THE FOUNDATION FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS

THE FOUNDATION FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS

A conversation between artists Sonia Louise Davis and James Welling on the organization's support for artists.

The Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA) holds a unique position: it's an arts organization founded and run by artists. Since 1963, it's acted as a resource for emerging and established talent, providing both a network of peers and much-needed financial support. FCA’s seventeenth benefit exhibition, Sonia Louise Davis Selects: Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Arts will be presented at Greene Naftali from December 9-18, 2021. Platform moderated a conversation between the exhibition’s curator Sonia Louise Davis and FCA board member James Welling covering everything from how the FCA community responded to the pandemic to what we can expect from the FCA in the future.

James

How did you first find out about the FCA?

Sonia

After college, I was looking for a way to be an artist and I got involved right away with an organization called The Laundromat Project, which does community-based arts programming. It is one of the best resource-sharing groups I've ever been in. The executive director sent an email to everyone on the organization's alumni list about an open call for emergency grants from a foundation, and it was the FCA. The amount was something like $2,500 max for an opportunity that was committed and happening soon. I was like, "Why didn't I know about this? Everyone should know about this." I forwarded it to as many other people as I could so other artists would know it's out there.

I frantically Googled and made sure I knew a little bit about the organization, and I applied for this grant for a group show I was in uptown. I got a call that I would get the money right away. Every interaction with the foundation since then has been like, "You are a person, and we want you to make your work."

James

I knew about the FCA Grants to Artists awards, but the Emergency Grants are something that I discovered when I sat on a committee after I got to know the FCA. It's just one of the most remarkable features of the organization, that every month money is given out for true emergencies.

Sonia

And the grants are for the kind of experimental work that is often under-supported and maybe wouldn't be around if it weren't for these kinds of grants, I think. Three years later, I got another Emergency Grant for a lot more money to do a solo show at an artist-run space in Minneapolis. I needed to fly there to mount the exhibition because I was working in this site-specific and improvisational way. It's great that there are funding opportunities for emerging artists where you don't have to over-explain your project or work. It was a little bit of a breakthrough for me to feel like I could really make this thing happen.

Sonia (photo: Naima Green, 2021) and James
Platform

One of the interesting things about the FCA is that it's run by artists, for artists. What kind of support does that offer as opposed to an organization that's structured differently?

Sonia

I think there's a recognition of the timeliness, which isn't the usual way. When you apply for big grants, you're waiting for a year or more. Some of those larger or project-specific things are just so far out, and you write a proposal hoping that they say yes before you even start making the work. The FCA is completely the opposite. To me, that's about artists knowing artists. Because I'd gotten an FCA Emergency Grant, I got to attend one of the receptions for the Grants to Artists awards, which was the moment I realized how exciting the organization is. You can get nominated for these larger grants and get a call telling you that you've won a certain sum of money, no strings attached. That was amazing. My partner and I both are artists, and we went to the reception and were blown away. This was something not many people know about because you can't apply for those grants – they're from the community.

James

It's peer-nominated, which is incredible. But I want to ask about your show, Sonia. You've been invited to put together a show, which is not an auction, but a benefit exhibition where the work is priced by the artist. I think your show includes some work that the FCA already has in its holdings.

Sonia

One starting point was actually a work by Robert Rauschenberg, which I got to go visit in its crate, which was very exciting. Rauschenberg was a founding member of FCA and I think I read that he gave a work to every single show while he was alive. The work I saw was given to the benefit exhibition in 1988, which is the year I was born. It got me thinking about what Rauschenberg's legacy means to generations of artists who have come after. There was an intention around thinking about who is coming behind you, which I think is very counter to how we sometimes talk about the art world as being very cagey and individualist, me against the world.

I do think that there is a mentoring that happens when you look at an opportunity that you've had and you want to recommend someone who's coming up after you, or you reach out to someone who's done something you're interested in. I've experienced that firsthand and it was so counter to the dominant narrative of individual geniuses plucked from history that do these amazing things with zero context or support. I just felt like [Rauschenberg] is somebody who was very much in the world.

Robert Rauschenberg, "Nasturtium Summer Glut", 1988
James

How many new artists to the FCA are you putting in your show for 2021?

Sonia

Over half. It's exciting. In 2018, I was in FCA's benefit exhibition curated by Adam McEwen, which had 108 artists, and it felt like a huge deal. I was aiming for something around that number because it's an opportunity to introduce people to the Foundation. I wanted to include artists who people may not be aware of, who aren't showing in this way normally. It's been a rough year, but the funds from this show will go right into the hands of other artists.

Platform

What are some things FCA has planned for the future?

James

We initiated a strategic growth plan for the next five years, which was approved in February 2020. Then, of course, we pivoted quickly in March to make relief grants for artists affected by the pandemic and went full speed ahead for the next 18 to 20 months. We're still making the COVID relief grants. Relief needs were so urgent and pressing in our community.

Now, we're returning to grow our core grant programs at FCA. It's so important and we're expanding those sustainably, but growing them because of the obvious need as well as the fact that we know they're important ways to catalyze artists and give them support. It's really giving artists a boost or recognition in addition to a sum of money, which for the Grants to Artists program is a $40,000 unrestricted award to do what they need to do for themselves personally, for their career or for their growth as an artist. FCA just surpassed $23 million in funding which has supported 7,000 artists. The COVID relief grants total over $5.6 million now. We are looking forward to returning to a little bit more business as normal, but really want to reinvest in our core programs that we know are important to the arts community.

Header Image: Ralph Lemon, A future for which it perhaps has been determined that though no prophet shall pierce its veil…, 2020