Why fund artists? See why in this gallery featuring the work and personal stories of some of the artists Massachusetts has supported since 1975.
For more stories, watch the 40 Years of Fellowships videos on Mass Cultural Council’s YouTube Channel.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded its first group of Artist Fellowships in fiscal year 1975. The fellowships were awarded to individual artists in recognition of artistic excellence, and the program was founded by the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities (the predecessor to Mass Cultural Council).
Today, that program is still alive and strong.
A rough timeline since 1975
- From 1975 to 1991, the program was funded by the Mass. Council on the Arts and Humanities, but administered by the Artists Foundation, a non-profit organization that supported individual artists.
- During budget deliberations between the Governor and House in 1990, a compromise was worked out to merge the Mass. Council on the Arts and Humanities and the Mass. Arts Lottery Council (an organization that provided grassroots cultural support to local communities, similar to today’s Local Cultural Council Program) into one agency, Mass Cultural Council. Budget cuts continued in 1991 and 1992 (state arts funding went from more than $27 million at its peak to just $3.587 million in 1992). These budget cuts forced the agency to end its partnership with the Artists Foundation and to put the fellowships on hiatus during the 1992 and 1993 fiscal years.
- In 1994, the Council reinstated the fellowships, though with reduced grant amounts ($5000 in 1994), in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, music composition, and choreography. Mass Cultural Council funded fellowships for the visual arts disciplines (crafts, drawing/printmaking/artist books, painting, photography, and sculpture) through the New England Foundation for the Arts Regional Fellowship Program (administered by NEFA) until 1998. Mass Cultural Council funded film & video fellowships through the Boston Film/Video Foundation.
- Eventually, all fellowship disciplines would be administered in-house: visual arts disciplines were administered by Mass Cultural Council as of 1999 and film & video as of 2003.
- From 2003 onward, all Artist Fellows and Finalists were featured on the Mass Cultural Council Gallery.
- In 2015, Mass Cultural Council celebrated 40 Years of Fellowships.
Details of the Award
The fellowships are unrestricted, meaning artists can use them anyway they choose. The grants are not project-based, but rather awards to recognize and support individual excellence. The funding criteria is “creative ability and artist quality” based on the work submitted, and all applicants must be Massachusetts residents. The grant amount has ranged from it’s lowest at $3000 (in 1976) to its highest at $12,500 (in 2000). Amounts in other years have ranged (depending on available funds) from $5000 to $7500 to $10,000. Finalist awards have ranged from non-monetary to $500 or $1000.
By the end of 2015, over $12 million will have been awarded to Massachusetts individual artists through the fellowships.
Some discipline categories have remained the same since 1975 (like Crafts and Music Composition), and some have been adjusted (for instance, Playwriting became Dramatic Writing, and the discipline currently named Drawing & Printmaking has been called Drawing or Drawing/Printmaking/Artist Books at various times). Some categories, like Traditional Arts, emerged later (1988), and some, like Design & the Built Environment (1986-1990) and Interarts/New Genres (1983-1991), came and went. See a current list of Artist Fellowships disciplines.
Impact of the Awards
We explore the impact of the awards in our Fellows Notes feature, which details the current accomplishments of past Fellows and Finalists. Past Fellows have won prestigious awards from the Guggenheim, MacArthur, and Pulitzer foundations. They have been honored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Book Awards, the Sundance Film Festival, the Whitney Biennial, the Smithsonian Institution, TED, and the Academy Awards. They’ve been U.S. Poet Laureates, they’ve been Oprah’s Book Club Picks, they’ve been on PBS, HBO, in Time Magazine and Off-Broadway, they’ve been in galleries, stages, institutions, and publications throughout the Commonwealth, the U.S., and the world.