After an incredibly successful run as President and CEO of the United States Artists funding organization, during which she facilitated the emergence of initiatives such as Disability Futures, the Knight Arts+Tech Fellowship and the Rainin Fellowship, Deana Haggag will be stepping down to join the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a Program Officer in Arts and Culture, United States Artists announced on Friday. Jamie Bennett, most recently of ArtPlace America, will step in as Interim CEO of USA. Since 2006, United States Artists has awarded unrestricted monetary grants to artists belonging to all different levels and disciplines, but as President, Haggag also helped to create the Artist Relief initiative. Last April, this initiative was funded to award $5,000 grants to artists facing down financial emergencies due to COVID-19.
Eventually, over 55,000 people applied for the Artist Relief grant in its first two weeks, illustrating just how stark the collective need for financial assistance was amongst American artists, and casting an unflattering light upon federal sources who’d failed to aid those who needed it. “Over the course of Deana’s tenure, United States Artists has deepened its commitment to artists and demonstrated that care and generosity are essential to our collective imaginings of the future,” Natalie Diaz, a poet and USA Trustee, said in a statement.
“There is truly nothing more fulfilling than working in service of artists,” Haggag added in a statement of her own. “Leading USA has been an immeasurable honor. “This position has been a profound learning experience that has given me the opportunity to travel our nation and understand the unique needs of artists across disciplines and regions. As we recover from this challenging moment, I am humbled to take these lessons with me and to learn from colleagues at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as we continue advocating for our nation’s beloved artist community.”
In addition to the COVID-19 emergency relief grants, in early 2020, United States Artists also gave grants of $50,000 to Melvin Edwards, who was the first African American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970, and Martine Syms, an LA-based “conceptual entrepreneur” who works to interrogate disparate representations of Blackness. Clearly, the organization understands that the best way to honor artists isn’t abstract or ceremonial at all: just hand over cold, hard cash so creatives can flourish.