Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s “Creatives Rebuild New York” Initiative Aids New York State Artists

By: ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam

A Conversation with Emil J. Kang, Program Director for Arts and Culture, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

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The role and value of artists in our society has a new but trusted champion in the venerable Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Not since the storied WPA of the thirties has a major player in the world of ideas dedicated itself to elevating the work of artists in the community.

The conceptual underpinning behind the $125 Million Creatives Rebuild New York program is to alleviate the unemployment and underemployment of artists so they are able to contribute once again to the economy. The statewide program will align itself with community organizations that are seen by the Foundation as critical players in the economic growth of their communities.

The Program Director for Arts and Cultural at The Mellon Foundation, Emil J. Kang, envisions 300 full-time employment opportunities and as many as 2,400 guaranteed income participants as modeled after similar efforts in other parts of the country. Local decision-making will be an important part of this program for the full-time components in which the organizations will select those artists. The guaranteed income artists will apply directly to Creatives Rebuild New York which will, at a certain point, become its own entity.

“We are looking for small to mid-size organizations across the state that are community-based in nature; that are not necessarily driven by product and output. We will be prioritizing organizations that are embedded in communities and are at the intersection between community development and the arts, as opposed to being traditional arts organizations.”

“The foundation itself is undergoing massive change,” said Kang, citing the current president Elizabeth Alexander’s three years at the helm, in which she is shifting the foundation away from its traditionally conservative, historic legacy. “In our pivot during the past couple of years, we have actually made an intentional move toward the principles of equity and justice. That is driving everything we are doing right now.”

Kang continued: “Creatives Rebuild New York is very specifically tied to this moment in time, which is related to valuing artists as workers and as contributors to the larger economy. At the same time what we are doing here is acknowledging that community-based arts organizations provide the injection of dollars into the economy through the work of artists.”

The spirit behind the program, according to Kang, is the idea that “artists contribute in ways that are beyond the transactional nature of arts consumption, which [she] think is a very limited view of the role and the impact of artists in our world.”

So how do we create a work initiative that actually acknowledges the role that artists play with those organizations to spur on economic growth?

Says Kang: “We want to be able to show policymakers that artists are everywhere and not just in the places we think they are, like in the theaters or museums.”

A version of this article first appeared in the July-August issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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