Social Practice CUNY Arts and Activism Initiative Receives $600K from Mellon Foundation

November 1, 2023

The CUNY-wide initiative, based at the Graduate Center, supports diverse art graduate students and their social activism.

SPCUNY Fellows 2023-24
Social Practice CUNY 2023–24 Fellows: (top row, left to right) Allen Hillery, Angela Chi-Chi Glass, brandon king, Julie Chen, Chris Colón, Eugenie Chao, Regina Bernard (second row, left to right) Heng-Gil Han, Heather Huggins, Hümeyra “Hümy” Çelik, Emily Raboteau, Kelly M. Britt, kara lynch, Jason Leggett (third row, left to right) Janggo Mahmud, Jackelyn Mariano, Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario, Natalie Raskin, Jah Elyse Sayers, Art Jones, V Tineo (fourth row, left to right) Tommy Mintz, Leanne Tory-Murphy, Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga, OD Enobabor. (Images courtesy of SPCUNY.)

Since 2021, Social Practice CUNY (SPCUNY), a Mellon Foundation-supported initiative, has worked to diversify the New York City arts community and connect the arts with social justice and activism. Now, with a second round of Mellon Foundation funding, the program, based at the CUNY Graduate Center, is poised to expand its reach and impact.

The Mellon Foundation awarded Social Practice CUNY an additional $600,000 to continue its work into 2026. In that time, the initiative will welcome two more sets of student and faculty fellows and offer programming and mentorship that encourage CUNY artists and scholars to bring social change through art.

“Social Practice CUNY’s dual commitments to diversity and social justice mirror the priorities and principles of the Graduate Center,” said Graduate Center Interim President Joshua C. Brumberg. “As one of the largest graduate schools in the U.S. and an integral part of the nation’s largest urban public university, we are known for serving students of all backgrounds, especially those underrepresented in higher education, and to advancing the public good through scholarship and service. We are honored to be the home of Social Practice CUNY and are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generous support of this important initiative.”

Learn more about Social Practice CUNY

Through its fellowships for CUNY M.F.A. students, Social Practice CUNY is making the degree accessible to talented artists from all walks of life. Data show that the economics of an M.F.A. degree favor the privileged. Nearly three-quarters of working artists in New York City with formal art degrees are white. A mere 6% of New York City residents with art degrees are Black; 8% are Hispanic, and 10% are Asian.

“CUNY is singularly positioned to challenge the norms of M.F.A. education and its homogeneity,” said Chloë Bass and Gregory Sholette, co-directors of Social Practice CUNY and professors of art at Queens College, CUNY. “Social Practice CUNY draws on the strengths of CUNY’s interdisciplinary arts programs to enhance the diversity of M.F.A. graduates and to support them and our faculty in linking art to activism. The Mellon Foundation’s renewed support of our mission is vital and deeply appreciated.”

“It comes as no surprise that two Queens College professors helm Social Practice CUNY,” said Queens College President Frank H. Wu. “We are a civic institution serving the ‘world’s borough’ and recognize that art is — and should speak — for all members of our diverse democracy. The mission of our School of Arts is to promote the participation of all of our students in the fullness of life. This latest investment in the Social Practice program confirms the strength of it. We are deeply grateful to the Mellon Foundation for supporting our Art Department M.F.A. students with this additional funding for their creative works.”

Social Practice CUNY offers three fellowship programs:

The SPCUNY Student Fellowship provides five in-state tuition grants of $11,000 (plus $2,000 of project-based support) a year for Queens College students who participate in Social Practice Queens, a curricular program that supports the integration of studio art with interdisciplinary research, community collaboration, environmental justice, and urban issues.

SPCUNY Actionists are CUNY master’s students with a serious art practice who are committed to developing as socially engaged creative practitioners. In addition to being an integral part of the wider SPCUNY cohort, actionists are supported by a $3,000 stipend towards the fulfillment of a socially engaged art project.

The SPCUNY Faculty Fellowship provides grants up to $3,000 to CUNY faculty at all levels to make public-facing work at the intersection of art and social justice and to collaborate with diverse communities at CUNY campuses and throughout the city through projects that complement and inform their scholarship and teaching.

In addition, the Social Practice CUNY co-directors in collaboration with select student and faculty fellows design and teach one SPCUNY Seminar each semester at the CUNY Graduate Center, which all fellows are required to attend. The seminar is also open to other CUNY graduate students who are engaged in social justice and art projects.

Each year, Social Practice CUNY employs two Graduate Center doctoral students to serve as project coordinators.

“Every Social Practice CUNY cohort of fellows brings new energies, ideas, and surprises,” said Sholette. “It is an honor and constant learning experience to play a part in this evolving art education and social justice initiative.”

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