Ford and Mellon Foundations Expand Initiative for Artists with Disabilities


Disabled Futures initiativeA fellowship established last fall by the Ford and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations to support artists with disabilities is expanding. The foundations announced on Friday that they will commit an additional $5 million to support the initiative by 2025, with support for two more groups of 20 fellows.

Created by and for the disabled, the scholarship is designed as an 18-month initiative. It provided an unlimited $50,000 grant, led by the arts fund group United States Artists, to 20 selected artists, filmmakers, and journalists with disabilities from across the United States.

But Margaret Morton, director of creativity and freedom of expression at the Ford Foundation, said it was clear from the start that this could not be just a one-time initiative.

Projects undertaken by members of the first group will be exhibited in the first place Disabled Futures virtual festival, Mondays and Tuesdays, with programs from some of the country’s leading disabled artists, writers, thinkers and designers. It is free and open to the public.

Among the highlights: A session with filmmakers on portraits of the disabled Jim LeBrecht and Rodney Evans, painter Riva Lehrer and journalist Alice Wong; An interview led by Patty Berne exploring the links between climate justice and disability justice; and a virtual dance party hosted by clothes maker Sky Cubacub, with music by DJ Who Girl (Kevin Gotkin). A meditation experience is also followed by evening runway performances of models wearing pieces from Cubacub’s Rebirth Garments, and the Black Power Naps initiative featuring Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa.

“It was really deep for me to see how interested the friends selected in the first group were in raising other people in the community,” Emil J. Kang, Mellon Foundation arts and culture program director, said in an interview on the subject. Thursday.

The next scholarship class will be announced in 2022. They are selected by peer mentors who are artists with disabilities themselves.

But Morton said the feedback from the first class was candid: Do even better in the selection process.

“One of the friends challenged us,” he said, only to have a Native American friend. “And we appreciated that and we were challenged to do it right and make sure we had a deeper pool.”

Grants offer flexible compensation options. The money can be distributed in bulk, in payments, or even delayed, depending on what works best for the artist.

Writer and photographer Jen Deerinwater said in an email that the scholarship “made an incredible difference in my life and career.” “It gave me more financial freedom to pursue more artistic pursuits like music, without risking losing my disability and health care.”

Morton said the pandemic has made foundation leaders “deeply aware” of the challenges facing professionals with disabilities. About one in four adults in the United States has a disability, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We gained a deeper impression and perspective of what it was like to navigate the world,” he said.

Morton said the overall goal of the program is to help artists connect.

Our biggest dream is visibility,” he said. For audiences to see the artists and for funders to “start investing in practitioners with disabilities.”


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