RBF Grants $1.5 Million to Help NYC Museums Build Back Better

Today the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) announced $1.5 million in grants to help New York City’s cultural institutions build back a more equitable culture and experience after months of closure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This initiative of the RBF Culpeper Arts & Culture program will support a range of exhibitions, programs, residencies, and other projects that provide greater visibility and opportunities for artists who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, as well as for women and LGBTQ artists, whose work continues to be underrepresented in major American museums.

While U.S. cultural institutions have long recognized the dearth of works by artists of color in their collections, progress to diversify the sector has been slow. The surging racial justice activism stemming from disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and rising police violence against Black Americans has put many museums back under the microscope and sparked a new national dialogue about their role in society.

“Established museums offer access to the networks, relationships, public audiences, and long-term resources needed to sustain a creative career, but their traditional structures often exclude BIPOC, LGBTQ, and women artists from those opportunities,” said Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas, program director for Arts & Culture at the RBF and chair of the CreateNYC Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “The arts and cultural organizations of New York, a global creative capital and one of the most diverse cities on earth, have a special responsibility to their home city and to the global arts community to deconstruct those hurdles and set a model for the sector to transform its approaches to diversity and representation.”

The RBF initiative will also support museum efforts to serve, reflect, and celebrate the diverse cultural communities of New York that they call home. When Rodriguez-Cubeñas first began developing the initiative in late 2019, before the pandemic hit, he looked to arts institutions from across the city that have wide influence, but also deep local roots. Grant recipients include The Africa Center, the Bronx Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA PS1, El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. The six-figure grants will underwrite major exhibitions by women and artists of color—including Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch at the Bronx Museum and Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And at the Brooklyn Museum—as well as programs that highlight local artists and storytellers working throughout the five boroughs.

The RBF has a long history of support with these institutions, some dating back as far as 1962. But this year has made New Yorkers more acutely aware of the value of the city’s artistic offerings, as museums, theatres, and cultural gathering spots were shuttered to curb the spread of COVID-19. Many museums rose to the occasion, leveraging art’s unique ability to help audiences make sense of an uncertain world with digital exhibitions, performances, talks, and other programs on the dual crises of the pandemic and persistent racial injustice, which will continue as museums reopen for in-person visits.

“Art can uniquely and powerfully challenge stereotypes, simplistic interpretations of complex and deeply personal experiences, and the perpetuation of subtle, and not-so-subtle, forms of oppression,” said Stephen Heintz, President and CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. “When museums make an intentional, concerted effort to disrupt dominant narratives—in their collections, their programs, their marketing, and their staff—the result is magnified in a way that can impact not only the art world, but the world at large.”

What the museums are saying:

“We are grateful for the support of The Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Their commitment to cultural institutions and programming that celebrate the diverse excellence of New Yorkers and the city we live in is crucial as we pass through and process this challenging moment.” – Uzodinma Iweala, CEO, The Africa Center

“At this critical moment in our city’s history, The Bronx Museum of the Arts is grateful to the RBF for their considerable support to advance our commitment to artists from the Bronx and across the five boroughs through exhibitions and programs that amplify the voices, visions, and stories of BIPOC, LGBTQ people, and women of color.” – Klaudio Rodriguez, Interim Director, Bronx Museum

“The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has answered our prayers, enabling us to present four canon-expanding exhibitions of New York artists, including the first survey of Lorraine O’Grady, the first museum exhibition of photographer John Edmonds, the first NYC museum show of Brooklyn-based artist KAWS, and the stunning exhibition of Jeffrey Gibson now on view that fuses contemporary Native American cultural forms with the systemic erasure of indigenous histories in colonized lands.” – Anne Pasternak, Director, Brooklyn Museum

“Thinking alongside artists who call this city home is part of PS1's DNA, and thanks to the generosity of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, we will now be transforming Greater New York into a year round initiative by and for artists to support dynamic practices under the continued duress of the pandemic and amplify the voices of emerging and under-recognized BIPOC and women artists.” – Kate Fowle, Director, MoMA PS1

"Through visual narratives, art informs, expands, and deepens our understanding of the world around us. With the support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, El Museo del Barrio continues this important work and champions the voices, stories, and lived experiences of Latinx artists and communities in the United States. Gracias for demonstrating visionary leadership during this pivotal moment." – Patrick Charpenel, Executive Director, El Museo del Barrio

“For over 100 years, the Museum of the City of New York has documented and shared New York’s stories. We are very grateful to The Rockefeller Brothers Fund for their generosity and support of our crucial work to amplify the diverse voices of New York natives on the Museum’s digital channels—a particularly important exercise during this complicated and challenging time in the city.” – Whitney W. Donhauser, Director & President, Museum of the City of New York

“As our borough navigates its recovery, the Queens Museum is working in a hyperlocal coalition with our Flushing Meadows-Corona Park partners to move forward as a united campus and approach the well-being of our communities through the lens of arts and culture. Support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund will enable the Museum to continue centering the needs of Queens-based artists and community organizations by providing rent-free studio space, professional development, and stipends to deliver exhibitions and public and educational programs. The Museum's 2021 programs will be framed as a Year of Uncertainty, and the Queens Museum will function as an artistic laboratory where new work will be created in response to the issues facing our local constituents.” – Sally Tallant, Executive Director, Queens Museum

“We are deeply grateful to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for its support of our signature Artist in Residence program and inHarlem collaborations. This grant both advances and affirms our work in championing the creativity of artists of African descent while promoting dialogue between their work and the greater Harlem community.” – Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem