A Trip Down Memory Lane: Activism, Culture, and the Individual Artist

From fellowships to housing to unrestricted monies, support for individual artists can take many forms. Support for artists has a long and varied history in the United States. While much has changed, there remains a large space for understanding what it takes to be an artist today and to support an artist today. Recent articles in the New York Times and artnet News further expose the racial and wealth inequalities among artists, citing that those more likely to become artists are white women of a higher socioeconomic status.

GIA members have been working together to promote and improve funding for individual artists for over 20 years. The Support for Individual Artists Committee has been one of the most active groups of funders within GIA. Over the years, the committee has been an incubator for such projects as a scan of scholarly research on artist support, a visual timeline outlining the history of artist support funding, major publications and programs, and the development of a national taxonomy for reporting data on support for individual artists. The committee continues to advise, inspire and inform GIA’s thought leadership and programming in support for individual artists.

In this event, we time-travel to the late 80s, when the work of artists NEA4, Andres Serrano, and Robert Mapplethorpe was ridiculed by mainstream society and sparked the conversation about artistic freedom, censorship, activism, and decency standards. For these artists and many others, funding was at stake because of their artistic expression, and these artists and many others catalyzed the beginning of a movement for arts activism that continues today.


  • Suzy Delvalle, president and executive director, Creative Capital
  • Miguel Luciano, visual artist
  • Charles Rice-Gonzalez, writer and co-founder, BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance
  • Dread Scott, visual artist
  • Liza Jessie Peterson, playwright
  • Eddie Torres (Moderator), president & CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts

Members from GIA and our partners, New York Grantmakers in the Arts (NYGIA), gathered at Philanthropy New York on January 29, 2020, to hear and learn from artists and practitioners in the field as we explored the role of philanthropy in funding individual artists today.