Elizabeth Alexander, Mellon Foundation President, Reflects on Centering Community and Taking Diversity as a Value

In The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s latest annual report, foundation President Elizabeth Alexander explains how the foundation works to support arts and humanities projects that advance a better world.

Alexander writes that it is her aim to help Mellon adopt “a broader programmatic lens” and play “an even greater leadership role in higher education and the humanities” considering our rapidly changing educational, cultural, and demographic environment.

She explains:

I am asking foundational questions about the strategies of each program area and the underlying program structures, while staying mindful of the need to steer the Foundation’s thinking forward in a measured manner. I have used this time to both assess and represent Mellon; my goal is to ensure that Mellon continues to work to make higher education, the arts, and the humanities front and central in our broader community mission.

Addressing the important work of justice and labor to vision a better world, Alexander speaks to Mellon’s aims by “identifying the leaders, the scholars and thinkers and justice workers and artists, who do that work on behalf of our society,” and in the list of goals below:
  • I want us to support work that clearly shows the unique power of art to transport and also gives others the experience of enchantment, power, and possibility.
  • I want to support cultural work that helps us more accurately tell the story of a richly diverse America and understand more deeply who we are as a nation, in relationship to the rest of the world, lifting up narratives that have been decentered or falsely cast.
  • I want us to find and support arts and culture institutions and projects where there is active, creative thinking about how to make the work they present relevant and accessible while pursuing the highest levels of excellence.
  • In higher education, I want all of our work to reflect our belief that higher learning is truly transformative, and to integrate those voices, perspectives, and knowledge as well as work with institutions that are thinking critically about questions of access to higher education.
  • I want to support work that takes diversity as a value unto itself as a way of reflecting the essentially polyglot character of this country, and the belief that we learn the most from exposure to a range of eloquent voices and perspectives.
  • I want our Foundation to be more outward-facing in its work, both lifting up the work that we do and also signaling to wider audiences who might not yet be working with us that we seek the best ideas and are looking in places where we have not worked before.
  • I want there to be a justice element to all of our work, within the Foundation itself and in our grantmaking and outside engagement.
  • I want to help more people believe that arts and humanities have an essential place in the world.

Read the letter here.