A newly formed philanthropic arts organization from Wisconsin is making waves in the Santa Fe nonprofit sector in its first year of grantmaking.
The Ruth Foundation for the Arts is named for the late Ruth DeYoung Kohler, who served as director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisonsin, until her death in 2020. Its aim: to make the most of its first run of grants with a $440 million bequest from DeYoung. The foundation says in a written statement that it expects to grant roughly $17 million annually. In year one, you’ll find that Santa Fe nonprofits, Alas de Agua Art Collective and the Center for Contemporary Arts, will be among the first cohort of recipients.
These local beneficiaries are among 78 arts organizations around the country that will receive amounts between $10,000 and $50,000 for a total of $1.25 million.
The timing is interesting.
Just last May, while catching up with Alas de Agua co-founder Israel Francisco Haros Lopez, SFR was wondering aloud why a collective like theirs has to cut through so much red tape for a measly couple bucks so often. At the time, collective member and grant writer Katy Medley described to SFR how some applications were absurd in length, while others required constant check-ins and an intense social media presence.
The Ruth Foundation for the Arts, however, put together a who’s-who of nationwide artists to consult during the nomination process for the first round of funding. With New Mexico artists including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish and Kootenai), Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo) and Nikesha Breeze (among others) heeding the call, Santa Fe orgs picking up some funding feels more explainable—New Mexicans look out for New Mexicans, which is not to suggest that either organization is undeserving based on their own accomplishments alone.
Alas de Agua is the younger of the two local nonprofits and aims to make space for artistic folks and youths on the Southside of town through writing, poetry, mural and other workshops. In its relatively short existence, the collective has done everything from becoming a sign-making stop ahead of local protests to completing an absolutely massive mural that spans the entire interior of Santa Fe’s Salvador Perez swimming pool. How good are the murals, you ask? Well, in 2020, Alas de Agua, along with local activist group Three Sisters Collective, was awarded a $94,000 grant from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Organization to conceive and execute 12 murals around Santa Fe.
When it comes to the Ruth Foundation grant, Alas co-founder John Paul Granillo tells SFR that they’re not sure what the final amount will be just yet, but that anything helps the mission.
“It feels amazing, and not only for the fact that people are helping us get out of our smaller cubby hole and into bigger spaces to help the community,” Granillo says. “When [Israel] and I started Alas, we did it with $400 from Gofundme and just started spray painting—moving to grants that are at a national level allows us to pay artists better, and it reminds us to stay humble and to give artists the the freedom to express themselves without barriers.”
The Center for Contemporary Arts, meanwhile, has been a community resource for decades, and recently hosted part of the annual CURRENTS New Media Festival. Additionally, for cinephiles, the movie theater has long been known as a waystation for indie and art films, as well as fringier mainstream movies (think Wes Anderson) and community events. It’s where I saw The Babadook and also that last Cronenberg movie, so...it’s pretty good, is what I’m saying. SFR also hosted our 3-Minute Film Festival there last winter, which was super fun.
“Right now programs are a big part of what we do, but operations have been an especially important aspect for us in recovery, in coming out of COVID,” Executive Director Danyelle Means (Oglala Lakota) tells SFR. “We’re gearing up for all of our fundraising for next year and beyond, to have this initial gift and to be part of the first cohort to be invited to apply is just amazing—it is exactly what we’ve been hoping for.”
Means says she does know the precise amount of the grant but, for the time being, doesn’t wish to disclose it as she prefers for the focus at CCA and Alas de Agua to remain on the work rather than dollar signs. A Ruth Foundation spokeswoman tells SFR she doesn’t have the dollar amount information. Means does, however, say it feels particularly meaningful to have been nominated to apply by Quick-to-See-Smith from the coterie of aforementioned artists.
“CCA has been artist-centered from the beginning,” Means explains, “and that’s what we intend to continue to do. To be nominated in this fashion is amazing, it really is.”