Ruth Foundation for the Arts Launches $440 Million Philanthropic Effort

The Milwaukee-based Ruth Foundation of the Arts, established with a $440 million endowment from the late bathroom-fixture heiress Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, has announced its presence with an initial $1.25 million in unrestricted grants to seventy-eight unsuspecting US nonprofit arts organizations. The grantees, each of whom received $10,000, $20,000, or $50,000, were chosen by a diverse panel of nearly fifty artists from around the country representing a variety of practices and career stages. Because the grants are invitation-only, many recipients were shocked to learn they were receiving funding.

“I thought it wasn’t real at first,” Lauren Walling, executive director of the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York, told the New York Times. “I was thinking, ‘Are they trying to get bank info from me? Is this a scam?’”

Kohler, a longtime champion of self-taught artists, served as director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, for more than forty years, and was instrumental in carrying out the museum’s mission of elevating contemporary and self-taught artists who worked with humble materials, with a focus on those from Wisconsin. The brief of her foundation is similar, but national in scope and hewing to a broad definition of what constitutes work of an artistic or cultural nature.

“I am honored to continue Ruth’s exceptional legacy in such an impactful way,” said Karen Patterson, the foundation’s executive director. “She has shown us that a thriving art community requires support for the entire ecosystem: from exhibition spaces, to festivals, to archives, to art environments, to residencies, and to school programs. We are truly a multidimensional field. We rely on one another. And none of these things would be possible without artists.”

Patterson, formerly director of exhibitions at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, and senior curator at the Kohler Center, is running the foundation alongside program director Kim Nguyen, who was previously curator and head of programs at CCA Wattis Institute in San Francisco. Among the group of artists responsible for selecting grantees are Nikesha Breeze, Mel Chin, Gala Porras-Kim and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. The foundation aims to issue grants totaling between $17 million and $20 million annually, on par with funding provided by such established philanthropic organization as the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. As yet, there are few guidelines attached to the decision-making process, reflecting Kohler’s lifelong ethos. “Ruth was never prescriptive,” Patterson told the Times. “She used to say, ‘All the art for all the people.’”

Among the recipients, which range from the established to the lesser-known, are Chicago’s Black Lunch Table, an oral-history archiving project; the First Peoples Fund, of Rapid City, South Dakota, which supports Indigenous artists; the Los Angeles–based Greetings from South-Central, an arts-focused community center; and the artists’ retreat Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, New York. A full list is below.

Afro Charities
Baltimore, MD

Alas De Agua Art Collective
Santa Fe, NM
Alice Austen House Museum
Staten Island, NY

All My Relations Arts
Minneapolis, MN
Alternate Roots
Atlanta, GA
Amargosa Opera House
Death Valley, CA
Whitesburg, KY
Art Omi
Ghent, NY
Arts @ Large
Milwaukee, WI
Arts of Life
Chicago, IL

Ballet X
Philadelphia, PA
Baxter Street Camera Club
New York, NY
Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts
Omaha, NE
Benny Andrews Estate
Brooklyn, NY
Black Cube Nomadic Museum
Denver, CO

Black Lunch Table
Chicago, IL

BlackStar Projects
Philadelphia, PA

Brooklyn Rail
Brooklyn, NY

CAM Summer Fellowship
Memphis, TN

Center for Contemporary Arts
Santa Fe, NM

Charlotte Street Foundation
Kansas City, MO

Children’s Museum of the Arts New York
New York, NY

Coleman Center for the Arts
York, AL

Contemporary Art Library
Los Angeles, CA

Cousin Collective
United States

Creative Growth
Oakland, CA

Experimental Sound Studio
Chicago, IL

First Light Alaska
Anchorage, AK

First Peoples Fund
Rapid City, SD

Fusebox Festival
Austin, TX

Greetings from South-Central
Los Angeles, CA

Griot Museum of Black History
Saint Louis, MO

Los Angeles, CA

Haystack Mountain School of Craft
Deer Isle, ME

Headlands Center for the Arts
Sausalito, CA

Independent Curators International
New York, NY

Institute 193
Lexington, KY

International Print Center New York
New York, NY

Leap Arts in Education
San Francisco, CA

Leather Archives and Museum
Chicago IL

Locust Projects
Miami, FL

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE)
Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles Visual Arts (LAVA)
Los Angeles, CA

Lump Gallery
Raleigh, NC

Saint Louis, MO
Material For the Arts
Long Island City, NY

Midway Contemporary Art
Minneapolis, MN

Milwaukee Film Festival
Milwaukee, WI

Museum of Jurassic Technology
Los Angeles, CA

Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden
Bishopville, SC

Penumbra Foundation
New York, NY

People’s Kitchen Collective
Oakland, CA

Pike School of Art
McComb, MS

Poeh Center and Museum
Pojoaque Pueblo, NM

Project for Empty Space
Newark, NJ

Project Row Houses
Houston, TX

Real Art Ways
Hartford, CT

Real Time and Space
Oakland, CA

Rivers Institute
New Orleans, LA

S.O.U.R.C.E. Studio
Burnsville, NC

Sala Diaz
San Antonio, TX

Seattle Asian American Film Festival
Seattle, WA

Side Street Projects
Pasadena, CA

Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture
Skowhegan, ME

Smack Mellon
Brooklyn, NY

Storefront for Art and Architecture
New York, NY

Taller Puertorriqueño
Philadelphia, PA

Tamir Rice Foundation
Cleveland, OH

The Black School
New Orleans, LA

The Children’s Art Carnival
New York, NY

The Clay Studio
Philadelphia, PA

The Heidelberg Project
Detroit, MI

The Laundromat Project
Brooklyn, NY

Twelve Gates
Philadelphia, PA

Voces Ciudadanas
Brooklyn, NY

White Columns
New York, NY

Women Studio Workshop
Rosendale, NY

Saratoga Springs, NY


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