A drawing of a large building surrounded by walkways, lawns, and trees.

Floating Museum, rendering for Floating Monuments: Mecca Flats.

Stories & News / Foundation News

Letter from our President & CEO, Winter 2024

February 20, 2024

As we have embraced the foundation’s new mission over the past year, we are proud to have supported 139 organizations with over $14 million devoted to projects that expand narratives of American art. Among these grants are collection installations that engage new modes of curatorial practice to include a plurality of voices and perspectives, convenings that bring together interdisciplinary scholars from around the world to participate in dialogue around practice change in the field, and temporary exhibitions that reimagine and make accessible the stories of American art.

Advancing our goals to foster lasting impacts though our grantmaking, we envision relationships and partnerships that lead to deep engagements over extended periods of time. This past year, we supported organizations that are implementing innovative models in their exhibition research, development, interpretation, programming, and display. These supported exhibitions and collections projects are telling powerful stories, changing how organizations are working, and connecting with communities in creative ways. Developed through years of research and planning, these projects have been organized with the support of numerous internal and external collaborative teams, often comprising individuals whose stories are being told. Exhibition and collection planning grants have made possible many first-time or sustained community collaborations. At the same time, hundreds of artists have been featured in exhibitions that deepen and nuance our understandings of their work while also bringing to light other, less widely recognized artistic practices.

Curatorial Practices in Oklahoma City

One such effort is highlighted in the First Americans Museum’s research and documentary project WINIKO: Reunions. This initiative works to connect objects on long-term loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s collection with their makers’ relatives within tribal nations in Oklahoma so that family members can engage with these objects. The museum set out to identify a core practice for working with tribal nations and citizens that can be shared and modeled by organizations doing similar work, believing that such work is beneficial to the tribal nations and the collecting institutions alike. Practices that emerge from this project will be published in a catalogue and shown in a feature film intended to share these new ways of working with museum professionals, audiences, and members of cultural communities.

A picture of three people looking at a breechcloth on a table.

Big Soldier family (Iowa Tribe) reunited with their grandfather’s breechcloth at First Americans Museum, 2023 [NMAI 027462.000]. Photo by James Pepper Henry.

Long-term Partnerships Worldwide

We are also encouraging collaborative practices and developing long-term relationships through our two current Terra Collection initiatives—the American Missionary Association (AMA) Art Initiative and Terra Collection-in-Residence (TCR). Over the next five years, the foundation has committed to partnering with six institutions either founded by or affiliated with the AMA, a nineteenth-century anti-slavery and anti-caste organization, foregrounding our efforts to invest deeply and over time in communities and organizations that are central to telling inclusive stories of American art.

Through Terra Collection-in-Residence, the foundation works closely with partners to select artworks from the foundation’s collection to loan for extended periods, typically between two and four years. The loans made to invited academic museums or museums with strong connections to universities are intended to help them expand the stories they can tell with their permanent collections and to provide opportunities for interdisciplinary research and teaching with American art. The Georgia Museum of Art created tactile replicas of paintings, including a foundation work on loan, to increase and improve museum accessibility; and the Museu de Arte Contemporânea at the University of Sau Pãulo, Brazil, will install the Terra Collection loans in a teaching gallery accessible to undergraduate students taking art history classes as well as to graduate students in a range of disciplines from three local universities.

Modes of Convening in Lagos, Nigeria, and Venice, Italy

Internationally, in our first year supporting the Lagos Biennial, we were inspired by the curators’ approach to selecting, through an open call, the multilayered exhibitions, public programs, and collaborative platforms of artists, writers, scholars, and curators to generate a space of artistic experimentation and debate around notions of refuge and site. Our support for American participants at the Biennial fostered intercultural dialogues as they took part in global conversations across regional and international contexts. It also included New Art School Modality “Festac Course” outcome projects, including a panel organized by Romi Crawford that shared student course work and a restaging of Darlene Blackburn’s FESTAC ‘77 performance “From Africa to America,” publicly performed for the first time since its debut in 1977.

The NXTHVN convening Black Portraitures: Shifting Paradigms takes place in April during the opening week of the 2024 Venice Biennale. The setting of the Biennale enables the organizers to make connections between the convening—designed to offer comparative perspectives on the historical and contemporary roles played by artists, practitioners, writers, and collectors in generating discourses that center the Black subject in Africa and communities of African descent—and the physical spaces, pavilions, and satellite exhibitions that feature Black artists and curators from Africa and its diaspora. The foundation is also supporting the Biennale exhibition, Jeffrey Gibson: the space in which to place me. For the U.S. Pavilion, Gibson activates the building with sculpture, paintings, and multimedia works, and an exterior installation invites deep reflection on identity and advocates for a widening of access to democracy and freedom.

Romi Crawford, Arnold Udoka, and Darlene Blackburn in conversation seated on stage at the Lagos Biennial, 2024.

Romi Crawford, Arnold Udoka, and Darlene Blackburn in conversation at the Lagos Biennial, 2024.

Artist-Led Projects in Chicago

Our major investment in Chicago this year is through Art Design Chicago—a Terra Foundation initiative in partnership with artists and organizations across the city—which kicked off this past fall and features a series of events and exhibitions highlighting Chicago’s art histories and creative communities. Through many artist-led projects and curatorial collaborations, narratives of the city are being (re)told in compelling ways. The art collective Floating Museum creates new models to explore the relationships linking art, community, architecture, and public institutions. Its large-scale, moveable work of public art and exhibition platform Floating Monuments: Mecca Flats references Mecca Flats, a historic building on Chicago’s South Side that was razed during urban renewal efforts despite its significance to the city’s cultural and social history. The sculpture, to be installed successively in public spaces across the city, is accompanied by programs that both celebrate the arts and artists associated with Mecca Flats and examine the legacy of displacement and disinvestment in Chicago.

In UnBlocked, Tonika Johnson, in partnership with the Chicago Bungalow Association, brings together community members, artists, and other collaborators to transform one block in the Englewood neighborhood through arts-based and physical improvements and repairs to individual homes whose present-day property (de)valuation can be traced to racist housing policies in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the next year, we look forward to further expanding our global network and establishing more enduring and deeper relationships with new and existing partners so that we can continue to strengthen our mission to reshape how stories of American art are told. We are continually heartened to hear from our partners about how they are developing groundbreaking exhibitions and testing vibrant approaches to museum practice in and of community, and we are energized to continue our work together as we encourage transformative practices to expand narratives of American art through conversation and connection.

Sharon Corwin
President & CEO

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