McComb, Miss.— The Ruth Foundation for the Arts (Ruth Arts) has entered the landscape of arts philanthropy with the announcement of its inaugural grantmaking cycle. Pike School of Art – Mississippi is one of the 78 nonprofit arts organizations that have been awarded funding with individual grants to the organizations ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 each. Ruth Arts is supported by a bequest from the late Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, and expects to award grants totaling more than $17 million annually.
The Foundation is led by Executive Director Karen Patterson, who was most recently Director of Exhibitions at The Fabric Workshop and Museum and Senior Curator at The John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts, alongside Program Director Kim Nguyen, former Curator and Head of Programs at CCA Wattis Institute. Under their leadership, the grantmaker will seek to explore new possibilities in arts philanthropy that safeguard creativity and take a people-centric approach.
“I am honored to continue Ruth’s exceptional legacy in such an impactful way,” said Patterson. “She has shown us that a thriving art community requires support for the entire ecosystem: from exhibition spaces, to festivals, to archives, to art environments, to residencies, and to school programs. We are truly a multidimensional field. We rely on one another. And none of these things would be possible without artists.”
Built from the inspiration and bequest of Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, a lifelong advocate for the midwest’s artistic community, Ruth Arts embraces the ethos of the region while operating at a national scale. The organizations funded in this initial round of grantmaking come from 29 states and range widely in size. In keeping with the spirit of Ruth Arts, which places a particular emphasis on the support of creativity in all its forms, with a focus on the unconventional and exciting, grantees were not confined to particular fields or genres of work, and span a broad spectrum of culture-making.
Ruth Arts launches with a unique artist-driven nomination process for this initial round of grants, which was guided by a group of nearly 50 artists. These artists, drawn from across the country and at all stages of their careers, were asked to propose organizations they felt had deeply influenced their own engagement with art, presented visionary community programming, and connected deeply with artists’ processes. The grantees were then drawn from these nominations.
“I have no idea who recommended us for this award as the artist who did so chose to remain anonymous,” said Calvin Phelps, Director of Pike School of Art – Mississippi. He continued, “I do know that we have a very unique connection to Ruth DeYoung Kohler II through The John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts. McComb artist Loy ‘The Rhinestone Cowboy’ Bowlin’s Beautiful Holy Jewel Home is now in the permanent collection of The Kohler Center. And since April 2021, PSA-MS has been collecting Rhinestone’s work to include in a future museum celebrating the arts and cultural heritage of Southwest Mississippi. Though we never knew Ruth Kohler, it is great that her legacy lives on through our connection with her new foundation.”
While grants will remain on an invitation-only basis for a twice-annual cycle as the foundation grows and develops, Ruth Arts will continue to work with artists to guide and inform its programming, and will host their artist nominating processes on a regular basis.
These leaders and visionaries across the arts, alongside Ruth Arts’ Board of Trustees—composed of some of Kohler’s beloved friends and advisors—will serve to navigate Ruth Arts through the evolving arts philanthropy landscape while keeping the organization anchored in its values and origins.
In addition to its grantmaking, Ruth Arts also plans to pilot several important partnerships in the coming years, including establishing an artist advisory committee, a Visiting Artists program for art schools, a fellowship program for artists, and research grants for cultural workers.
Other Ruth Arts grantees include Alternate Roots in Atlanta; Coleman Center for the Arts in York, Alabama; and Independent Curators International in New York City. Calvin Phelps is a member of Alternate Roots, a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. Pike School of Art partnered with Coleman Center for the Arts in 2018 to host In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth), an interactive project by CAUSE COLLECTIVE. The first exhibition mounted by Pike School of Art in 2016 was do it!, organized by Independent Curators International. PSA-MS plans to use Ruth Arts funding to continue to center the unconventional and the exciting.
About The Ruth Foundation for the Arts
The Ruth Foundation for the Arts (Ruth Arts) is a new grantmaker based in the Midwest and dedicated to meeting the evolving needs and lived experiences of artists, communities, and arts organizations. Based in Milwaukee and national in scope, the Foundation reflects the culture and spirit of the Midwest, which long inspired its namesake and benefactor Ruth DeYoung Kohler II. A responsive and adventurous new force in the realm of arts philanthropy, the Foundation which was founded in 2022 distributed its first grants in 2022, providing 78 arts organizations with $1.25 million to date.
About Ruth Deyoung Kohler II
A lifetime supporter of the arts, Ruth DeYoung Kohler II (1941-2020) was deeply committed to artists and consequently broke down hierarchies and categories within the art world to center artists, support communities, and engage with overlooked art forms. She made significant contributions to the arts across the U.S., including serving as Chairman and member of the Wisconsin Arts Board, acting as a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Organization panel member and past site evaluator, as founder of the Preservation Committee of Kohler Foundation, Inc., and Director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center for more than forty years.
Among the many awards and honors Ruth received are the Governor’s Award for the Arts, Wisconsin; Visionary Award, American Craft Museum; Visionary Leadership Award, Center for Intuitive and Outside Art; Visionary Lifetime Achievement Award, Museum of Art and Design; and honorary doctorates from various institutions of higher learning.
She believed passionately that the arts reveal who we are as a people: past, present and future. She promoted equitable and inclusive access to the arts in her local community, her home state of Wisconsin, and on national and international levels.