For Artists, the Thrill of Grant Money Arrives With a ‘Now What’?


First, Ms. Wagner dialed into a group video conference that was arranged by Creative Capital, a nonprofit artist-focused group based in New York with significant funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

“I was embarrassed at the ways that I make money,” Ms. Wagner recalled of the group call. “They said, ‘No, that’s called ‘multiple revenue streams.’ It sort of took the stench off it for me.” Then she had a phone session with a financial counselor, also paid for by the Mitchell foundation.

In the end, Ms. Wagner took the grant and “spent it on living, and didn’t make much art,” she said. “I had a pause.” But she said that not only did it fuel her creative juices — directly leading to her current museum show — she used the time to learn bookkeeping skills, which had previously bedeviled her. Now, her finances are better organized.


The Joan Mitchell Foundation started a counseling program after the last recession. Christa Blatchford is the chief executive of the foundation. Credit Jeremy Tauriac, via Joan Mitchell Foundation

The Mitchell foundation started the counseling program after the last recession. “A recipient of one of our awards came to us, and she was having cash-flow issues,” said Christa Blatchford, the foundation’s chief executive. “She said, ‘I need counseling.’ We had never given it before, but I realized it was irresponsible of us not to.”

The foundation has given more than 1,000 grants to artists since 1994, and the awards for painters and sculptors are generally $25,000, though they offer the option of taking the money over two years.

Ms. Blatchford said that the counseling the foundation helped arrange focused on “things that would make them feel successful.” But she added that financial counseling was not for everyone: “Some people show up, but they zone out — they aren’t ready.”

While many arts organizations give grants for specific projects, rarer is the unrestricted grant, and the open-ended quality is the very thing that has brought financial counseling to the forefront.

As Deana Haggag, the president and chief executive of United States Artists, said, “Our money is different.”


Deana Haggag is the president and chief executive of United States Artists, which gives unrestricted grants of $50,000 to up to 50 artists every year. Credit Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

The organization, based in Chicago, gives unrestricted grants of $50,000 to up to 50 artists every year. “My dad asked me before I took this job, ‘Do you know what you’d do with $50,000?’” said Ms. Haggag, who started as president last year. “I had no idea.”

So Ms. Haggag is studying how the group can counsel artists on how to use the money. “Hopefully in a year, it’s a regular service,” she said. The group’s annual assembly in March, which gathers together the new fellows, will include, for the first time, a group session on managing money.

You can’t underestimate what artists — or anyone else — knows about finances, said Edward P. Henry, the president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and a member of the United States Artists board of trustees. The Duke foundation is a major donor to United States Artists, part of its annual giving of more than $100 million a year, some of which goes to separate artist grants.

“When you receive an award, maybe it’s unrestricted, but it’s still taxed,” Mr. Henry said. “You’ll receive a 1099. And you have a Schedule C to legitimately deduct the cost of your materials. This is all Step 1.”

United States Artists announced its new class of fellowships in January, and two of the recipients were Cauleen Smith, a Los Angeles filmmaker, and Pepón Osorio, a Philadelphia installation artist.

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