Sep 01 2020

Millions donated for anti-racism initiatives at Californian art schools

by Fion Tse

MEI-LEE NEY has donated USD 1 million to Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, in aid of its new initaitives combating racisim. Image via Youtube.

In recent weeks, two philanthropists declared that they each would make donations to combat marginalization and underrepresentation at separate art schools in California. 

On August 28, the California Institute of Arts (CalArts) in Santa Clarita announced that art collector and nonprofit Art + Practice co-founder Eileen Harris Norton has donated USD 5 million to establish a new faculty position, the Charles Gaines Faculty Chair, as well as to fund research, creative initiatives, and curriculum innovations. The gift from Norton pays tribute to the African American artist and CalArts faculty member, Charles Gaines, who will hold the inaugural appointment, while subsequent appointments will be given to those “from underrepresented groups, including those who self-identity as Black,” according to the press release. This comes on the heels of an August 13 announcement from the Los Angeles-based Otis College of Art and Design regarding a USD 1 million donation from the school’s chair of board of trustees, Mei-Lee Ney, to combat racial inequality. Planned programs include the creation of a diversity, equity, and inclusion executive role.

In a statement to Hyperallergic, CalArts president Ravi Rajan commented that Gaines had “been outspoken . . . [about] white supremacist structure[s]” being perpetuated at CalArts and in the art world in general. Norton said in the CalArts statement that Gaines was an “underrecognized presence and I want his influence to be known and brought to a wider audience.” Meanwhile, Ney’s donation will fund Black student-focused initiatives announced by Otis College on June 12. In the August 13 statement published by the school, Ney explained that she made the donation because “racial injustice is something I feel strongly about,” and that “Systemic racism within our educational, financial, and societal institutions disproportionately affects Black communities and can create additional obstacles for students, faculty, and staff.” 

CalArts, a private art university established in 1961 is one of the largest multi-arts school in the United States, and counts among its alumni painter Henry Taylor, and mixed-media artists Mark Bradford and Rodney McMillian. Also a private institution, the Otis College of Art and Design was founded in 1918 and has educated artists such as Masami Teraoka, Bruce Yonemoto, and Sandeep Mukherjee. 

Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US since June, art schools are among the many cultural institutions in the country faced with demands for diversity and inclusion. Black students at both CalArts and Otis College currently comprise less than 7 percent of the student body. 

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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