The Mellon Foundation reveals its inaugural Humanities in Place grantees

Giving Voice to Place

The Mellon Foundation reveals its inaugural Humanities in Place grantees

The stewards of the former Long Island home of legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane are among the 19 inaugural grant recipients of the Mellon Foundation’s Humanities in Place program. (Muncharelli/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Last week, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced the inaugural 19 grantees that will share a combined $15 million in funding through its built environment-focused Humanities in Place program. Established in December of last year, Humanities in Place is the first new program area at the Foundation in more than three decades. It is led by designer, urbanist, and educator Justin Garrett Moore, who previously served as executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission before transitioning over to the newly created role of program director of Humanities in Place late last year.

Humanities in Place was conceived by Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander, who referred to the program, nearly a year after its formal launch, as now being “fundamental to the architecture of the Mellon Foundation itself. “

“With the creation of Humanities in Place, we have begun to address the urgent need to expand the range of voices centered and celebrated in our public spaces and to better fulfill our mission as a social justice philanthropy,” Alexander said.

Humanities in Place is unique in that it supports place-based projects and organizations including historic spaces, cultural landscapes, museums, and media as well as what the Foundation has referred to as “conveners of cultural heritage and public experiences as spaces of learning, expression, and exchange.” Just a few of the inaugural grantees include the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Black Reconstruction Collective, the 1882 Foundation, the Historic Clayborn Temple in Memphis, the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and two Chicago-based nonprofits: the Sweet Water Foundation and Theaster Gates’s Rebuild Foundation. All 19 grantees are physically located in the United States with the exception of the Lesley Lokko-founded African Futures Institute, which is based in the Ghanaian capital city of Accra.

In his role, Moore has established a three-tenet strategic approach to guide the new program in its mission to support a range of organizations dedicated to “rethinking past practice and creating visionary new approaches for how to collectively understand, uplift, and celebrate more complete stories about who we are as a nation—both within distinct communities and as a broader society,” as the Foundation explained in its recent announcement.

The three pillars are:

  • Keeping & Shaping Our Places: Humanities in Place will “support projects, initiatives, and infrastructure effort working to better identify, document, create, and care for our places, in addition to supporting innovative ideas and actions that work to design a more just present and future.”
  • Evolving Our Institutions: Humanities in Place will work to “catalyze initiatives and programs that support the evolution and sustainability of institutions focused on advancing social justice through place-based approaches.”
  • Promoting Greater Engagement & Understanding: Humanities in Place will “support projects and programs with a place-based focus that promote greater access, interaction, and exchange of stories and experiences, working toward a fuller appreciation and understanding of a more complete representation of our histories, narratives, and expression.”

“Humanities in Place focuses on elevating the people and places that have long been under-resourced and at times left out of or diminished in our public, cultural and historical landscapes and narratives,” elaborated Moore in a statement. “It is an exciting and critical time to direct much-needed and deserved resources to shaping these landscapes and narratives to better reflect our complexity and toward advancing social justice. This inaugural group of grants and our continued work will facilitate greater access to our shared past and fuel the possibilities for more just futures.”

Moore reiterated to AN in an email that Humanities in Place differs from other Mellon Foundation programs in its explicit support of built environment-based projects including historic preservation, architecture, landscape architecture, and exhibition design.

“Our places have a tremendous impact on our social and public interactions and contribute to the context, expression, and understanding of our varied cultural heritage,” added Moore. “We are now able to help shape built environment projects that connect many of the conversations about social justice that have been amplified in the past year to engage design in the conversation.”.

It is worth pointing out that the program is distinct from but also complements the Foundation’s five-year Monuments Project, which recently awarded $1.9 million to North Carolina Freedom Park, an in-progress Raleigh park project that honors the Black experience in the Tar Heel State. It was initially designed by the late Phil Freelon and continued by Zena Howard of Perkins&Will. Other Monuments Project awardees include Monument Lab, MASS Design Group, the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, and more.

Below is a full list of all 19 inaugural Humanities in Place grantees, each of which will receive between $150,000 and $3.5 million in funding. More information about the specific initiatives spearheaded by each respective grantee that the grant funding will benefit is detailed in the press announcement.

The Rebuilt Foundation | Chicago ($3.5 million over two years)

Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice | Durham, North Carolina ($1.6 million over three years)

National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States | Washington, D.C. ($1.5 million over two years)

Historical Preservation Authority of the City of Birmingham | Birmingham, Alabama ($1.1 million over one year)

Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation | San Francisco ($1 million over three years)

Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills | Deer Park, New York ($1 million over three years)

Daisy Wilson Artist Community / August Wilson House | Pittsburgh ($750,000 over three years)

Tuskegee University | Tuskegee, Alabama, and the University of Pennsylvania | Philadelphia ($750,000 each over three years)

Lower East Side Tenement Museum | New York City ($650,000 over two years)

Sweet Water Foundation | Chicago ($500,000 over two years)

Historic Clayborn Temple | Memphis ($500,000 over two years)

1882 Project Foundation | Washington, D.C. ($500,000 over three years)

Scalawag | Durham, North Carolina ($350,000 over two years)

IDEAS xLab (Un)Known Project | Louisville, Kentucky ($300,000 over two years)

Zócalo Public Square | Los Angeles ($250,000 over two years)

African Futures Institute | Accra, Ghana ($150,000 over one year)

Black Reconstruction Collective | State College, Pennsylvania ($150,000 over two years)

The Soapbox Presents | New York City ($150,000 over one year)