As NYC Museums Reopen, $1.5 Million in Grants from Rockefeller Brothers Fund Aims to Build Back a More Equitable Cultural Sector

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

As NYC Museums Reopen, $1.5 Million in Grants from Rockefeller Brothers Fund Aims to Build Back a More Equitable Cultural Sector

Today the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) announced $1.5 million in grants to help New York City’s cultural institutions build back a more equitable culture and experience after months of closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This initiative of the RBF Culpeper Arts & Culture program will support a range of exhibitions, programs, residencies, and other projects that provide greater visibility and opportunities for artists who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, as well as for women and LGBTQ artists, whose work continues to be underrepresented in major American museums.

While U.S. cultural institutions have long recognized the dearth of works by artists of color in their collections, progress to diversify the sector has been slow. The surging racial justice activism stemming from disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and rising police violence against Black Americans has put many museums back under the microscope and sparked a new national dialogue about their role in society.

“Established museums offer access to the networks, relationships, public audiences, and long-term resources needed to sustain a creative career, but their traditional structures often exclude BIPOC, LGBTQ, and women artists from those opportunities,” said Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas, program director for Arts & Culture at the RBF and chair of the CreateNYC Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “The arts and cultural organizations of New York, a global creative capital and one of the most diverse cities on earth, have a special responsibility to their home city and to the global arts community to deconstruct those hurdles and set a model for the sector to transform its approaches to diversity and representation.”

The RBF initiative will also support museum efforts to serve, reflect, and celebrate the diverse cultural communities of New York that they call home. When Rodriguez-Cubeñas first began developing the initiative in late 2019, before the pandemic hit, he looked to arts institutions from across the city that have wide influence, but also deep local roots. Grant recipients include The Africa Center, the Bronx Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA PS1, El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. The six-figure grants will underwrite major exhibitions by women and artists of color—including Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch at the Bronx Museum and Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And at the Brooklyn Museum—as well as programs that highlight local artists and storytellers working throughout the five boroughs.

The RBF has a long history of support with these institutions, some dating back as far as 1962. But this year has made New Yorkers more acutely aware of the value of the city’s artistic offerings, as museums, theatres, and cultural gathering spots were shuttered to curb the spread of COVID-19. Many museums rose to the occasion, leveraging art’s unique ability to help audiences make sense of an uncertain world with digital exhibitions, performances, talks, and other programs on the dual crises of the pandemic and persistent racial injustice, which will continue as museums reopen for in-person visits...

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