If you’re mulling over which organizations to donate to this holiday season, don’t forget that New York City hosts a range of arts nonprofits that foster local change, provide support to artists, and help generate a cultural dialogue—these are crucial endeavors, especially in the years ahead. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of nonprofits doing incredible art-related work (take a look at New York City’s extensive list here) but these are a few we think are particularly worthy of your support.
Through residencies, development programs, and a host of other events, the Laundromat Project seeks to “amplify the creativity that already exists within communities,” as executive director Kemi Ilesanmi told Artsy in 2015. The name comes from an early signature initiative: art workshops held in laundromats in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Hunts Point. But since its founding in 2005, the project has grown considerably. It now hosts annual artistically driven field days and offers commissions for artists to engage the histories and issues relevant to local communities. The LP even opened a “community hub” in a two-bedroom apartment on Kelly Street in the Bronx’s Longwood neighborhood.
Studies have shown that art therapy programs can have a powerful impact on the human mind—building confidence, bringing a sense of creative self-determination, and even repairing neural pathways. In a number of prisons across the U.S., art therapy programs help inmates learn vital life skills while instilling a sense of self-worth. Artistic Noise focuses on young people incarcerated or otherwise involved in the justice system, offering them art programs in New York and Massachusetts and encouraging them to become mentors for younger participants. Testimonies from former participants illustrate the powerful effect this organization has on young lives, giving them a voice and a means to express themselves in nonviolent ways. “Artistic Noise gave me a voice I never had,” one testimony reads. “When I turned 18, [Department of Youth Services] kicked me out with no knowledge of the real world, and Artistic Noise took me in. I think to myself, where would I be without Artistic Noise, maybe dead or in jail.”
Since the beginning, art has been an essential tool for AIDS activism. Founded in 1988, Visual AIDS has roots in that history. The foundation supports and presents exhibitions, projects, and publications that use art to address the complex issues—namely poverty, homophobia, and racism—underlying the AIDS epidemic and its historical and continuing stigmatization. Crucially, the organization aims to make visible and bring dignity to those living with HIV or AIDS. It is also responsible for the world’s largest database of artwork created by artists living with the disease. Founded in 1994, the Archive Project began as a research and slide library dedicated to preserving the work of artists with HIV/AIDS. Now, Artist+ Registry, which launched in 2012 as a digital registry for many of these original slides, serves as an important resource for educating current and future generations about the experiences of those who suffered with the disease and society’s neglect—a prejudice we have yet to fully overcome.
New York City boasts some of the world’s premier cultural institutions, yet they remain inaccessible to many citizens who lack the funds for their steep ticket prices or awareness of their programming. Founded in 1999, Cool Culture has partnered with 90 museums across the city to help give art and culture access to some 50,000 low-income New York families; in particular, they want families with preschool-aged children to reap the benefits. Beyond that goal, Cool Culture fosters a number of community-building initiatives, including Laboratory for New Audiences, which earlier this year hosted a panel discussion that brought together museum professionals from across the country to think about how art institutions can become more diverse.
Aside from hosting some of the best exhibitions in the city, the Studio Museum serves as a vital incubator for artists of color by offering a signature artist-in-residence program and a training ground for curators of color. The latter, in particular, is what makes the Studio one of the most effective drivers of structural change in the art world. It’s also one of the city’s most beloved institutions, providing a space for the local community through a range of programs and education initiatives. Its collection of works by African Diaspora artists ensures the ongoing preservation of black artists’s cultural history for future generations. As it prepares for a much needed expansion in Harlem, the museum needs our support in helping it grow and transition into a larger space. And until December 31st, all donations to the museum’s Annual Fund will be matched up to a total of $50,000.
Every year, Time In Children’s Arts Initiative provides weekly access to art galleries and classes for hundreds of underserved children in Harlem and the Bronx. It’s been a labor of love for its founder, Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène, since 2006, when she began working with the city on a pilot program for two classes during the public school day. With a focus on pre-K to second grade, Bellen-Berthézène employs a pool of practicing artists to lead the children around galleries and in art classes at the foundation’s 29th Street studio. The goal is that by integrating visual art, opera, and cultural institutions, the initiative can help kids cultivate a lifelong engagement in the arts. However, the project has taken a funding hit in recent years, and they need more donors to help reach an increasing numbers of kids who typically have less access or exposure to the city’s art institutions and galleries. After all, the initiative wants to reach thousands, not hundreds.
With its commitment to providing a flexible and accessible space for artists and the public, Recess has since 2009 mounted a diverse mixture of exhibitions, programs, and residencies. The emphasis is on allowing artists to ask difficult questions, which means Recess’s space in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood has been the epicenter for a broad array of conversations and ideas that defy easy categorization. Notably, the space hosted the Black Art Incubator this past July, which was simultaneously a space for “leisure and self care and meditation” and for “more formally oriented, pointed discursive projects asking what it means to be an artist, and what it means to be a practitioner,” as Jessica Lynne, one of the four women behind the project, told Artsy. The incubator provided a much needed space outside the everyday machinations of the art world.
In partnership with local communities, A Blade of Grass (ABOG) provides financial and institutional support for socially driven art. Artists who have received ABOG fellowships include Simone Leigh, Dread Scott, Joseph Cuillier, and others working to address a range of issues including racial injustice, education inequality, and labor exploitation. Far from staying inside a gallery, works created by ABOG fellows often live in the real world, in dialog with the communities they work to serve. One of many examples is the work of Sol Aramendi, a 2015 ABOG fellow who developed an app to fight wage theft, with input from government agencies and the AFL-CIO.
Based out of a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Pioneer Works uses every square inch of its massive space. It’s difficult to capture everything the nonprofit does there. Founded in 2012 by artist Dustin Yellin, the foundation hosts live concerts, operates a printing press, fosters educational initiatives, and, perhaps most significantly, offers free studio space to residents working in a variety of disciplines, from visual art and music to science and technology. If you’re curious about the artists working in the warehouse, stop by on Second Sundays, a bimonthly free event with with open studios, DJs, and site-specific interventions. Recently, Pioneer Works also mounted the first Alternative Art School Fair, where art schools from across the globe gathered to showcase the rich diversity in arts education. Indeed, undergirding the foundation is a rigorous social mission that provides an alternative to mainstream art world spaces.
Since its founding in 1976, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) has fostered a cross-disciplinary approach to the cultivation and preservation of Afro-Caribbean and African Diaspora cultures. Key to their mission is the promotion of cultural equity through advocacy around public policies and resource distribution. In its new space in East Harlem—which opened this year after a 10-year-long battle to secure a permanent home for the institution—CCCADI is as much a hub for activism and education as it is for the presentation of art. This tri-pronged approach has made the institution an indispensable community center for many New Yorkers. The CCCADI also has close links to international communities of African and Latin American descent, making it a bridge that connects and strengthens these cultures by celebrating both their diversity and their commonalities.