The New School Awarded $5.5 Million from Mellon Foundation to Advance Diversity for Emerging Scholars and Politically Engaged Art
Since its founding in 1919, The New School has been a higher education institution dedicated to innovative scholarship and radical ideas that challenge the status quo. Now, thanks to a pair of grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation totaling $5.5 million, the university will be able to expand and deepen its commitment to diversifying the academy, producing more inclusive scholarship, and creating new relationships with underrepresented communities.
Together, these grants represent the largest Mellon Foundation gift to The New School and will significantly impact initiatives that will further its long-held values of equity, social justice and the political agency of art.
“The Mellon Foundation has an unparalleled role in funding pioneering programs in the arts and humanities,” said Dwight A. McBride, President of The New School. “These awards are a wonderful affirmation of the role of equitable and open scholarship and of The New School’s distinctive heritage of progressive education that directly furthers social justice and empowerment. We are enormously grateful for Mellon’s support, which will strengthen vital scholarly skills in the humanities and the humanistic social sciences, advance equity and inclusion in our faculty ranks, and further our commitments to scholarship and public discourse on the significance of art as an instrument for political engagement.”
The university was awarded $5 million to establish the Mellon Initiative for Inclusive Faculty Excellence, a university-wide project to increase the demographic and intellectual diversity of the professoriate in the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. The Vera List Center for Art and Politics (VLC), which was founded at The New School in 1992, also received a grant for $500,000 to advance politically engaged art practices, scholarship, and public engagement.
The ambitious Mellon Initiative for Inclusive Faculty Excellence will foster the essential mentorship and professional development of emerging scholars. Over the next four years, Mellon Fellows, who will begin as postdocs for two years and then transition to assistant professors, will be given time and resources to engage in research, deepen social justice work and scholarship throughout the university, and create dialogues in new communities that push necessary conversations and connections forward.
The initiative’s components include both a pathway to full and deeply-rooted establishment in the professoriate for recent PhDs from underrepresented groups and others whose work furthers the diversification of the academy, and a university-wide seminar focused on creating an inclusive, rigorous, and lively intellectual community, scholarship diversification, and the integration of scholarly and community-based research.
“Making progress on inclusive excellence in higher education requires a commitment to diversity and social justice throughout an institution—in pedagogy, policies, and practices—and the faculty, students, and staff must reflect the diversity of thought and identities of our society,” said Stephanie Browner, Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Making progress also requires that we revisit and rethink the processes and policies that govern how we identify, recruit, mentor, and support faculty from underrepresented backgrounds.”
Among the new opportunities made possible is the Mellon Fellows Program, a four-year program that seeks to integrate recent PhDs into the academic, social, and professional contexts essential to flourishing and sustained success.
“Robust and extensive networks, mentoring, access to research funds, consistent feedback, and occasions to make visible contributions to university intellectual life are key to the success of any faculty member,” said Deva Woodly, Associate Professor of Politics at The New School and Faculty Director of the Initiative. “These opportunities are especially critical for underrepresented faculty who all too often are called on as early-career professors to take on additional service by their institutions, and to provide informal mentoring and network-building assistance to others while receiving little to none themselves.”
Supplementing the usual informal avenues for participation in departmental and university life, the Mellon Transformative Seminar will nurture intellectual community and strengthen support for diverse scholarship across The New School and beyond. The seminar is a vital component of the program, formed each year with continuing and new members from four groups—Mellon Fellows, Mellon Dissertation Fellows, Mellon Community Fellows, and New School faculty—who will develop the curriculum and interrogate topics from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives.
Mellon funds will also bolster the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, a leader in public scholarship on the political agency of art and a hub connecting local, national, and international communities through shared commitments to art and social justice. The project will extend the VLC’s mission of public education and political empowerment, maximizing the impact of interdisciplinary programs that inform, galvanize, and sustain an ever-evolving network of artists, cultural leaders, scholars, curators, policymakers, institutional partners, students, faculty, and critics.
Over the next three and a half years, the VLC will nurture artists and art practices through distinct fellowship commissions, expanded transdisciplinary research, teaching, and mentoring opportunities, and enhanced publishing, community engagement, and partnerships that bring the artists’ work to new audiences in New York City and beyond.
“In this period of intense political polarization and upheaval, in the U.S. and elsewhere — unleashed by extreme economic inequality, racial injustice, climate change on a planetary scale, and now the COVID-19 pandemic — the notion of whom and what has political agency needs to be expanded to safeguard a more equitable future for all,” said Carin Kuoni, Senior Director and Chief Curator of the VLC. “Artists point the way to more inclusive and radical spaces of political engagement that can invigorate the political discourse and galvanize entire communities.”