Throughout the United States, foundation funding has enabled arts institutions of all kinds to grow, thrive, and innovate. The timeline below takes the example of just one institution, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the funding received from the foundations whose records reside in the Rockefeller Archive Center to illustrate how foundation investment has enabled non-profit cultural institutions to make groundbreaking incursions in the cultural sector.
The Walker Art Center: A Brief History
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota has long held a reputation as one of the premier showcases for experimental modern and contemporary art in America. In 1879, Thomas Barlow Walker, a lumber baron, industrialist, and art collector, opened a public art gallery in his downtown Minneapolis home. Walker’s gallery showcased his collections of European and American nineteenth-century paintings, as well as his Asian art collection. The Walker Art Galleries were among the first public art galleries in the Midwest (the Art Institute of Chicago opened its museum around the same time).
By 1927, the Walker Art Galleries had relocated to a larger building in Minneapolis. In 1939, the Minnesota Arts Council and the federal Works Projects Administration took control of the Galleries and renamed them the Walker Art Center.
In the 1940s, the Walker Art Center developed its reputation as an institution committed to community engagement, and to the promotion of avant-garde modern and contemporary work. These interests only accelerated in mid-century under the guidance of its second director, H.H. Arnason, the art historian responsible for one of today’s most often used modern art survey textbooks.
By the 1960s, the Walker Art Center had expanded its exhibition focus, and showcased interdisciplinary contemporary art. Painting and sculpture appeared alongside music, theater, and dance performances; films; and explorations of new media. The Walker’s institutional mandate to present all facets of the artistic encounter, to support innovative and experimental artistic forms, and to connect its activities with the needs and desires of its local community, remain defining characteristics of the museum today.“Walker Art Center Timeline.” Accessed 8.19.19. “Proposal Narrative,” Extended Residency Grant Proposal, July 24, 1991, AH 9306, Box R3144, SG 1.24(A98), FA 1295, Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC.
Selected Foundation Support for the Walker Art Center, 1958 – 2007
In June of 1958, the influential director of the Ford Foundation’s Program in Humanities and the Arts, W. McNeil “Mac” Lowry, wrote a personal appeal to Walker Art Center director, H.H. Arnason. Lowry asked that Arnason and the Walker Art Center participate in his program to “stimulate creativity in the various arts by enhancing opportunities for talented persons at critical stages of their careers.”
One program Lowry created was a competition among visual artists over the age of 35–“mature artists”–for up to $10,000 of grants-in-aid. These were intended to “free artists to concentrate upon their work for a period in excess of one year.” For this competition, Lowry divided the country into twelve regions, and solicited submissions from visual artists that would be assessed by a regional jury. These regional selections would then be put up for broader, national review by a panel of experts to select the winning recipients. Lowry proposed that Arnason serve on the Midwest regional jury, and requested that the Walker Art Center act as the Midwest regional clearing house for receiving, handling, and returning artistic submissions.
Arnason and the Walker went above and beyond their required duties, in keeping with their own institutional commitment to contemporary artists. The Walker cleared out several galleries and hung the submitted works as its own exhibition—consequently increasing awareness of the proposed artists, and giving the juries better conditions under which to make their assessments. To Arnason’s expressed frustration, none of his choices received the award. W. McNeil Lowry to H. Harvard Arnason, “Confidential,” June 12, 1958, Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC. “Ford Foundation Program for Artists: Procedural Instructions for the Walker Art Center,” 1958, Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC. W. McNeil Lowry to H.H. Arnason, December 18, 1958, Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC. H.H. Arnason to W. McNeil Lowry, June 14, 1958, Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC. H.H. Arnason to W. McNeil Lowry, May 13, 1959, Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC. Telegram from H.H. Arnason to Ford Foundation, December 15, 1958, Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC. H.H. Arnason to W. McNeil Lowry, March 23, 1959, Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC. Although none reflected Arnason’s choices, the first cohort of Ford’s grant-in-aid recipients included many artists who would later become well known, including painter Phillip Guston. Box 65, Series XIV, FA640, Ford Foundation records, RAC.
Center Opera Company begins work
In the 1960s, the Walker Art Center, through a quirk in its funding structure, paid 1/3 of the maintenance cost of the Guthrie Theatre Foundation in Minneapolis–a company whose title, like that of the Walker’s, was held by the T.B. Walker Foundation. The Walker Art Center was therefore entitled to 1/3 of the theater’s time–a privilege well-used by Walker Director Martin Friedman as he shifted the institution towards an interdisciplinary conception of contemporary art.
The Center Opera Company, the Walker’s first major commitment to new music (specifically, new music by American composers) was the producing organization that supported the most robust of Friedman’s programming, its contemporary opera series. Integrating the best in contemporary scenic design, performance, and visual art, the operas debuted and performed under the aegis of the Walker and its Center Opera Company were boundary pushing and innovative. The Rockefeller Foundation helped establish the Center Opera Company in 1963, with a three-year grant.
Before the Center Opera Company broke away from the Walker Art Center in 1968, paving the way for it to become the Minneapolis Opera, the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music provided additional support for the Center Opera Company’s performances. As an independent organization, the Center Opera Company continued to receive support from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, as well as from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ford Foundation, among many other donors. Docket Memorandum, “Walker Art Center (Minneapolis),” October 27, 1966, Folder 21, Box 85, FA 1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music records, RAC. Docket Memorandum, “Center Opera Company, Inc.,” June 25, 1968, Folder 21, Box 85, FA 1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music records, RAC. Docket Memorandum, “Center Opera Company, Inc.,” June 12, 1969, Folder 21, Box 85, FA 1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music records, RAC. “News from the Ford Foundation,” May 26, 1970, Folder 114, Box 2, Series 1, RG 2, FA 1322, Ford Foundation records, RAC. Alliance for New Music, Docket Memorandum, January 15, 1980, Box 235, Series 2, FA 1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music records, RAC.
In 1964, the Ford Foundation established a 5-year curatorial training program for art museums. As part of an initiative to professionalize the museum field, the program provided both internships for individuals interested in curatorial careers, and who held an MA in art history; and grants to universities that currently had or wished to develop hands-on museum training coursework. The internships were designed to run for one year, with the possibility of renewal, and provided interns with training in museum operations, collections care and management, provenance research, and exhibition planning.
The Walker Art Center was one of the first institutions to host an intern when the program officially debuted in 1965. This photograph shows the Ford Foundation’s 1965 Walker curatorial intern, Robert M. Murdock–who later became a notable art historian and contemporary art curator–looking at works in the museum’s storage with a staff member.Ford Foundation Press Release, January 13, 1964, Folder 198, Box 4, Series 1, RG 2, FA1322, Ford Foundation records, RAC. Ford Foundation Press Release, May 26, 1965, Folder 197, Box 4, Series 1, RG 2, FA1322, Ford Foundation records, RAC. Roberta Smith, “Robert M. Murdock, Curator and Scholar, Dies at 67,”The New York Times, October 11, 2009, Page A24. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Internships and training for Native American students
In 1972, the Walker Art Center, in partnership with The Minneapolis Institute of Art, mounted an exhibition on Native American art–American Indian Art: Form and Tradition. While each museum developed an independent Native American art exhibit, with attendant programming, the shows shared a comprehensive catalog. Critical to these exhibits was the desire by both institutions to directly work with and involve the local Native American population.
To that end, both the Walker and The Minneapolis Institute of Art applied to the Ford Foundation to underwrite a competitive internship program that would support four Native American students to work on the shows in each museum for 6 months, as well as support tour leader training for Native American students in the area. Ford provided $10,800 to each museum to fund the program.Howard R. Dressner to Julia W. Dayton, August 4, 1972, Walker Art Center, July 1 – July 30, 1972, PA 72-313, Reel 1753, Ford Foundation records, RAC. Grant Proposal, Walker Art Center, Inc. and The Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, June 1972, Walker Art Center, July 1 – July 30, 1972, PA 72-313, Reel 1753, Ford Foundation records, RAC.
Museum education program begins
In the 1970s, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Director of the Arts, Howard Klein, was interested in helping professionalize the field of museum education. Klein and his team created apprenticeships for promising young educators at major American art museums. The fellowships were designed around the principles of “Recruitment, Training, Placement,” ensuring that each host institution had the trainees’ future positions in mind. The Walker Art Center, under the direction of Martin Friedman, was one of the three selected host institutions to pilot the program, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
This program was a natural fit for the Walker. Since 1970, Friedman had been in conversation with Klein’s predecessor, Norman Lloyd, about Rockefeller Foundation support for museum education programs and training opportunities. Friedman viewed such an apprenticeship and training program as the “most needed thing [he] could think of,” and noted that the unique interdisciplinary focus of the Walker would ensure that fellows worked not only across all curatorial departments, but also with “the coordinators of film, design and performing arts.”
The initial Rockefeller Foundation grant was for $136,000 to support a revolving cast of fellows from 1974-1976. With the success of the program, the grant was later extended, with an additional sum of $54,600 carrying the program through to 1978. The Walker Art Center-Rockefeller Foundation fellows included individuals who later become prominent curators, museum educators, or art historians, such as Maud Lavin. Martin Friedman to Norman Lloyd, July 29, 1970, Box R2099, Series 280, Subgroup 1.9 (A83), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Martin Friedman quoted in record of telephone call between Howard Klein and Martin Friedman, October 23, 1972, Box R2099, Series 280, Subgroup 1.9(A83), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Martin Friedman to Howard Klein, March 5, 1973, Box2099, Series 280, Subgroup 1.9(A83), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Howard Klein, Walker Art Center visit report, March 30, 1973, Box R2099, Series 280, Subgroup 1.9(A83), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. J. Kellum Sith, Jr. to Martin Friedman, May 23, 1973, Box R2099, Series 280, Subgroup 1.9(A83), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Laurence D. Stifel to Martin Friedman, May 3, 1976, Box R2099, Series 280, Subgroup 1.9(A83), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC.
The Rockefeller Foundation provided financial support for Imaginary Landscapes, a show that uniquely addressed all facets of Isamu Noguchi‘s artistic production. Though known primarily as a sculptor, Noguchi worked in theater and garden design, architecture, decorative arts, and other media. In addition to sculptural works, the Walker’s 1978 retrospective included Noguchi’s architectural models for projects then underway; a bamboo, canvas, and wood stage to host custom performances as well as a reading of poetry written by Noguchi’s father, the renowned Japanese author Yone Noguchi. Noguchi himself was pleased with the Walker’s approach to his oeuvre, so much so that he modeled the permanent collection display at his namesake museum in New York after the structure of Imaginary Landscapes.Matthew Kirsch, “Noguchi’s Landmark Exhibitions,” Noguchi Museum Digital Features. Accessed 10.28.2019.
In June of 1980, the Walker mounted a nine-day celebration of new music: the New Music America Festival. The Festival was a larger and more public iteration of a similar new music celebration held at The Kitchen in 1979, and was the brainchild of the Alliance for New Music. In addition to the Walker’s financial contributions, the Festival was supported by grants from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and by sponsorships from The Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, among others.
The Festival, which included nine concerts, convened over seventy-five new music composers, musicians, and representatives of supportive organizations to introduce the public to new and often experimental works. Festival organizers partnered not only with the Walker, but also with community representatives, such as the Minneapolis Board of Education, which enabled musicians to teach students about new music and bring composers into the classrooms. “Sound sculptures” and sound installations, such as a “caravan of amplified bicycles” and a “musical staircase,” were also mounted both at the Walker, and in public spaces around Minneapolis and St. Paul. The 1980 Walker New Music America Festival was the “most extensive contemporary music festival ever mounted in the United States,” and won one of the first Twin Cities Mayors’ Public Art Awards in 1981. Alliance for New Music, Docket Memorandum, January 15, 1980, Box 235, Series 2, FA1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music records, RAC. Walker Art Center New Music America Narrative Report, August 13, 1980, box 235, Series 2, FA1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music records, RAC. Michael Anthony, “’New Music America’ Festival,” Minneapolis Tribune November 1980, Box 235, Series 2, FA1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, RAC. Walker Art Center member brochure, June 1980, Box 235, Series 2, FA1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, RAC. Donald Fraser and George Latimer to Kathleen Hager, November 18, 1981, Box 235, Series 2, FA1420, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, RAC.
Inaugural grant from the new Luce Fund for Scholarship in American Art
The Walker received an initial grant of $125,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation, Inc.’s Luce Fund for Scholarship in American Art to generate a catalogue of the Walker’s permanent collection. The Luce Fund for Scholarship in American Art helped foster new explorations of American art, and particularly aspired to support American art research within museums. Although the large number of international works in the Walker’s collections caused some initial hesitation on Luce’s part, the fact that 75% of its holdings were American was finally convincing. In 1984, Luce increased its commitment to the Walker’s collection catalogue with additional funding through 1988. Robert E. Armstrong Memo, “RE: The Walker Art Center—Lunch with Martin Friedman,” March 17, 1983, Folder 60, Box 8, Series 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundaion records, RAC. Martha R. Wallace to Martin Friedman, February 22, 1982, Folder 61, Box 8, Series 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Robert E. Armstrong to Martin Friedman, May 31, 1983, Folder 61, Box 8, Series 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Telegram from Robert E. Armstrong to Martin Friedman, September 29, 1983, Folder 61, Box 8, Series 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Robert E. Armstrong to Martin Friedman, February 14, 1984, Folder 61, Box 8, Series 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC.
Alive From Off Center, an eight-part, half-hour show airing on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), was the brainchild of the Walker’s new Media Department, part of the institution’s continued push to showcase and foster contemporary art in all of its formats. The Walker viewed Alive From Off Center as a new category of art-making—what they entitled “performance television”—and designed it to feature works by contemporary media, visual, sound, and performing artists. The National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and other organizations contributed funding, along with the Rockefeller Foundation which provided a $50,000 grant to underwrite the project’s research and development phase.
Alive From Off Center, one of several initiatives by the Walker’s Media Department in the mid-1980s, aspired to create interactive videos of artist interviews and art documentaries for wide, public dissemination. Artists and musicians who generated programming for Alive From Off Center included Ann Magnuson, Christian Marclay, John Sanborn, David Byrne, Sam Shepard, and Laurie Anderson, among many other avant-garde contemporary artists of the time. The series was hosted by Susan Stamberg, a journalist then known as the co-host of the radio series “All Things Considered.” Grant File for the Walker Art Center Media Programs, June 13, 1984, Folder 61, Box 10, S200R, RG 1.14 (A88), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Mary M. Polta to Kenneth C. Van Cleaf, March 7, 1986, Folder 61, Box 10, S200R, RG 1.14 (A88), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Stephen Holden, “Video Artistry Sparks a New Series,” The New York Times, June 30, 1985, Folder 61, Box 10, S200R, RG 1.14 (A88), Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC.
The Tyler Graphics Archive comprises the collection of Tyler Graphics, Ltd., a print shop established in 1974 and run by master printer Kenneth Tyler. Tyler collaborated on more than 1,000 proofs and sketches for prints by leading contemporary artists like Frank Stella, Robert Motherwell, and Helen Frankenthaler. The archives of Tyler Graphics, Ltd. entered the Walker’s collections in 1984, as the Walker was in the process of building a two-level wing dedicated to their print collection and print study. The Luce Foundation, through a Luce Fund for Scholarship in American Art grant, provided $100,000 to support a two-volume work that showcased both the collaborations between Tyler and contemporary artists, and the history of Tyler Graphics’ printmaking from 1974-1985. Elizabeth Armstrong to Robert E. Armstrong, April 17, 1984, Folder 62, Box 8, S1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Walker Art Center inivitation to reception to mark the publication of Tyler Graphics: The Extended Image and Tyler Graphics: Catalogue Raisonnee, 1974-1985, 1987, Folder 62, Box 8, S 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Martin Friedman to Mary Jane Hickey, October 22, 1984, Folder 62, Box 8, S 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Henry Luce III to Martin Friedman, October 5, 1984, Folder 62, Box 8, S 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Dave Matheny, “Walker Obtains Tyler Collection for New Printmaking Wing,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, June 26, 1983, Folder 62, Box 8, S 1, RG 1, FA 1317, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC.
24 Hours of Light was a day-long program by choreographer Kei Takei and her collaborators, composers David Moss, Yukio Tsuji, and artist Ichi Ikeda, performed outdoors in June of 1991 at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The program was a compilation of Takei’s new and previous dances, set within an immersive sound environment. It also included sculptural installations, readings, tea ceremonies, silence walks, and bonfires. 24 Hours of Light at the Walker was designed to refer to the Japanese tradition of an all night festival, or matsuri and was supported in part by $20,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation.Walker Art Center grant summary, January 23, 1991, Box R2748, SG 1.20, A94, FA 471, Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Walker Art Center grant file, February 1, 1991, Box R2748, SG 1.20, A94, FA 471, Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. John R. Killacky to Suzanne Sato, August 19, 1991, Box R2748, SG 1.20, A94, FA 471, Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC.
The Walker’s Extended Artists’ Residence Program furthered its support for contemporary art and artists by allowing the museum to commission new art works, and to embed artists within the Minnesota community. The Rockefeller Foundation provided $100,000 between 1992-1993 to bolster this initiative. Artists receiving residency funding included Krzysztof Wodiczko, Coco Fusco, Mel Chin, and Ben Vautier, among many others.
In keeping with the Walker’s interest in inter-media artistic contributions, visual artists, musicians, playwrights, poets, filmmakers, media artists, as well as performers received support. This photograph shows a still from a performance piece by recipients Ann Hamilton and David Ireland, who focused their multi-media installation on Minneapolis’ history as a center for grain and flour production. The immersive installation was created over the course of four weeks, and included sound as well as physical objects. Pre-Approval Grant File for Walker Art Center, February 22, 1993, AH 9306, Box R3144, SG 1.24 (A98), FA 1295, Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC. Walker Art Center Annual Report 1991-1992, AH 9306, Box R3144, SG 1.24 (A98), FA 1295, Rockefeller Foundation records, RAC.
The JUMP (Japan-U.S. Museum Professionals) Exchange program, a collaborative endeavor with the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) and the Japan Foundation, funded the exchange of Japanese and American museum professionals. The JUMP program aimed to foster American and Japanese cultural relationships, to support the growing American interest in Japanese contemporary art, and to help develop professional museum training programs in Japan by looking to American models.
For Japanese curators, the JUMP program provided the equivalent of an American internship, where they could learn how American curators and museums worked. For American museum professionals, their time in Japan allowed them to conduct research on Japanese collections, contemporary art, and museum practices with an eye towards future exhibitions. Walker director Kathy Halbreich (pictured at left) had long been interested in contemporary Japanese art; notably, she organized the traveling exhibition Against Nature: Contemporary Art in Japanin 1985.
In April 1997, the ACC sponsored her visit to Japan to participate in a forum of six Japanese and seven American museum directors and high level museum staff members. The forum discussed topics of mutual benefit to the Japanese and American museum personnel, as well as set the terms and scope for the JUMP Exchange program. In addition to Halbreich, her forum American peers included James Cuno, then-director of the Harvard University Art Museums, and Graham Beal, then-director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Asian Cultural Council Docket Memorandum, February 19, 1997, Folder 11, Box 681, RG 5, Series 15, FA 1403, Asian Cultural Council records, RAC.
In 2005, the Walker Art Center opened its new, and expanded facility—what it termed its 17-acre “urban campus.” This facility nearly doubled the museum’s size, and included new gallery space, education areas interspersed through the galleries, new public terraces and gardens, more visitor services, a new performance space, and many other innovations to showcase the institution’s holdings and to connect with the surrounding community.
Accompanying the opening of the new facility was a new, comprehensive catalogue of the Walker’s permanent collection, Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole, that was underwritten by the Getty Grant Program (now the Getty Foundation), and seven, new, thematic reinstallations of the permanent collection. Themes included “Mythologies,” in which critical works from the Walker’s collection examined “how these pieces evoke[d] and question[ed] historical and contemporary mythologies;” “Postwar Modernism and its Alternatives;” “Shadowland,” which looked at the impact of film and photographic images on art creation; as well as others, including artist-designed installations by artists in the holdings. The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. provided $100,000 to support the endeavor. Ellen Holtzman to Kathryn Ross, August 14, 2003, Folder 604, Box 82, RG 2, FA 1393, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Press Release, Walker Art Center, “Expanded Walker Art Center to Open in February 2005,” January 16, 2004, Folder 604, Box 82, RG 2, FA 1393, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Marla M. Stack to Ellen Holtzman, September 29, 2005, Folder 604, Box 82, RG 2, FA 1393, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC.
The Walker’s Kara Walker: My Lover, My Master, My Enemy was the first, large-scale American retrospective of Kara Walker’s work; Walker herself collaborated with the museum for the show. The exhibition traveled to institutions in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Fort Worth. The exhibit won the “Best Monograph Museum Show Nationally of 2006-2007” from the International Association of Art Critics. It was supported by a 2006 $100,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. Walker Art Center Interim and Final Report Cover Sheet, November 8, 2006, Folder 605, Box 82, RG 2, FA 1393, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Marla Stack to Ellen Holtzman, February 22, 2008, Folder 605, Box 82, RG 2, FA 1393, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC. Marla M. Stack to Ellen Holtzman, June 30, 2008, Folder 605, Box 82, RG 2, FA 1393, Henry Luce Foundation records, RAC.
Our first 2021 edition of the New Research series presents four recently published RAC Research Reports drawing on diverse archival material from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Population Council.