Beyond buying pieces by Rashid Johnson, McArthur Binion, Deborah Roberts, Carmen Herrera, and Barbara Kruger, Philadelphia-based collectors Michael C. Forman and Jennifer Rice have spent much of the past year seeking to help the local arts scene, still ailing from the pandemic. In 2021, knowing that the city’s larger organizations would likely find a way out of economic distress, Forman and Rice focused their attention more directly on artists and on small and midsize arts institutions. They launched the Forman Arts Initiative, an organization that will oversee a grant program called Art Works, and another project to bring Theaster Gates’s Monument in Waiting (2020) to the Drexel University campus; the sculpture, a response to the removal of Confederate and colonial monuments, will remain there through July 2023. Other initiatives currently in the works include an artist residency program and public art commissions.
“We’re committed Philadelphians,” Forman told ARTnews. “This is not just an opportunity; we feel it is an obligation to give back. If Philadelphia is to recover post-pandemic, one of the real value propositions is arts and culture, and small and midsize institutions are so important to the fabric of the city and their neighborhoods.”
Administered in partnership with the Philadelphia Foundation, Art Works is a five-year, $3 million grant program that will give two-year grants to four local artists and four nonprofits, with a focus on BIPOC and other underserved communities. Organization grants (for those with budgets between $250,000 and $5 million) will range from $50,000 to $150,000, while artists will receive unrestricted grants of $50,000 over two years.
“We felt that the best way to support the community in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods would be to support BIPOC cultural organizations and artists,” Forman said. “We focused on what we saw as shortcomings in the city’s funding for arts and culture, and how we could best leverage our resources.”
Even before the onset of the pandemic, the Forman Arts Initiative brought together various stakeholders in Philadelphia’s arts community to “listen and learn about the challenges they face and the opportunities they saw for how our organization could be most impactful with our support,” he said. “We’ve always been of the view that the art is a shared resource.”
The organizations receiving 2021 Art Works grants were Bearded Ladies Cabaret, Big Picture Alliance, BlackStar, Scribe Video Center, and Twelve Gates Arts. Artist grants went to Hagudeza Rullán Fantauzzi, José A. Ortiz-Pagán, Sabriaya Shipley, and Tshay Williams.
“One of the goals of the Forman Arts Initiative is to bring together organizations, communities, and artists to meet, engage, and learn from each other and from art in the same way we’ve been blessed to do in our travels,” Forman said. “In today’s challenging world, art brings us joy and is a passion we share with one another.”
A version of this article appears in the 2022 edition of ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors issue, under the title “Art Works.”