severe budget cuts, four inspiring leaders of the Ford, Rockefeller, Rasmuson, and Prudential Foundations spearheaded the launch of an organization to illuminate the value of artists to American society and address their economic challenges. The organization was originally established in Los Angeles by founding CEO Katharine DeShaw in 2006, and then moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2014 under the leadership of Carolina García Jayaram. During Deana Haggag’s tenure as President and CEO, from 2017 until 2021, USA saw unprecedented growth, expanding its Fellowship award program, launching the Berresford Prize, and developing multi-year partnerships with foundations and other nonprofits to advance support for individual artists and the field. 

Since our founding, we have awarded more than 700 artists and cultural practitioners with over $33 million of direct support through the USA Fellowship. Recognizing the country’s most compelling artists in all disciplines including Architecture & Design, Craft, Dance, Film, Media, Music, Theater & Performance, Traditional Arts, Visual Art, and Writing. With this unrestricted award, recipients decide for themselves how to best use the money—whether it is creating new work, paying rent, reducing debt, getting healthcare, or supporting their families. 

Most recently, USA spearheaded Artist Relief, a $20 million emergency initiative to support artists facing dire financial circumstances due to COVID-19. Organized by a multi-disciplinary coalition of nonprofit individual artist funders, Artist Relief provided emergency grants to artists practicing across ten disciplines and in nearly every state and US territory starting in April 2020, distributing $5,000 grants for a total of more than $20,000,000.

To make this work possible, we actively fundraise each year and receive support from a broad range of philanthropic foundations, companies, and individuals committed to cultivating contemporary culture in the United States. Additionally, we work annually with select nominators, panelists, and USA’s Board of Trustees to determine each year’s class of awardees. It is through the intersection of these relationships, and in the spirit of collaboration, that we are honored to support the country’s most compelling artists and cultural practitioners.

*From “Investing in Creativity: A Study for the Support Structure for U.S. Artists,” 2003.
   

Staff

Jamie
Bennett

Interim President & CEO
He // Him // His
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Jamie is the interim President and CEO of United States Artists. From 2014-2020, Jamie was the Executive Director of ArtPlace America, which supported artists working as allies in equitable community development across rural, suburban, Tribal, and urban communities. Jamie has also worked at the National Endowment for the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the Agnes Gund Foundation, and The Museum of Modern Art. Jamie had hoped to make a life in the theatre, but during his first year in college, he was cast as an Irish soldier going off to war and had to kiss Amanda Peet goodbye. Not able to make any of that believable, a number of things fell into place for him, and he has happily been a gay audience member ever since. Jamie has been sober since 2009.

Ezra
Benus

Disability Futures Manager
He // Him // His or They // Them // Theirs
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Ezra is an artist, educator, and curator, and the Disability Futures Manager at USA. Before joining the USA team, Benus was an Erich Fromm Fellow at Paideia Institute in Stockholm and the first Access and Adult Learning Fellow in the education department at the Brooklyn Museum. He is a born and raised New Yorker (from Brooklyn and the Bronx) and received degrees in studio art and Jewish studies from CUNY Hunter College. Ezra’s own artistic practice taps into embedded Jewishness, queerness, and sickness as purviews of and navigational tools through this world. He has lectured and consulted about access and disability artistry at universities and art spaces such as Red Bull Arts Detroit, Hunter College Art Galleries, Eyebeam, SUNY Purchase, CUE Art Foundation, York College, Princeton University, and UT Austin. Ezra’s individual and collaborative projects have been exhibited at The Shed, EFA Project Space, The 8th Floor, Flux Factory, NYU’s Gallatin Galleries, Dedalus Foundation, Gibney Dance, The Laurie M. Tisch Gallery at the JCC Manhattan, Pratt Manhattan Galleries, and MMK in Frankfurt, Germany.

Kate
Blair

Communications Coordinator
She // Her // Hers
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Kate is a lover of the arts and is thrilled to support USA Communications team in telling stories about amazing work artists are creating across the country. Originally from Rochester, NY, she holds a BA in English from the College of Wooster and an MA in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago. Most recently, she served as the Marketing and Development Associate at the National Flute Association. In her spare time she writes film criticism and dabbles in fiction and poetry. She enjoys crafting vegetarian potluck dishes, attending film screenings and music shows around the city, and going on weekend hiking excursions with her wife and dog. Most evenings, you can find her reading in a cozy chair with a sleeping cat. 

Lisa
Feingold

Development Director
She // Her // Hers
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Lisa enjoys working with a small team to make a difference in the lives of artists who might otherwise be overlooked. With more than 30 years of business development and relationship management experience, Lisa has held senior corporate roles and institutional giving positions at performing arts organizations including Goodman Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Building on her affinity for dance and theater, since joining USA, she has become enamored with Craft and especially appreciates the work of potter Roberto Lugo, ceramicist Patti Warashina, and portrait quilter Bisa Butler, among others. When she’s not at her desk, Lisa enjoys playing guitar, traveling to see her kids in Boston and Seattle, and walking her dog, Darla.

Jessica
Ferrer

Program Coordinator
She // Her // Hers
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Jessica is an artist who explores forms of tacit knowledge through weaving, text, video, and sound. Her work has been shown in a few galleries and one library, but mostly lives in the homes of friends, family, and acquaintances. She holds a BA in English and Studio Art from Kenyon College and has previously worked in education and nonprofits around Chicago to develop and teach curriculum for K-12 students. Jessica is a former figure skater, current Formula 1 fan, and future fossil.

Rebecca
Haley

Development Coordinator
She // Her // Hers
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Rebecca is an arts administrator and development professional with an affinity for artists and the cultural and economic systems that support them. Originally from Philadelphia, she received her BA in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University and worked in research and strategic engagement at Pace Gallery in New York prior to attending graduate school. She has previously worked in programming, education and development at organizations such as Philadelphia Contemporary, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rebecca graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Dual Masters program in 2021 with an MA in Art History and an MA in Arts Administration & Policy. She received the department’s Graduating Fellowship Award, in part, for her thesis research focused on the relationship between trusteeship, philanthropy, and board governance at art museums, with particular attention to the unique history of the art museum trustee in the United States. Outside of work, Rebecca loves to read fiction, talk about reality television and—above all else—cheer on her Philadelphia 76ers.

Tess
Haratonik

Initiatives Coordinator
She // Her // Hers
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Tess is an arts administrator & arts organizer with a passion for working with and advocating for artists and creatives. Originally from New York City, and raised in Southern Vermont, she fell in love with Chicago’s rich arts & culture scene when she moved to Chicago as a late teen and returned after receiving her undergraduate degree in Portland, Oregon. Tess joined United States Artists as an Intern in 2018 and is delighted to continue to work with USA as Initiatives Coordinator. She received her BA in Art History from Lewis & Clark College and has an MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory & Criticism and an MA in Arts Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She enjoys dabbling in culinary arts, watching reality tv, spending time with her two cats, Toulouse and Rémy, and is guilty of having way too many coffee table books.

Anna
Harris, MBA, CPA

Finance Director
She // Her // Hers
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With over 30 years of experience in financial statement preparation, audit, treasury, and finance systems management, Anna is someone who enjoys goal-oriented initiatives and bringing the pieces together to achieve the mission.  A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Anna has worked in the accounting departments of Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, Goldblatt’s Department stores, the Academy of General Dentistry, and Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). Her interests include traveling, specifically to historical cities around the world, and experiencing local food and culture.  She enjoys mystery, adventure, and romance novels, a student of Christianity, and known to tell a good joke every now and again.

Lee
Heinemann

Initiatives Manager
He // Him // His
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Lee is an artist and organizer who is excited to join the USA Initiatives team after collaborating with USA to produce Assembly in 2017 and manage Artist Relief in 2020. Lee is the founder of Get Your Life!—a collaborative, youth-centered video production company that puts practicing artists to work producing projects written, designed, and directed by middle school students at Baltimore, MD community center 901 Arts. Lee served as the Education Director of Baltimore nomadic museum The Contemporary, which produced Get Your Life! in 2016 and 2017. Get Your Life! was in residence in the Baltimore Museum of Art with an exhibition, publication, and a series of public programs from 2018-2019. Lee has created programming for a range of cultural organizations including Oolite Arts and Kunsthall Stavanger. Lee is a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and received a BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Lily
Herzan

Administrative Assistant
She // Her // Hers
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Lily is thrilled to join USA, where she is inspired to work alongside such a passionate team. Originally from New York City, she moved to Chicago after receiving a BA in Sociology from Tufts University. Previously, Lily worked as project manager at a local beverage company, Seasons Sparkling, as well as freelancing for various arts organizations and non-profits. When not at work, Lily enjoys commuting by bike, long runs outside, and talking to any dog on the street.

Allie
Linn

Initiatives Coordinator
They // Them // Theirs
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Allie is a curator and artist motivated by collaborative institution-building, site-responsive practices, and crowd-sourced archives. They recently served as the 2019–20 Guest Curator of Gormley Gallery at Notre Dame of Maryland University and have held positions at Recess, The Contemporary, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, alongside various grassroots arts organizing. In 2014, alongside a cohort of seven artists, they co-founded Bb, a gallery and programming space in downtown Baltimore and a 2015 grantee of The Grit Fund, a Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Allie holds a BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture and Art History and an MFA in Curatorial Practice from MICA. 

Whitney
Mash Levin

Program Coordinator
She // Her // Hers
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Whitney is ecstatic to be part of the USA team! Originally from Chicago, Whitney moved to the east coast to study Art History at the University of Pennsylvania and spent several years in New York where she worked at Christie’s, coordinating sales for its Handbags & Accessories division and assisting the department’s presence in Paris, London, and Hong Kong. With a desire to shift gears and work more directly with artists, Whitney returned to her hometown to pursue a dual graduate degree in Arts Administration & Policy and Modern & Contemporary Art History at SAIC. While in graduate school, she joined USA as an intern and assisted the Communications, Development, and Program departments. Now full-time, she has never looked back! When not at the office, Whitney enjoys a good yoga session, attending theater performances, and exploring new restaurants in the city with her twin sister!

Lynnette
Miranda

Program Director
She // Her // Hers
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Lynnette studies the economy of individual artists and is committed to the well-being of our country’s makers. Originally from Miami, she fell in love with the Midwest while studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a BFA in Fiber and Material Studies. After earning an MA in Visual Arts Administration at New York University, she worked at various artist-centered organizations including Creative Time, where she coordinated the 2015 conference The Creative Time Summit: The Curriculum at the Venice Biennale. Presently, she is on the Board of Directors at ACRE Residency, a non-profit organization based in Chicago designed to support emerging artists across the country. Lynnette is obsessed with long-distance running, learning how to skateboard with her husband, sci-fi books, trashy reality television, and dancing with herself.

Nadine
Nakanishi

Designer-in-Residence
She // Her // Hers
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Nadine loves calling herself a “graphic artist” because, for her, the graphic arts precede the silos placed on contemporary art-making. She’s an image-maker, typographer, and improviser, all of which she explores through an experimental and collaborative art practice with her partner Nick Butcher under the name Sonnenzimmer from their Chicago studio. Nadine explored Asian Studies at the University of Zürich before switching her degree to Typography and fully immersing herself into the graphic world. Her favorite medium is screen printing because so many ideas flow through. Since 2006, Nadine and Nick have screen printed over 70,000 images exploring the contemporary and historic impact of the “graphic impulse” one impression and one color at a time. Her favorite color is Pantone 175, the perfect hybrid of watermelon and a Summer’s dusk moment.

Michael
Pusey

Assistant Director
He // Him // His or They // Them // Theirs
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Michael believes that artists are key to making the real world fiction and the imagined one real and is excited to support artists at USA as they continue to reconstruct what a world can look and feel like. Originally from New York and Philadelphia, Michael relocated for friendship and to engage more critically with Chicago’s rich history in politics, culture, and community-based art practices. Since living in Chicago, Michael co-developed a workshop series that taught self-care strategies for LGBTQIA+ and housing insecure individuals. Michael previously worked in reproductive justice, supporting the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health on various arts informed youth-centered initiatives. Beyond art, Michael has a not-so-secret passion for kombucha, it has shown itself in random hour-long conversations with fellow kombucha lovers at grocery stores, convincing friends and acquaintances to try the fermented wonder, and geeking out over extended periods of time when new seasonal varieties become available (elderberry, jasmine, and violet will always have their heart).

Zoë
Wallace

Development Coordinator
She // Her // Hers
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Initially starting as an intern, Zoë was thrilled to support artists alongside an incredible team. As a classical composer and guitarist, she strives to broaden the repertoire for guitar as both a solo instrument and within an ensemble setting. She premiered her two concert series pieces, “For Carl Solomon,” a guitar concerto (based on Allen Ginburg’s “Howl”) and “Erebus,” a piece for electric guitar, cello, and electronics at the Center for New Music in San Francisco. Zoë is currently part of the Chicago-based group Nightingale Ensemble which actively commissions new works for unusual instrumental pairings. When she is not at the office or performing, she can be found at the beach or at the local dog park chasing her adorable dog Quinn.

Ruby
Western

Social Media Coordinator
She // Her // Hers
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Originally from Vermont, Ruby studied painting at Smith College (where she started a monthly art show in her apartment) and the Slade School of Fine Art in London. She moved to Chicago in 2013 to perform comedy—still chasing the spotlight after playing “Plate #2” in her high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast—and hosted a weekly variety show (Quite Right Tonight) at the Annoyance Theater. After working as Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s assistant from 2013-2017, she curated two archival shows in Chicago during the summer of 2017: “AKR: A Beauty Salon” and “Lost & Found: An Exhibit Exploring Chicago’s Dyke Spaces of the ’70s and ’80s.” From there, Ruby founded her graphic design business and works as a designer and writer, focusing in art and LGBTQ health. She loves her garden and its many basils, her community, and puns. She is delighted to be part of USA, spreading the word about supporting artists through the language of the internet.

Lu
Zhang

Initiatives Director
She // Her // Hers
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Lu Zhang is a multi-disciplinary artist, researcher, and organizer. Her projects take various forms—including books, drawings, installations, interventions, and an institute. Before joining USA, Lu built resource initiatives for artists in her role as Deputy Director of The Contemporary, a nomadic non-collecting museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She has collaborated with PressPress to produce publications and the George Peabody Library to launch a studio residency program. Lu is the founder of the Institute for Expanded Research which activates sites and leverages resources to produce and present projects in collaboration with artists. She received her MFA in Painting at the Frank Mohr Institute in the Netherlands and her BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Board

Founders