It has been a time of deep transformation for us at United States Artists. In one of the most complicated years in recent history—an ongoing pandemic, an uncertain economy, and a moral confrontation of our society’s responsibility to equity and justice for all—our organization dedicated this year to listening and learning together. Over the course of the year, things were made possible by collaborating with one another and building coalitions with artists, advisors, donors, and colleagues across the field. In 2020, with the partnership of countless people, United States Artists has helped distribute nearly $25 million to artists and thinkers across the country between our awards and various other funding initiatives.
None of this would be possible without the help of our incredible team, who work hard, but more importantly, work together, to fortify the organization with their diversity of viewpoints, life experiences, and cultural backgrounds. It is in this spirit that we have invited members of our team to share insights into their work in their own voices. I hope you enjoy this year-in-review as much as I enjoy working with these wonderful colleagues.
On behalf of our team, we are grateful to be able to continue supporting artists and look forward to learning together in 2021. Cheers.
President & CEO
She // Her // Hers
Learn more about the 2020 USA Fellows here.
We reached fifty awards for the first time since the organization moved from Los Angeles to Chicago!
“The application questions were refreshingly open-ended and ‘holistic,’ focusing on the applicant’s sphere of experience and personal perspectives—rather than being project-specific or budget-focused.”
— 2020 Film Applicant
Our unrestricted award is open to artists across every career stage—emerging, mid-career, established, and everything in between.
Each year we welcome a class of individuals who bring their unique perspectives, representing the breath of lived experiences from across the country.
The 2020 USA Fellowships were generously made possible by: Anonymous, Sarah Arison, Barr Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, Ann M. Hatch, David Horvitz and Francie Bishop Good, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Steven H. and Nancy K. Oliver, Pillars Fund, Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, Rasmuson 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 Charitable Foundation, Helen Zell, and the USA Board of Trustees.
For the first time since the organization moved from Los Angeles to Chicago in 2012, we were able to fund fifty artists thanks to our visionary donors who understand the power of artists. This accomplishment, occurring prior to the pandemic, set our team up to fundraise for as many USA Fellowships as possible for the 2021 cohort in an unexpectedly precarious fundraising landscape.
With many organizations and individuals stretched thin, we cast a wide net and are working to underwrite as many awards as possible in 2021 to support artists who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. As our nation reckons with widespread racial and social injustice, it is more important than ever to invest in the power of artists to open hearts and minds.
“I make art because it helps me breathe. Art helps me understand our world and our people, and by doing so I understand so much more about myself. My art helps me remain present and engaged. I make art because it continually reminds me that I’m alive.”
[ID: A picture of Nathalie Joachim. A Black woman wearing gold dangling earrings, pink lipstick, and a peach-colored blazer against a soft yellow background. She looks directly into the camera with a calm and focused expression.]
“This [award] will not only allow me to be a better writer, but, more importantly, it allows me to be a better community member. A better partner, a better son, a better sibling, a better friend, and a better dog owner. All of these things fuel my curiosities and make me a better creative.”
[ID: A picture of Hanif Abdurraqib. A Black man wearing a marble grey baseball cap and colorful green and orange floral shirt. He gazes into the camera as one arm crosses his chest and the other arm touches his beard.]
“As an artist, I hold on tightly to the magic of dreaming, but that can become difficult when working hard to pay bills causes exhaustion and defeat. With this award, I am able to dream bigger, more fully, and I can continue creating art that comes from my soul.”
[ID: A picture of Sophia Nahli Allison. A Black woman looking out into the distance and smiling slightly. She stands in a wooded area with many trees and is wearing a velvet lavender-colored top, burgundy lipstick, and glasses with a slight pink tint to their frame.]
“I knew I wanted to be an artist when I realized that it was the only thing that worked on alleviating the unrest in my soul.”
[ID: A picture of Clint Ramos. An Asian American man with black hair and one eyebrow slightly raised as he looks directly into the camera. He’s wearing a black sweater, and in the background is his studio with illustrations on the wall and table behind him.]
“Artists create the visual record of our history but often we feel tiny as individuals in a large field and even longer history. Collectively we are very mighty and have the power to create change.”
[ID: A picture of Jennifer Ling Datchuk. A biracial Asian American woman with mid-length black hair gazes directly into the camera. She’s standing in front of a large green agave plant and wearing a colorfully embroidered western-style shirt.]
Our work relies on relationships with artists and cultural practitioners in each of the disciplines we represent—learning with and from them to evolve our processes and offerings.
Beyond the $50,000 unrestricted award, we were able to keep offering individualized Certified Financial Planning to our awardees, which coincided with the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, in response to the nationwide calls for justice and an end to systemic racism, we allocated funds towards justice organizing efforts across the country and gave each 2020 Fellow the opportunity to select an organization or mutual aid fund in their community to receive a $1,000 donation on their behalf. These donations also helped us better understand the network of incredible organizing and advocacy programs across the country that are committed to fighting for a more just world.
Our team understands the impact of the pandemic on the livelihoods of artists while they navigate an unprecedented landscape. For this reason, our 2021 application process has been simplified and updated to consider these unexpected circumstances and the financial realities faced by artists. Applications will be reviewed based on an understanding that the pandemic has affected the production and presentation of new works. One of our biggest takeaways from this past year has been to streamline processes for artists as much as possible while still holding space for their varying needs. Rather than retrofitting a one-size-fits-all approach to our work, we’ve built opportunities to cater more directly to artists’ individual strengths, capacity, and preferred communication styles.
Our goal remains the same: Advancing the well-being of our country’s artists and culture makers. The lessons we learned in 2020—those of adaptability, patience, and compassion—will be our guiding light as we navigate uncertainty and transition.
For over five decades, Bryant has been committed to creating space and opportunities for those around her. In 1979, she opened Just Above Midtown (JAM), a New York City artists’ space that launched the careers of many of today’s most well-known Black artists. Since 2008, she has been working on Project EATS, an urban farming initiative she founded.
[ID: A picture of Linda Goode Bryant. A Black woman with red glasses and shoulder-length brown locs wearing a black shirt and jacket. Bryant stands in front of a lush urban farm with a red brick building in the far background.]
“The making of art is uniquely human, and it enhances who we are and how we relate to one another. It makes us more empathetic and understanding of the world around us. It helps us relate to people who we don’t see as similar to ourselves. All of us who make this thing that’s called art, no matter what form it is, understand this.”
[ID: A black-and-white image. Bryant looks through the viewfinder of a movie camera and adjusts the lens.]
It only makes sense that Linda Goode Bryant, our visionary 2020 Berresford Prize winner, has been dedicated to urban farming over the past decade. She is a life-long gardener, after all, creating new contexts for people to grow and flourish together. Linda tended to Black artists and artists of color at a time when the art industry was overtly racist and unwelcoming. She nourished artists’ careers and offered a space for new and undervalued voices to emerge. She is a generative force that emanates into the field, planting seeds and influencing future generations.
Cultural practitioners like Linda, whose career has been spent caring for artists, are vital to our work. Honoring a context-creator and space-maker acknowledges the ways in which our field must continue to shift the conditions for artists beyond individual support. For me, this prize aims to shed light on the generosity, reciprocity, and sheer tenacity it takes to shift a cultural ecosystem, to change the game for artists.
Our tagline, “Believe in Artists” has been incorporated into our logo for some time now. It’s an interesting one, as it almost functions as a caption to a painting, asking the viewer to step into a new world, while also blankly staring at the reader with an unspoken question.
Graphic art has always been a powerful space for me to find refuge—it is a wormhole, one that is so big, you can’t see it, and so wide, you don’t feel it envelop the world. It is a collapsed space, and yet ever-present and expanding as a surface. Graphic art has its own logic. It is free from institutional knowledge because it sits beyond chronology.
It is the reason why you can enjoy a 5,000-year-old pattern without knowing anything about it, and why that 5,000-year-old pattern never loses its appeal. This wormhole is home to the graphic impulse, from where it operates in all its expression and manifests itself into many portals. These portals will either invite you to step into a newfound landscape, or they might just simply stare at you. You will find yourself simultaneously bystander and participant.
As our industrial structures are getting decentralized, and thus distribution is finding its own automatization for new channels, how can we retain a visceral layer of human activity when making something simple like a web banner? How can we be active agents in ushering in spaces for personal felt encounters? One way is perhaps not to enforce control over an outcome (assets), but partake in the unfolding of a shared and shaped narrative (process). This space between seeing and feeling is the ever eternal ground, the luscious garden of graphic metamorphosis, where it will always find a reason to greet you, and say, “Why it’s fancy having you here!”
2019-2020 interns Rebecca Haley, Hyun Jung Jun, and Onyx Montes spent the academic year crafting their creative vision while working closely with our staff.
Being an intern gave me the opportunity to learn the nuances of fundraising for an unrestricted artist award and the value we put into trusting artists completely. Anthology created such a special space for us interns to collaborate, experiment, and connect with the 2020 USA Fellows in a personal and focused way. We devised snacking as a thematic lens through which to discuss the small, quiet moments that flow through an artist’s life between producing, performing, and exhibiting. I’ve come to learn that this organization believes in the artist as a whole person, honoring their needs and celebrating the vibrancy they bring to our lived experiences, which is a sentiment I carry with me as I continue to work as a new member of the development team.
This year, we announced Artist Relief and Disability Futures, our first partner initiatives. Across these two funds, we helped distribute over $21 million in direct support to artists and creative practitioners across the country. These initiatives have provided invaluable learning opportunities as we continue to build flexible frameworks of support for artists, listen to understand the resources they need, and expand the tailored services we offer. We look forward to announcing several new funds in 2021 and engaging additional partners as we explore opportunities for research, field building, and artist support.
Coalition Partners: Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists.
From April through December, we managed over 150,000 applications from artists experiencing financial emergencies around the United States, including American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
The need-based application reflected the extreme circumstances artists, especially artists of color and artists with disabilities, are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Transgender and other LGBTQIA artists were also more likely to experience dire need as a result of the pandemic.
Building out Artist Relief posed a wide range of challenges as we worked in coalition to distribute resources to those most in need as quickly as possible. Over the course of three weeks in March, we had to design and launch this new emergency grant program with decisions being made virtually, quickly, and—somehow—unanimously. The response from artists was immediate, the degree of need was overwhelming, and the demand was unceasing. It was a reminder that in times of crisis, the arts ecosystem, with its especially precarious economy dependent on freelance work, philanthropic support, and mutual aid, is left particularly vulnerable. To create more stability in the field moving forward, we must continue to work together to build long-term and accessible frameworks of support.
Through the American for the Arts survey released in partnership with Artist Relief, we learned that 62% of artists in the United States are now fully unemployed and 80% have no path toward financial recovery. Our work with Artist Relief put us in direct contact with many of these artists, and reinforced the idea that it is imperative that we recognize artists as workers and as people who have bills to pay and families to care for.
One key takeaway from this initiative is that a few organizations working effectively together can accomplish a great deal. The generosity of spirit that all the coalition members, reviewers, and other collaborators brought to the fund was impressive. Together, we learned to be nimble, to respond to rapidly-changing circumstances, and that doing all of this required us to trust one another and anticipate degrees of uncertainty in the process.
During this time, I reflected on adrienne maree brown’s book, Emergent Strategy, particularly in the way she takes inspiration from flocking behaviors, such as the murmuration of starlings. To stay in formation requires us to understand our place in the group and particularly to understand our relationships to those nearest to us in the formation. Artists are part of our flock, and we need to be responsive to their needs as those needs continue to change.
“I use Radical Visibility as a call to action to dress in order not to be ignored; to reject ‘passing’ and assimilation.”
[ID: A Filipinx nonbinary person throws back their head and smiles joyously. They have tan skin and wear a magenta, purple, and turquoise headpiece made of metallic scales. They’re wearing a magenta and green chain link top with protruding sculptural shoulders, colorful gloves with metallic scales, and purple lipstick.]
“[ My work ] comes from an understanding of disability as culture, disability as community, disability as aesthetic—disability in an intersectional way.”
[ID: Alice balances on her hands, arms straight, and on a pair of silver crutches, lifting her lower body and wheelchair high. Alice’s head is tucked and her short curly hair peeks out from behind her strong arms. She is wearing a shimmery gold bodysuit.]
“Often hearing people are the ones who are looking and creating history … But as my art becomes bigger and I have a larger platform, I think it’s a nice way for me to look at myself almost as an archivist. I’ve made work. I’ve put it in history, and as that continues to grow, hopefully so does the awareness.”
[ID: A Korean-American woman sits at her studio desk in a mustard chair and looks coolly at the camera. She has warm light skin, long straight black hair, blunt bangs, and wears dark lipstick, round glasses, a casual black button-down, and long striped shorts.]
“Accessibility is often thought of in relation to the idea of clarity or transparency or coherence, but I think disabled people also deserve access to the incoherency of the experience of art.”
[ID: A smooth, white television monitor attached to a robotic arm extends into an empty art gallery and plays a daytime talk show. Caption reads: “After 8 hours, ah” and “Oh look at that.”]
There have been so many lessons from the Disability Futures initiative, which we have been working on for over two years, including the deep need for field-wide leadership around accessibility, language, and structural support for disabled artists and their practices. Most notably, we learned that care is the ultimate currency and access is a practice of care that needs to be engaged at every level for an organization to best support its community. Looking ahead, we will continue to audit our infrastructures to ensure we are deepening our commitment to access, care, and disability justice.
Our ongoing conversations about programs revolve around centering artists and maintaining a sense of community. The inclination had typically been to ask variations on that oft-heard and oft-dreaded question, “What are you working on right now?” We learned firsthand, however, that this phrasing failed to encapsulate what it is that artists do and why they matter.
We really wanted to know more about why artists do the work that they do. With that in mind, we resisted the temptation of outcome-oriented inquiries in our triannual awardee newsletter and instead asked open-ended questions about their process and motivations. We ended up with much richer interviews that shed new light on them as people, as thinkers, and of course, as makers. As we move into 2021, we are inspired by these initial attempts at sustained conversation and storytelling by, for, and with artists, and are excited to develop an ongoing space for more artists to share their perspectives and lived experiences.
Potter Ehren Tool demonstrated wheel throwing while discussing his practice, artistic process, and what receiving the USA Fellowship grant meant to him during our fall Virtual Salon. Moderated by President and CEO Deana Haggag.
[ID: Film frame of Ehren Tool. A white man with a beard seen wearing blue work overalls. He is sitting at his pottery wheel, holding an unglazed cup with his right hand. Tool looks at the cup with a slight grin. In the foreground are several unglazed cups.]
“I get really excited about art that is so unstable that it offers more questions than answers. Even in its assurity and resolve, it leads me to a feeling of possibility or potential unknowns.”
[ID: A photo of Cauleen Smith. A Black woman with short black hair wears a geometric black and white face covering and tortoiseshell sunglasses. She stands in a cemetery near an aged tree.]
“The idea of ownership was introduced by Westerners who came to our islands. The Hawaiian world view places man last in the order of evolution and is given the kuleana (responsibility) to mālama (protect) all that has come before him.”
[ID: A photo of Vicky Holt Takamine. A Native Hawaiian with long brown hair wears a black dress and yellow patterned scarf. She smiles as she dances on stage with two other performers. The other performers are wearing black button-up shirts and jeans.]
“Projects I’ve worked on began as imperatives propelled by anger, sympathy, or a desire to help. It’s obvious looking at the world today that working on justice is a long game that requires a strategic response and lots of self-care.”
[ID: A photo of Ayumi Horie. An Asian American Woman with brown hair pulled back. She’s wearing red glasses, a polka-dot button-up, and blue jeans. She sits with a smile in the corner of her home filled with natural light, a yellow curtain, and a yellow and white wall.]
USA Fellows are the best advocates for illustrating the importance of artists and, by extension, why our work is necessary in the field. When in-person gatherings were no longer feasible, we adapted our Salon events to a virtual setting for supporters and friends to hear firsthand from our Fellows about their practices and artistic processes.
Our gatherings, whether in-person or online, offer an intimate, behind-the-scenes experience with artists and are intended to encourage conversation and connection between artists, supporters, and friends. We are pleased to highlight these experiences using the digital environment and hope they spark curiosity about the unique ways artists work across disciplines, geographies, and contexts.
This year called for a different approach to social media. Experiencing the pandemic and racial justice movements online felt like a mixture of community connection and *doom scrolling*. So, we made a few major pivots.
For us, it was important to step back and use our platform to amplify the work of Black artists who are foundational to our nation’s cultural memory and legacy. We also wanted to speak directly to artists who were feeling alone and unsure about their livelihood by sharing resources and small moments of hope through poems and prose. Ultimately, we put out a lot less sarcastic memes and biting humor and filled that void with sweetness and support. This year has been about making space, whispering instead of shouting.
[ID: A collage of the USA staff headshots on a scrapbook that reads “XOXO.”]
At the beginning of the pandemic, working from home was a temporary solution as we moved through months of not knowing what was to come. Since then, we have had to figure out how to support each other and maintain office culture remotely. We mitigated the practical needs of our team to ensure that our communication, technology, systems, and employee benefits supported the individuals who make up our organization. It has been far from easy, but we have learned to adapt our processes in a way that has had a positive impact on our workflow and relationships. More than anything, this year has affirmed that embodying our values of flexibility and generosity will pay tremendous dividends in the long run.
I joined the team in April as an intern at the beginning of the pandemic and at a moment where urgency in the field was palpable. When I started, there was so much confusion and uncertainty, which was somewhat mitigated by jumping into the demanding world of Artist Relief. This experience was my first glimpse into the powerhouse of collaboration that is this organization’s foundation: The team is united by a dedication to support artists even in rapidly changing circumstances.
In October, I transitioned into a full-time position that requires me to interface with every department. I have always been a very collaborative worker, and while starting a new job remotely is not easy, any worry I had about being able to connect and integrate with the team was assuaged by their compassionate energy and steadfast motivation. I am excited to continue working with staff as we brainstorm new ways to engage our online workspace, such as our new book/tv/movie club, and find moments to keep in touch beyond our work.
“2020 was a year of unforeseen challenges. Taking stock of all we accomplished this year, I believe our team was able to respond so capably because the work of supporting artists is at the core of what we do. Through our awards and work on Artist Relief, we were able to provide artists with financial security in a time when it was most critical, and we will continue to do so.”
[ID: A photo of Ed Henry. A white man wearing an all-weather black jacket smiles at the camera. He’s standing outside near a dock of boats with fall season trees in the background.]
“The future is uncertain, but it is the responsibility of artists to embrace change and offer new visions to lead us through volatile times. I am grateful for the work United States Artists has done this year to support artists and to ensure they have the financial security and space to continue making—to recognize possibilities, to open imagination, and to be part of exploring solutions for a future together.”
[ID: A photo of Ann Hamilton. A white woman wearing a black top smiles joyfully. Hamilton stands in front of a matte gray background while a soft white light frames one side of her face.]
In the nearly four years I have been with United States Artists, I have felt fortunate to have a Board of Trustees as generous and willing as the one that serves this organization. Don’t get me wrong—this is a tough bunch of individuals with incredibly high standards and sharp editorial eyes. They don’t miss a thing. But, dear reader, let it be known that this generous and tough group is the exact one you’d want to navigate a global pandemic alongside.
At a time of deep fiscal uncertainty, our Board was unwavering in their commitment to artists, not only helping us fundraise, but also allowing us to spend as much money as needed to support our beloved field. At a time of deep cultural, racial, and political division in our nation, they showed up and, depending on what was needed, either leaned in or stepped back. At a time when bold ideas were necessary to survive, they coached us and helped us launch new programs quickly, bringing every skill they had to the table, all the while ensuring we felt secure and trusted.
It’s been a tough year. So, I want to thank our Board Chair Ed Henry and all of our Trustees for everything they have done to support the people and programs at our organization. Your belief in us—as we navigate these difficult times—allows us to demonstrate how much we believe in artists. Thank you.