Today, the narratives that shape our laws, policies, and daily life are disproportionately dominated by a subset of the population. From museums and the art market to Hollywood, the old story remains that only a small percentage of artists represented are women and artists of color. White men make up 30 percent of the U.S. population, but represent most museum acquisitions, art market sales, and Hollywood film directors. Yet, museums, auction houses, and cinemas are downstream from the primary issue, which is: Who gets funded to make art?

It is not possible for museums to collect, galleries to exhibit, auction houses to sell, or cinemas to screen work by more diverse artists if women, artists of color, LGBTQIA+ artists, and artists with disabilities do not get the funding they need to create new work in the first place.

There are numerous structural barriers to artists getting funding—from not having opportunities through expensive MFA programs to not being able to bring a collector base to a gallery. That’s why one significant way we can support a more inclusive and plural arts ecosystem through philanthropy is by directly funding artists—especially Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, women, LGBTQIA+ artists, and artists with disabilities. It is also vital to fund challenging new ideas, risk-taking work, and work where sometimes there is no “product” to be “consumed” or no commercial potential.

Creative Capital, where I serve as president and executive director, was founded in 1999 as an independent nonprofit in resistance to censorship when the NEA discontinued most of its grants to individual artists following controversies with Robert Mapplethorpe, Ron Athey, and others. With U.S. government funding, political opinion can dictate who gets funded and potentially jeopardize artistic freedom by only funding non-controversial artists.

Creative Capital’s model offers an instructive set of criteria for how funds can have a direct impact on artists. Here are five questions I think about in my work as a woman of color leading a fundraising organization that you may wish to consider in order to support a more diverse art world.

  1. Does the nonprofit exhibit/collect/fund significant numbers of women, BIPOC artists, LGBTQIA+ artists, and artists with disabilities?
  2. Does the nonprofit have a multi-year track record of supporting diverse artists? 
  3. Does the grant maker have an open process of selecting artists, or what is the process of grantmaking?
  4. Does a high percentage of your donation go to artists’ programs, rather than administration/development?
  5. Does the nonprofit have diverse individuals at every level of the organization?

Read the full article about how to support arts funding by Christine Kuan at Artnet News.