The Value Of The “Anchor Artist” - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

The Value Of The “Anchor Artist”

A woman dancing on the sidewalk with a large bag in one hand and an iced coffee in the other. "Hella Aqua Net." Photo courtesy of Maria Victoria Ponce.

Arts funding could better respond to the socio-political crisis of the day by identifying and supporting artists who are central to their communities.

Just as no two artists are alike, every arts community is defined by a distinct matrix of identities, perspectives, histories, and economic conditions. In order to be successful at any level, arts funding must respond to these conditions. This is why our organizations teamed up to create The Rainin Fellowship, a program tailored for the arts communities of San Francisco’s Bay Area (the home of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation), developed alongside United States Artists, which has supported artists across the country for nearly 20 years.

In designing The Rainin Fellowship, we viewed this challenge as an opportunity to fully appreciate what makes the Bay Area unique. We discovered that at the center of the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area is the anchor artist: someone central to their community who inevitably pushes the field forward. Not only are these people deeply rooted in today’s arts landscape, but they have also long been involved in the social movements that have defined the Bay Area for centuries—from the Black Panthers to the organic food movement and gay rights: “legacies that are in the fabric” of this place, as Fellow Brett Cook puts it, and cause “art to exist through a social lens.”

By supporting anchor artists, the Rainin Fellowship aligns with and preserves this unique history, which is just another thing we risk losing if artists are not properly supported. At every moment in our history, the arts and artists have played an integral role in these social movements, including the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the American Indian Power Movement. But in a time of crisis, stoked by forces of displacement, gentrification, and inflation that are pushing out the constituents of these social movements, the urgency of our challenge becomes clear: How to preserve our communities, and culture, and how to do it swiftly, and sustainably? One answer, we have found, is to support the artists at the centers of these movements, allowing them to keep making work in their communities.

Read the full op-ed in Hyperallergic. Ted Russell, Director of Arts Strategy & Ventures at the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, and Lu Zhang, Initiatives Director at United States Artists, explore the value of anchor artists and the pivotal work of the 2022 Rainin Fellows in Dance, Film, Public Space and Theater.