An Obscure Foundation in Maine Just Gave $400,000 to Art Journalists—No Strings Attached

The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation will annually shell out $50,000 awards to art journalists and critics.

Dorothea and Leo Rabkin. Photo © Lauri Martin, courtesy Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation.

As major publications from The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal cut back on arts coverage, one little-known foundation is stepping up to help fund it.

The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation made a splash in the world of art criticism and journalism this week, announcing a new annual prize that offers American art writers who write for general audiences (rather than academic readers) a $50,000 unrestricted grant in recognition of their work. The grant matches the highest awards given by the Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation, which range from $15,000 to $50,000, and is five times the sum awarded to Pulitzer Prize winners.

The inaugural eight winners are Phong Bui (publisher of the Brooklyn Rail); Charles Desmarais (art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle); Bob Keyes (features writer for the Portland Press Herald, Maine); Jason Farago (writer for the New York Times and the Guardian and founding editor of the magazine, Even); Jeff Huebner (contributor to the Chicago Reader); Carolina Miranda (culture writer for the Los Angeles Times); Christina Rees (editor-in-chief of Glasstire, Dallas); and Chris Vitiello (freelance writer and independent curator and organizer, Durham, North Carolina).

A panel of 16 nominators put forth candidates for the prize; each finalist submitted writing samples. The winners were then chosen by a jury of three: Lisa Gabrielle Mark, a publisher at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Paul Ha, the director of the List Visual Arts Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Walter Robinson, artist, art critic, and founding editor of artnet Magazine in New York.

“These are the brave ones, the writers who live by their work and say what they think,” said juror Lisa Gabrielle Mark in an announcement of the prize. Anyone who writes art journalism—including reviews, blogs, and narrative videos—is eligible for the prize, regardless of whether he or she has full-time employment or a book or new initiative in the works. (By contrast, writers must submit lengthy applications for Creative Capital grants, many of which are awarded to fund a particular project.)

Dorothea and Leo Rabkin lived in New York, where they collected folk art and established their foundation in 1999. In recent years, its modest grant-giving activities have included donations to the American Folk Art Museum in New York, according to recent tax filings. Leo was an artist working in various media who showed at the Richard Feigen and Howard Wise galleries, among others. Dorothea died in 2008, Leo in 2015. The foundation is now headquartered in Portland, Maine; the offices include an art gallery and house the Rabkins’ archives.

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