Kohler heiress’s foundation announces inaugural grants for non-profit cultural organisations

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The Ruth Foundation for the Arts, a foundation based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that was recently launched with a $440m bequest from the late vernacular art collector and arts patron Ruth DeYoung Kohler, has announced it will distribute between $10,000 and $50,000 to nearly 80 non-profit art organisations in its initial round of grants.

The inaugural grants will total $1.25m and benefit nationwide organisations that were nominated by artists including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Nari Ward, Dyani White Hawk, Mel Chin and others. The organisations receiving grants include the Baxter Street Camera Club in New York, Project Row Houses in Houston and the Rivers Institute in New Orleans.

Kohler, who died in 2020, aged 79, amassed a collection of vernacular art and artist-built environments spanning more than 20,000 works, showcasing much of that work at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center—a 100,000 sq. ft museum in Sheboygan founded in 1999. She was the heiress of the Kohler fortune, as the granddaughter of the American industrialist John Michael Kohler, who founded the bathroom and kitchen fixture company.

Kohler, the centre’s long-time director, stepped down after more than four decades in 2016 to focus on developing the Arts Preserve, a 39-acre space launched in 2021 near the centre that houses and conserves artist-built environments. Karen Patterson, the centre’s chief curator, was appointed the executive director in 2019.

The invite-only grant-making initiative, which will distribute more than $17m annually in two cycles, is being overseen by Patterson and the foundation’s programme director Kim Nguyen, the former curator and head of programmes at the CCA Wattis Institute.

“I am honoured to continue Ruth’s exceptional legacy in such an impactful way,” Patterson says in a statement. “She has shown us that a thriving art community requires support for the entire ecosystem: from exhibition spaces, to festivals, to archives, to art environments, to residencies and to school programs. We are truly a multidimensional field.”

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