Foundation launches effort to advance arts, culture, and social justice in the 21st century

The Ford Foundation today announced a new effort centered on the roles art and culture play in illuminating and addressing urgent issues of equity, opportunity, and justice in the US and around the globe. The yearlong exploration, The Art of Change, which builds on the foundation’s decades-long commitment to advancing freedom of expression, reaffirms the central importance of creativity and cultural expression to healthy societies at a time when they are increasingly under threat.

“Changes in the world around us demand, more than ever, that we recognize and celebrate art, creativity, and freedom of expression as the revolutionary forces they are,” said Darren Walker, president of Ford Foundation. “Widening inequality, growing extremism, evolving technology, and volatile markets render art—and its unique role in effecting social change—more important, not less, for societies today.”

Over the next 12 months, the Ford Foundation will bring together leading thinkers, artists, cultural leaders, and activists from around the world for a series of provocative conversations to better understand the interplay of art, creativity, equality, and justice. The initiative will help determine how the foundation can most effectively advance the arts—and, by extension, drive social change—in an increasingly diverse and evolving world.

To help prompt and inform fresh thinking, the foundation is awarding a series of fellowships to exemplary artists and cultural leaders, all distinguished in their field, whose work touches on issues of equity and justice. The fellowships seek to inspire innovation and encourage civic dialogue, giving fellows the opportunity to study issues that intersect with the foundation’s work and reflect the cultural richness of diverse communities around the world.

Each of the 13 fellows will study a thought-provoking issue or question during the course of the fellowship, ranging from the role of artists and artwork to challenge rising extremism, to literature’s ability to elucidate the impact of climate change, to the importance of increasing diversity in leadership roles in cultural institutions.

The 2015 visiting fellows include

  • Robert Battle, artistic director, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York, NY
  • Amitav Ghosh, author, Brooklyn, NY
  • Thelma Golden, director and chief curator, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
  • David Henry Hwang, dramatist, Brooklyn, NY
  • Deeyah Khan, filmmaker and music producer, London, UK
  • Arnold Lehman, director, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • Joy Mboya, executive director, GoDown Arts Centre, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Laura Poitras, filmmaker, New York, NY
  • Bill Rauch, artistic director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR
  • Toshi Reagon, singer, composer, musician, and producer, Brooklyn, NY
  • Pedro Reyes, visual artist, Coyoacán, Mexico
  • Albie Sachs, activist, jurist, and author, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Carrie Mae Weems, visual artist, Syracuse, NY

The arts have long been central to Ford’s mission. Throughout its history, the foundation has invested in and supported key ideas, individuals, and institutions on the local, national, and international scene, supporting several generations of arts leaders who are firmly grounded in the communities in which they reside.

“The arts illustrate, explore, convey, and critique our world and our assumptions about it, and have therefore long been central to Ford’s work advancing social change,” said Darren Walker. “This digital age calls for a recommitment to those values, as well as new approaches to arts and cultural funding—both of which this year of exploration will help us define.”

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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 75 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.