Milwaukee’s New Ruth Foundation Opens Its Huge $440 Million Fortune to Fund Dozens of US Nonprofits

A new arts organization, funded with a staggering $440 million bequest from the late bathroom fixture heiress, Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, has just announced its inaugural class of grant recipients.

For its first initiative, the Milwaukee-based Ruth Foundation for the Arts is awarding nearly $1.3 million to 78 nonprofit organizations in the US. the country.

Kohler, who died in 2020, was a Midwestern arts advocate who served with the Wisconsin Arts Board, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Her biographer noted that she “broke down hierarchies and categories within the art world to center artists, support communities, and engage with overlooked art forms.”

The new organization is led by Kim Patterson, who was most recently director of exhibitions at the Fabric Workshop and Museum and previously a curator at the John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts in Wisconsin.

“I am honored to continue Ruth’s exceptional legacy in such an impactful way,” Patterson said in a statement. “She showed us that a thriving arts community needs support for the entire ecosystem: from exhibition spaces to festivals, to archives, to art environments, to residencies and to school programs.”

Kim Patterson. Courtesy of the Ruth Foundation for the Arts.

Kim Nyugen joins her as program director, with experience from a previous role as curator and head of programs at the CCA Wattis Institute.

“We feel particularly suited to support the kind of art making and community building that is happening here in the Midwest,” Patterson told Artnet News. “The kind of neighborly help, grassroots support work that’s happening here, and the groundbreaking, interdisciplinary, let’s try and see work that happens here.”

The foundation asked nearly 50 artists from across the country, including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Didier William, and Rose B. Simpson, to recommend nonprofit organizations that had influenced their own practices. The foundation then chose the ultimate grantees from this input.

Beneficiaries include Brooklyn-based Smack Mellon, the Tamir Rice Foundation in Cleveland, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and the Milwaukee Film Festival. The organizations come from 29 states, although the New York metropolitan area dominated the list, taking in 17 of the 78 total awards.

Milwaukee's New Ruth Foundation Opens Its Huge $440 Million Fortune to Fund Dozens of US Nonprofits

Ladies Studio Workshop interns Aurora Bush and Judith Tong assist Veronica Jackson in the screen printing studio. The Rosendale, NY-based organization is in the first class of awards. Courtesy of the Women’s Studio Workshop.

“I was really excited when Karen asked me to nominate an organization,” Simpson said in the statement. “I felt that the power dynamics around institutions could change, that support could come from real experiences and community commitment rather than boasting and hierarchies.”

While the organization wanted to prioritize funding for its initial efforts, she said it could develop other programs over time, including an artist advisory committee, a visiting art school artist program, an artist fellowship program, and cultural research grants. workers.

“We are serious in our efforts to do the right thing,” Patterson said. “Artists wear a lot of hats here, so the blur between community connection and creating art is natural and, to me, generative. So while we’ll be focusing a lot of our efforts in the Midwest, and probably testing a lot of our programs here, that’s going to be that ethos carried over into the way we work with beneficiaries and programs across the country.”

In the meantime, the Ruth Foundation for the Arts will continue to offer invite-based awards in two cycles each year. The next one will be announced later in 2022.

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