Last year, the Open Society Foundations announced the first recipients of the Soros Arts Fellowship, an initiative to support innovative mid-career artists using art and public space to advance “pluralistic, democratic and just societies.” The eight fellows received an $80,000 stipend to realize an “ambitious socially engaged art project” over the following 18 months.
The launch of the fellowship, which, according to OSF, reflected its founder George Soros’ “long-term commitment to arts and culture in closing societies,” came at a time when more funders were refining their approaches to frame the arts as a mechanism to drive meaningful social change. Open Society Foundations recently announced its 2019 fellows, and a closer look at its rationale and the initiative’s focus on the “intersection of migration, public space and the arts” speaks to the fluidity of this niche funding area.
“We are proud to support visionary artists and cultural producers exploring the aesthetic and political realities of migration from personal, familial, historical, and conceptual perspectives,” said Rashida Bumbray, senior program manager of Open Society’s Arts Exchange. “Across the globe, the political environment is increasingly characterized by polarizing and reductive notions about people who migrate. That’s why this work to broaden understandings of migration, share self-determined narratives, stimulate critical discourse, and create momentum for change is so urgent.”
Over the past few years, arts funders have pursued a social justice agenda in different ways, at times in response to changing circumstances on the ground. For example, in 2016, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation announced that its Artist as Activist program, originally launched in 2012, would focus solely on projects that “address the intersections between race, class and mass incarceration.” Two years later, the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund launched the $100 million Art for Justice Fund to reduce U.S. prison populations.
Open Society Foundations launched its Soros Arts Fellowship recognizing “the importance of artists’ contributions and the necessity of using creativity as a response to increased repression across the globe” and “the challenges faced by artists and cultural producers doing socially engaged work that is largely disconnected from the art market.”