America’s biggest arts funder switches to social justice

America’s biggest arts funder switches to social justice


norman lebrecht

July 08, 2020

Alarming news from the Mellon Foundation.

When future applicants seek funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest supporter of the arts and humanities in the US, they will be evaluated based on one principal question: would their proposal help create a more just and fair society?

The organization announced Tuesday that it is reorienting its grant-making program entirely through the lens of social justice. Rather than a wholesale shift, “I would call it an evolution,” Mellon president Elizabeth Alexander told Artnet News, adding that the change has been in the works since she came to the post two years ago. 

Read on here.



  • Don Ciccio says:

    I’m contemplating suicide.

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      Do the up-thumbs mean yes to Don’s suicide and the down-thumbs mean no? Just in case, I voted down thumb.

  • Dennis says:

    The arts and humanities have been captives of the PC/SJW Left for decades. That devotion to the “cause” is now deemed a more important criterion for arts funding than actual artistic merit and aesthetic quality should surprise no one.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye”.

      Why is the Left SO DUMB they don’t get that this rubbish plays into the hands of Trump??!!! (I know the answer, but do you?)

    • Matti says:

      “That devotion to the “cause” is now deemed a more important criterion for arts funding than actual artistic merit and aesthetic quality should surprise no one.”

      Do people genuinely think that “actual artistic merit” and “aesthetic quality” does not exist in a more diverse world?

      When I read “would their proposal help create a more just and fair society?”, I read “We are finally going to see and uncover untapped talent that would not be typically performed in the concert halls due to all those that are desperate for their Beethoven & Mahler cycles.”

      I say genuinely with all due respect, where is the problem and why are people against bringing more diversity OF QUALITY into the world?

      • M2N2K says:

        Most of us are not against THAT at all, but unfortunately THAT is not what the statements quoted above say and most definitely THAT is not what we see increasingly happening all around us in the arts and in the society at large.

    • Mike Z says:

      This is plain silly. My linguistics degree is in the humanities (arts) whose premise is that neither English nor Latin nor Proto Indo European is the only true language / art / culture. And if you think it is or should be, you admit yourself deficient by not speaking Proto-Germanic at very least.

  • Alphonse says:

    I weep for the state of this world. Truly.

  • Guest says:

    I truly struggle to understand why this is “alarming news”.

    • M2N2K says:

      It may help you in your “struggle” to know that some of us are naive enough to still be hoping that our culture might have a chance to survive these recent onslaughts against it, but this kind of information creates another huge hole in the fabric of our hope.

    • Bone says:

      I’m sure that’s not all you are struggling to understand.
      The divide in the US has grown exponentially. Not sure we will recover a semblance of unity in my lifetime.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    Honestly, this is no different than applying for pretty much any arts/humanities job nowadays, especially in academia. Usually you have to submit some kind of personal statement that speaks to diversity/social justice/etc. Anyone who is savvy enough can come up with the right way to “frame” their proposal to satisfy the criteria, no matter what the content.

    • DeepSouthSenior says:

      Thank you for this comment! I was thinking the same thing. Having dealt with various grants for more than three decades, I too can attest to the routine of “playing the game.” I can foresee the grantor-grantee relationship soon settling down to business as usual. The grantee applications include All the Things that Matter (including tenuous, tortuous connections where necessary), and the grantor checks all the required boxes. Everyone’s virtue has been signaled for all the world to see, all parties feel the warm fuzzies of self-congratulation, everything returns to status quo ante, and not a thing has changed.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Just think for a moment of Beethoven and how willingly he’d have taken up the latest truckload of political cant to get himself a job. He could sooth egos, yes, but always on his own terms. He was no sheep, that great man, and he had no respect for people who behaved liked sheep. He had herd immunity!!

        • Mike Z says:

          Do you really think when he set “Alle Menschen verden Bruder” that Mensch only referred to privleged white men? Because the only construal he could’ve meant at the time were the “Alle Menschen” that included his downtrodden self that turned on Napoleon. Think.

          • Anonymoose says:

            ‘werden Brüder’
            Beethoven downtrodden?
            By the way, ‘Alle Menschen’ does not include women in Schiller’s poem – read the second stanza!

        • Brook No Idiots says:

          Beethoven was a radical, something you couldn’t possibly understand. He isn’t your action-figure to play with; you haven’t even the most rudimentary understanding of the “great man” or his art.

    • Hillary RC says:

      Talent is OUT!

      Acting like a LIBERAL PUSSY is IN!

  • DeepSouthSenior says:

    I have a little saying which I repeat to my long-suffering wife of 52 years several times a week: “At any given moment, most people are cowards.” There are times I hate being right, especially when it affects me personally.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Next you’ll be telling us you’d never want to belong to a club that would have anyone like you as a member!! 🙂

  • buxtehude says:

    This development will be echoed across the foundation & donor “community.” It should come as no surprise.

    It’s ironic that this particular move should come early from Mellon, whose namesake was the #1 standard-bearer for economic inequality, creating and defending it under three US presidents.

    This trashing of society, along with trashing of the planet, are the two great true emergencies today. Propping up the great — and greatly expensive — musical forms of yesteryear, entrenched only in the academy and forgotten by their audience, the “contemporary composers” especially, who alone could have been a wellspring for renewal — this was bound to lose appeal for funders.

    Nowadays the job of exciting and consoling both young and old has been taken over almost entirely by pop music. Look at the numbers and read the comments on YouTube posts if you don’t believe me. The trend has been accelerating for more than 60 years. If there was a watershed I believe it was The Beatles — who could ask for anything more? — was the unconscious reaction of my generation.

    It’s tragic to be a classical professional at this moment when the audience actually finally vanishes, but no reason to refuse to see what is happening.

  • E Rand says:

    While it is, of-course, sickening to see once-noble institutions bending a knee to race-based social justice, there is good to be found in this.
    1. All of those BLM supporting artists, allies,”anti racists, etc, may now see their support as the unintentional seppuku it actually is.
    2. All of those in the arts (players and management) who have raged at the “rich”, demanded they be taxed out of existence and then waited with open hands for the government and foundations to support their activities may rethink this and begin the hard work of cultivating relationships with wealthy individuals who may actually support their work.
    3. All those knee-jerk supporters may finally wake up and realize that the mob is never appeased. The mob doesn’t care if you support them or not. The mob will eventually come for you.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Donald J. Trump understands all of it; the Left doesn’t. Hint: that’s WHY you got Trump. If you want him gone you need show some understanding of why you got him in the first place and FIX IT.

  • Larry says:

    Maybe there’s something wrong with my computer but when I click on that link the Art News article disappears from the screen.

    • M2N2K says:

      Perhaps your computer is hypersensitive while protecting its own health against bovine excrement.

    • MWnyc says:

      Try a different browser. Artnews does not work with every browser. (The site is impossible to read with Opera, for instance, but works fine with Chrome and Internet Explorer.)

  • PaulD says:

    This month’s Opera News highlights an interview with a director with this quote: “It can’t just be to entertain old white ladies with big check books.”

    For those clamoring for more government support of the arts in the U.S. – this is what the future will look like.

    My checkbook is closed, thank you very much.

  • Mr. Knowitall says:

    Perhaps the some of previous posters would be less distressed if Ms. Alexander had written something like “For all of its history the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has focused on funding white, educated artists who present their works to white, middle- and upper-class audiences. For the foreseeable future we’re going to direct our support to less advantaged segments of society.”

    • Bone says:

      But that is not what was said.
      Nor is that what was done previously.
      Take your straw man elsewhere.

      • Mr. Knowitall says:

        Obviously that’s not what was said, hence the “if Ms. Alexander had written something like” bit. But it is largely what was done previously. Also, don’t you feel a just a little bossy ordering me to not post on a site that isn’t yours?

    • LP says:

      That’s what she should have said.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Just show me the money and I will do what you ask.

    Free public concerts featuring music by John Williams and LeRoy Anderson, cute little kids from various ethnic backgrounds as soloists, musicians standing 6 feet apart, sponsorship kudos on the front of the program along with an announcement, #BLM tweets on a daily basis.

    Did I get the grant?

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Won’t be long now, comrades. (“Ninotchka”, 1939)

  • Bill says:

    Make your own pile of money, give it away as you wish. Don’t expect someone else to listen to you about what they should do with theirs.

  • I’m lovin’ it! says:

    Black is the new Jew!

  • Mike Z says:

    Oh, gimme a break. This has a very b r o a d interpretation : “Alle Menschen verden Bruder.” Is Beethoven also now too outre, too reactionary, too PC under your calculus?

  • Fiddlist says:

    Bill Paxton from Aliens: “Oh man, it’s game over, man. GAME OVER.”

  • CCP_VIRUS says:

    Good. The arts organizations in this country are an embarrassment to begin with. Rigged to the core. I’m looking forward to the day when Juilliard closes the NYC branch and Kaplinski gets audited at long last.