Thought Leaders

The formation of Ruth Arts’ multi-year Thought Leaders program is inspired by the breadth of Ruth DeYoung Koher II’s life and giving—non-hierarchical and committed to structural change with an unwavering generosity and a dedication to the unexpected. Through a substantial, sustained level of support, our multi-year program uplifts organizations undertaking ambitious, transformative initiatives with long-term impact. Organizations that are dedicated to the complex work of forming new possibilities through experimentation, capacity building, and deeper understandings and investigations of our histories, environments, or the full arc of an artist’s life.

Each organization enters the program with their own expressed goals and receives $300,000 over three years. Their proposed projects ask the most urgent questions of our time: How do you transfer leadership with generosity and care? How do you evolve while resisting mission drift? How do you remain rooted in your community in meaningful ways while being connected to critical conversations at large? How do you make work in a time of fundamental social, economic, and ecological uncertainty? How do we form generative rather than extractive relationships to the land? How do you express abundance and joy in your operations? How do you imagine growth while confronting colonial legacies? What is inheritance in relation to collective care? How do you honor those that came before while creating space for new formations? How do we retell and reconceive history?

An integral aspect of the multi-year program is its emphasis on generosity and thought leadership—that the participating organizations commit to public knowledge sharing throughout their term. Whether through convenings and conversations, the creation of guides and resources, or a unique programmatic execution that could be modeled for their peers, the field will have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from their processes, to restructure and re-envision the future of art together.

Photo: Afro Charities, courtesy of Savannah Wood
Baltimore, MD

Afro Charities builds bridges across generations and socioeconomic divides through artistic and educational projects inspired by the AFRO American Newspapers’ archives. Established in 1963, Afro Charities is a nonprofit partner to the AFRO American Newspapers, caring for their archives, and creating meaningful opportunities for communities to engage with this indispensable resource.

Afro Charities plans to expand their artist commissioning program, providing more robust financial and professional support to artists in the production of new work inspired by the AFRO archives. They hope to encourage more non-traditional scholars to use archival research as a tool for their creative and personal growth.

Milwaukee, WI

Arts @ Large is committed to providing equitable access to arts educational experiences. Since 2001, A@L has engaged Milwaukee’s students, their families and the community in arts-rich experiential learning. The organization is grounded by four cornerstones: eco-literacy, civil rights, technology and innovation, and peacemaking, and they cater their work to serve three distinct groups: community, artists, and teachers/students/schools.

Arts @ Large will further develop their Artist-in-Residence program and establish a Legacy Library. Artists-in-residence will present work, host field trips for local schools, and lead crucial community conversations. Each residency contributes to their Legacy Library, creating content, curriculum and instructional design that will be available for all their artists and educators.

Photo: Arts @ Large, Mark Soriano
Photo: Ballroom Marfa, Artist-in-Residence, Guadalupe Maravilla, 2022
Marfa, TX

Ballroom Marfa is a non-collecting contemporary art museum and performance space housed in a 1920s-era ballroom in Far West Texas. Ballroom commissions new site-specific and site-inspired projects and gives artists and musicians the opportunity to engage with the magnificent landscape of the Big Bend.

Celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2023, Ballroom Marfa launches The Farther Place, and Beyond, a new commissioned-focused initiative. Artists will use their residency and visits to Marfa as a time for incubation to further develop an idea for a commissioned work, with Ballroom curators stewarding artists’ projects from inception to production and presentation in Marfa, and beyond.

Omaha, NE

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts facilitates the creation, presentation, and understanding of contemporary art through an international residency program, exhibitions, and educational programs. The artist-centric nonprofit inspires an open and diverse dialogue on the critical issues that give shape and meaning to the human condition.

Bemis intends to develop a campus-wide facility plan, expand its residency program to include families and artists with disabilities, and create a full-time Community Experience and Engagement Manager position. These initiatives sustain Bemis’ objectives of serving the state of Nebraska and the region as an epicenter for the production, presentation, and understanding of contemporary art, while working towards eliminating existing barriers that prevent artists and community members from engaging in their programming.

Photo: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Artist-in-Residence, Shaan Syed, 2018
Photo: Benny Andrews Estate, Benny Andrews, c 1972
Brooklyn, NY

The Benny Andrews Estate oversees the archive of the prolific artist, social justice activist, and dedicated educator, Benny Andrews (1930–2006). In his former studio in Brooklyn, NY, the artists’ personal archive and an extensive collection of his artworks remain a living legacy. The estate upholds Andrews’ commitment to education, social justice and the project of creating a fuller, more accurate historical canon that acknowledges the contributions of women and people of color to the arts.

The estate reimagines how they share information about the life and work of Benny Andrews and the voices that tell that story. They envision a dynamic expansion of their website with three distinct projects: a visual database of Andrews’ known artworks, a digitized collection of material from the artist’s archive, and a pilot project that brings living artists into their archive with the goal of creating original artwork, texts, research, or conversation.

York, AL

The Coleman Center for the Arts is a nonprofit contemporary arts organization located in York, Alabama. The center’s mission is to integrate contemporary art into education, civic life, and community development throughout the region by providing community-based artists’ residency programs and exhibitions, free resources, and space for artists-community experimentation.

As arts programs for schools in the region remain scarce, the organization plans to develop a visual arts curriculum in collaboration with a local junior high school, and rehabilitate a residency space to accommodate visual, performing, digital, and culinary arts opportunities. The center will also launch the Black Belt Art Collective, a monthly gathering of local artists, artisans, and makers to inform new ways to create and bolster a local art economy.

Photo: Coleman Center for the Arts, CCA Elite Dance Team at UWA Homecoming Parade, 2022
Photo: Headlands Center for the Arts, Artist-in-Residence, TomieArai
Sausalito, CA

Headlands Center for the Arts is an organization unlike any other, where landscape, history, and people come together in a singular generative spark for creative experimentation. A multidisciplinary, international arts center established by Bay Area artists, educators, and community leaders in 1982, Headlands is driven by the core belief that leading edge art—and the artists who create it—are essential to a vibrant, forward-thinking society.

Headlands is initiating the Creative Futures Campaign and a Residency Equality Fund, which triples the average artist stipend and ensures equitable support for 40–50 artists in residence annually. Headlands reimagines holistic support of artists by deepening the quality of artist engagements, increasing financial support, and strengthening their commitment to supporting artists of backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in the arts.

New York, NY

Independent Curators International (ICI) supports curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement. Curators are arts community leaders and organizers who champion artistic practice; build essential infrastructures and institutions; and generate public engagement with art. They work with art spaces in the US and around the world to present exhibitions and public programs for broad audiences; and professional development initiatives for curators.

ICI launches a five-year initiative focused on the Mississippi River basin, bringing together curators, artists, and art spaces to expand and energize the region’s cultural landscape and contemporary art through collaboration, research, and experimentation; and re-imagine the U.S.’s identity through the river, the lands it connects, the histories it weaves together, and the cultural flows it has enabled.

Photo: Independent Curators International, Participants in the Curatorial Intensive, Marrakech, Morocco, 2015
Photo: Columbus State University, Simon Schwob Memorial Library Archives, St. EOM at Pasaquan
Buena Vista, GA

Pasaquan’s priority is to preserve, maintain, provide access to and assist in the interpretation of Pasaquan. They aspire to give visitors a unique insight into the intuitive artistic process by engaging them through diverse programming, interdisciplinary workshops, lectures, seminars, retreats and performances.

Pasaquan continues their preservation work, documenting and sharing these efforts in the Pasaquan Preservation Guide Book, with plans to also produce the Pasaquan Vocal Score and Public Performance Project in collaboration with Georgia State University and Columbus State University. Both GSU and CSU will teach modules that center on Pasaquan—inspired by a lineage of artists, including St. EOM, John Cage, Sun Ra, Don Cherry, Lonnie Holley, and Pauline Oliveros—whose methods for creating art and sound blur boundaries between disciplines.

Oakland, CA

People’s Kitchen Collective is a grassroots project that works at the intersection of art and activism with the goal to not only fill stomachs, but also nourish souls, feed minds, and fuel a movement. The collaboration’s practice reflects the diverse backgrounds of co-founders Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, Jocelyn Jackson, and Saqib Keval. Written in their families’ recipes are the maps of migrations and stories of resilience, serving as the foundation for immersive experiences that honor the shared struggles of their people. PKC believes in radical hospitality as a strategy to address the urgent social issues of our time.

PKC launches Earth Seed, a project that unfolds across California through a series of walks and a community meal. Inspired by Octavia Butler’s Theory of Change and the legacy of survival programs by the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, PKC enacts hospitality as a survival practice, cultivating mutual aid, and bolstering collective resistance in this time of transformation. Through Earth Seed, the collective asks: what is the future of survival?

Photo: People’s Kitchen Collective, courtesy of Sana Javeri Kadri
Photo: Rivers Institute
New Orleans, LA

Rivers is an institute for research and publishing, exhibitions and conversations. Based in a city whose history and future are predicated upon and consigned to diaspora, Rivers commits to art informed by diasporic experience and exchange—and to research at the confluence of diverse bodies of knowledge. Their program is built upon sensitivity to historical, contemporary, and future experiences of displacement, migration, homesickness, translation, hospitality—among other conditions of diasporic living.

Rivers maintains a critical perspective on the complicated role real estate has played in the arts, one that is inextricable from a broader history of colonization, red-lining, and gentrification in this country. With this context, Rivers embarks on a multi-year initiative to animate the former residence of artist and teacher Ersy Schwartz, bequeathed to contemporary artist David Brooks. The residence serves as the foundation from which to explore the relationships between individual responsibility and collective care, stability and circulation, local conditions and global impact. Rivers will provide on-going care of the home, as well as activate it through residencies, project development, public programming, and community and partner hospitality.

New Orleans, LA

The Black School is an experimental art school teaching Black, POC students and allies to become agents of change in their communities through art and design workshops based in Black radical histories and public projects that address local community needs. Based on their commitment to community building and their core principles of Black love, wellness, and self-determination, The Black School’s mission is to promote and extend the legacy of art in Black radical histories by providing innovative education alternatives.

As they build their schoolhouse, The Black School will bolster their Youth Program initiatives, including their Design Apprenticeship—a New Orleans to NYC youth exchange program. The organization hopes to expand their capacity by pairing all their teaching artists with trauma-informed educators in future drop-in programs, and have plans to document their Schoolhouse Building journey and process to share widely as a model for the creation of autonomous BIPOC space making.

Photo: The Black School, courtesy of Tiffany Smith
Photo credit: The Laundromat Project, courtesy of Alejandro Jaramillo
Brooklyn, NY

The Laundromat Project advances artists and neighbors as change agents in their own communities. They make sustained investments in growing a community of multiracial, multigenerational, and multidisciplinary artists and neighbors committed to societal change by supporting their artmaking, community building, and leadership development.

With a focus on capacity building, The Laundromat Project embarks on a new strategic plan, inaugurates an artist alumni convening—which brings together members of their Create Change artist community for the first time in their 17-year history—and will produce the Create Change Institute, public programming, commissioned writing by artists, and published reports. As they consider what it means to be a long-term, financially secure, and community-accountable institution, and a model for the cultural field, they hope to galvanize energy towards local preservation, advocacy, and actions.

Quakertown, NJ

Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011) was one of the twentieth century’s greatest abstract artists. Gifted with prodigious drive and vision, she combined inspirations from her own cultural background with currents from contemporary painting and sculpture, arriving at a unique expressionist idiom. The Mission of the Toshiko Takaezu Foundation is to preserve and promote the artistic legacy of Takaezu and to educate the public about her work and teachings.

At a crucial stage of development, the Toshiko Takaezu Foundation intends to formalize its operations and capacity, build a capsule collection and archive, and spearhead a documentary project on Takaezu. With the ultimate goal of stewarding the legacy of Takaezu and her work, the foundation has long-term ambitions to establish an artist residency, fulfilling Takaezu’s aspirations of her home becoming an energetic, welcoming space activated by young artists in perpetuity.

Photo: Toshiko Takaezu Foundation, Toshiko in studio, date unknown