The Fund for Art and Dialogue

Emily Todd

Artadia, formerly known as The ArtCouncil, revolves around visual artists. Chris Vroom founded Artadia on the belief that direct support for artists will make an impact on the development of the nation's cultural heritage. Artadia is constantly searching for new ways to introduce artists to a larger audience. Success is measured by following the careers of the artists who have received grants or assistance — with the expectation that this support contributes to their careers as professional artists and also positions them to be active participants in a society that embraces them and their ideas.

Artadia founder and principal funder Chris Vroom had a career as a research analyst in the financial industry. After realizing that the perpetual travel and long hours of this work stifled his other intellectually satisfying interests, he brought his well-honed analytical skills to support of the arts. After spending nine months talking with people, Vroom came to believe that making the art and culture of one's time relevant requires a systematic and professional approach. He fixed on support for individual artists as an area where his philanthropy could make a difference. Until then Vroom had been an art collector and a member of the art audience. His support of the arts took a quantum leap when he founded The ArtCouncil in 1997. Launched in San Francisco, the program supported individual artists (through grants and an exhibition) and arts-in-education. In 2000, Vroom left his job and dedicated his time to Artadia.

Supporting artists through direct grants and professional development is Artadia's mission: building a dynamic national network of artist support through grants and dialogue is Artadia's vision. Grants to individual artists are intended to encourage recipients to complete or start new work. Applications are distributed in an open call. Artists in each city (San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston, so far) apply and a jury of arts professionals (curators, academics, and artists) selects the grantees. Stipends are now for one year and are $20,000.

The San Francisco program is in its fourth year and has awarded grants to fifty-three artists. Since it was started there in 2001, the Chicago program has made grants to twenty-nine artists. In Houston five artists recently received grants. Artists selected have subsequently had their work exhibited in museum, gallery, and university venues. Two Artadia grant recipients were represented in the 2002 Whitney Biennial. To date, The ArtCouncil and Artadia have given almost $700,000 to visual artists. The artists have pointed to the exhibition and award as playing an important role in their subsequent success. Vroom expects that Artadia will strengthen the connections between local institutions as well as links between artists, curators, and institutions across the nation. Artadia has a seven-member board and a respected advisory board. The board will expand to include representatives of the cities in which it has programs.

Vroom recently hired Alexander Gray (formerly on the staff of ArtPace in San Antonio and of Visual AIDS and Art Matters in Manhattan) as executive director of Artadia. Vroom will continue as a catalyst, introducing the Artadia concept to other individuals. He seeks to inspire others with the possibilities inherent in the Artadia idea. To date, he has enlisted partners in several cities and raised funds for Artadia programs in San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and is in discussion with prospective donors in Miami, Boston, Denver, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, and Baltimore/Washington. He anticipates that Artadia will expand to ten metropolitan areas by 2007. Vroom sees Artadia's role as assisting in building a sustainable program and he intends these programs to become permanent and funded locally.

Vroom believes that the creative core of our society is neglected. He believes that by having an impact on artists' lives through grants and exhibitions, his work contributes to a better America.

Vroom is an optimist. His enthusiasm is contagious. He is a compelling and persuasive spokesperson for artists. Vroom believes that we in this country do not appreciate our cultural assets and that we undervalue artists' views on important societal concerns. As long as our culture puts primary value on money, it will always be a challenge for artists' perspectives to be transmitted. Each generation of artists communicates its values to successive generations. Art thus chronicles our cultural heritage and becomes a continuum of ideas realized creatively. Chris Vroom believes that the arts give meaning to life and that our nation's hopes and aspirations are transmitted through the arts. He has invested substantial amounts of his own time and money in Artadia. Based on his success to date, one can expect that he will be able to leverage significant funding from individuals through his leadership. Artadia is a celebration of our nation's diversity and the culture that arises from this melding of aesthetics and histories.

Emily Todd is grant officer, Houston Endowment, Inc.