Influential Social Practice Art Fellowship Program Shuts Down Because of Covid-19

The New York–based nonprofit A Blade of Grass, which has supported the production of socially-engaged artworks through funded fellowships, has announced a significant restructuring of its operations and program as a result of financial challenges precipitated by the pandemic. In a sign of the health crisis’s impact on small arts nonprofits, the organization will end its fellowship program, with the artist fellows named in March 2020 representing the final cohort in the program.

A Blade of Grass also announced that it will lay off its current five-person full-time staff in October and cut salary and benefits for its executive director, Deborah Fisher. During the 2021 fiscal year, the nonprofit will launch a commissioning model through which it will support the creation of a selection of artworks and related public programs. In addition, the nonprofit will organize “listening sessions” with artists to discuss their needs and formulate new modes of meeting them.

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The organization’s annual Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art had awarded individual grants of $20,000 to eight artists during each cycle. Those funds went toward the development of artworks that address social, political, and economic issues across different communities.

Since the fellowship program was launched in 2014, it has been considered one of the top initiatives devoted to social practice art, which relies on outreach, conversations, and activism, and often does not take the form of physical objects. Major artists and groups, including Simone Leigh, Black Quantum Futurism, Ras Cutlass, Monica Sheets, Chinatown Art Brigade, Suzanne Lacy, and Dread Scott, have been named A Blade of Grass fellows in the past. The organization’s 2020 cohort includes Cannupa Hanska Luger, Taja Lindley, the theater collective Papel Machete, and others.

“In a moment when socially engaged artists have a particularly critical role to play, we are also being faced with the reality that arts funding, in its current form, is precarious precisely because the arts are perceived as serving too few,” Fisher said in a statement. “While we could not have predicted these circumstances, we have to deal with the moment as it exists and make the difficult but necessary decisions now to establish a more sustainable model that will allow the organization to continue to fulfill its mission and the commitment it made to supporting socially engaged art and the artists who create it.”


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