The Anonymous Was a Woman awards have supported women artists over 40 since 1996, distributing more than $6 million in grants to a population that has historically and systematically been overlooked when it comes to major accolades and support. Now, for the first time ever, the organization is doubling its annual offering with an additional $250,000 of emergency relief grants in response to the ongoing health crisis that has shuttered museums, galleries, and other businesses around the world.
The grants—up to $2,500 apiece—aim to assist artists who are experiencing financial hardship due to lost income or opportunity as a result of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic shock. As with AWAW’s annual grants, the emergency funds, administered in partnership with the New York Foundation for the Arts, are unrestricted and available only to women-identifying visual artists over the age of 40 in the United States.
Artist Susan Unterberg, who only revealed her identity as founder of AWAW in 2018, spent about 10 days mulling the idea before pulling the trigger. “This is the first time in 24 years that I’ve expanded beyond our stated mission because this is an unprecedented moment,” she told Artnet News in an email. “All the news coming out was dire, and I know many artists take on multiple jobs to support their practice, and these jobs were being cut. Artists needed help and I was able to help.”
Unterberg noted that women over 40 are more likely than others to have the additional stress of care-taking for elderly parents as well as children. “So many people are struggling, but by limiting the grant to women artists over 40, we have stayed true to our mission,” she said. “I wish we were able to help everyone.”
Susan Unterberg. Photo courtesy of Anonymous Was a Woman.
Unlike the traditional AWAW awards, which offer $25,000 in unrestricted funds to 10 artists each year based on the choices of a selection committee, the emergency grants can be applied for directly and will be awarded based solely on documented loss in the order in which the eligible applications are received. (The project is funded by Unterburg independently, but others who support the cause are invited to help expand the program by donating on AWAW’s website.)
“Susan is an inspiration as both an artist and a philanthropist. This fund will not only provide much needed financial support for artists, but, just as importantly, it will be an incredible source of hope,” said NYFA executive director Michael Royce in a statement.
Unterberg began AWAW in response to the National Endowment of the Arts’s elimination of grants for individual artists back in the 1990s, so it’s fitting that the announcement of the emergency funds follows the unveiling a federal $2 trillion stimulus package that offers minimal assistance in the realm of arts and culture.
“I inherited a foundation from my father that enabled me to set up Anonymous Was a Woman,” Unterberg said. “By digging deeper into the resources of the funds left in the foundation, I felt that I was able to support this emergency grant as well as our yearly one.”
Applications will be open from April 6 through 8. Winners of AWAW’s regular annual award will be announced as previously scheduled in the fall.