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Disability Futures awards disabled dancers

Alice Wong. Photo by Eddie Hernandez Photography.
Alice Wong. Photo by Eddie Hernandez Photography.

Thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, and there’s still a lot of work to be done in this country on that matter. But a new initiative by legacy funders the Ford Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation hopes to change that. 

The two foundations are launching a new fellowship, the result of listening, collaboration and humble engagement, that will directly support the work of 20 disabled artists, dancers and more across the country. Once launched, this 18-month program, Disability Futures, will be the only national award for disabled practitioners. 

Disability Futures aims to increase the visibility of disabled creatives across disciplines and geography and elevate their voices individually and collectively. The first phase of this program involved announcing the 2020 Fellows, listed below. Administered by United States Artists, the fund will award these 20 disabled creative practitioners with a $50,000 grant each ($1 million in total) to advance their practice.

Disability Futures was born out of a year-long research study that interviewed dozens of disabled artists and creative practitioners across the country to inform how Ford, Mellon and other philanthropies can better serve disabled artists and creatives. While a philanthropic investment, Disability Futures is intentionally designed by, for and with disabled practitioners at many levels. Disabled practitioners prompted the initiative, and Fellows were nominated and selected by disabled practitioners.

Through the fellowship, Ford and Mellon hope to address field-wide problems in arts and culture, journalism, and documentary film — including a dearth of disability visibility in the cultural sector, lack of professional development opportunities accessible to disabled practitioners and the need for a national grant program that considers the unique financial challenges of disabled artists.

“It is a privilege to recognize this array of creative professionals and lift up their contributions to the arts, journalism and documentary film,” said Margaret Morton, director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. “Artists and creatives provoke us with ideas, adorn us with beauty and lead us to action. It is critical that we engage with disabled practitioners’ perspectives and elevate their narratives. We hope that this fellowship will prompt more attention for and engagement with disability-led content, productions and projects in the years to come.”

“Institutional structures have not served disabled artists in the past,” said Emil Kang, program director for Arts and Culture at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “Disability Futures is the result of listening, collaboration and humble engagement, and we at Mellon are pleased to recognize and support these outstanding artists directly.” 

The Fellows are leaders in their respective fields. The recipients come from communities across the country, where they work as artists, activists, educators and more. Their work breaks barriers and offers new ways of understanding the lived experiences of disabled people. Their work has won awards at Sundance, been featured at the Whitney Museum and is available to stream on Netflix.

The Disability Futures Fellows are: Navild Acosta (multi-media artist in dance, music and sound, and visual art), Patty Berne (artistic director, writer and filmmaker), Eli Clare (poet and essayist), John Lee Clark (writer), Sky Cubacub (garment maker), Jen Deerinwater (journalist, vocalist, non-fiction creative writer, memoirist and photographer), Rodney Evans (filmmaker), Ryan J. Haddad (playwright and performer), Jerron Herman (dancer), Christine Sun Kim (artist), Carolyn Lazard (interdisciplinary artist and writer), Jim LeBrecht (documentary filmmaker), Riva Lehrer (painter and writer), Tourmaline (filmmaker), Jeffrey Yasuo Mansfield (architect and designer), Mia Mingus (writer and speaker), Perel (choreographer and performer), Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (poet, writer and performance artist), Alice Sheppard (choreographer, dancer and writer) and Alice Wong (media maker). 

More information about the Fellows and the initiative overall can be found at www.fordfoundation.org/work/investing-in-individuals/disability-futures-fellows.

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