What is the Disability Futures fellowship?

Funded by the Ford Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Disability Futures is an initiative administered by United States Artists that aims to increase the visibility of disabled creative practitioners across disciplines and geography and elevate their voices individually and collectively.

Through the fellowship, Ford and Mellon hope to address field-wide problems in arts and culture, journalism, and documentary film — including, a dearth of disability visibility in the cultural sector, lack of professional development opportunities accessible to disabled practitioners, and the need for a national grant program that considers the unique financial challenges of disabled artists.

Why is this fellowship important?

The role of artists and creatives is to help us make sense of the world today, to inspire, and to foster imagination that allows us to break the cycles of everyday life. Disabled practitioners are shaping perspectives through their work, using the different lenses they carry, including their disability. We all benefit from engaging with these critical points of view.

Disabled practitioners—particularly those who are women, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color—have been historically under-resourced in the arts, journalism, and film in addition to the compounding effects of inequality they may face. Our hope is that this investment in disabled creatives will prompt more field-wide advancement around issues of disability-led content, productions, and projects and will spur additional, intersectional support for their work.

How did the Ford and Mellon Foundations define disability or disabled practitioners for the purposes of this fellowship?

We use a broad and inclusive definition of disability and disabled practitioners. That includes a diverse community of people with physical, sensory, intellectual or psycho-social disabilities and chronic illness, among others.

How were fellows selected and what were the eligibility requirements?

Disability Futures was born out of a year-long research study that interviewed dozens of disabled artists and creative practitioners across the country to inform how Ford, Mellon, and other philanthropies can better serve disabled artists, journalists, and documentary filmmakers. It was intentionally designed by, for and with disabled practitioners at many levels.

Each cohort of fellows were nominated by disabled practitioners who recognized the excellence of their work and were invited to express their interest in participating in the program.

They come from established cultural centers, like Brooklyn and the Bay Area, but also from smaller communities across the country, like Hopkins, Minnesota and Burlington, Vermont. They are leaders in their respective fields, who have won awards at festivals and competitions, been featured at leading museums, and have created film and content that is widely distributed.

It is an exceptionally diverse group of practitioners, encompassing a majority who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color or who identify as LGBTQIA+. The Fellows span multiple generations and various artistic practices, ranging from choreography to filmmaking to media to architecture and design.

What will the fellows receive?

Through the fellowship, Ford and Mellon are supporting three cohorts of disabled creative practitioners whose work advances the cultural landscape. Each fellowship includes a $50,000 grant to advance each artist’s practice, totaling $1 million for each cohort.