Disabled communities were among the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sweeping changes to distanced work and schooling, as well as general vigilance about protecting those with compromised immune systems, made it clear how few accommodations we previously had in place. In response to this, and the ongoing hesitancy to put such protections permanently in place for those whose vulnerability extends beyond the COVID-19 crisis, the Ford and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations announced a commitment of $5 million in new funding for Disability Futures — a first-of-its-kind fellowship that launched last fall, created for disabled practitioners. The fellowship provided 20 disabled creatives working across disciplines, and across the country, with unrestricted $50,000 grants, administered through United States Artists.
Now, this new funding endowment will continue to spotlight the work of disabled creatives across disciplines and geography, with a cohort of 20 creatives with an emphasis on disabled practitioners who have been further marginalized by racism, sexism, and heterosexism. These funds will help support the initiative through 2025, including support for two new cohorts of fellows following this inaugural class, announced this week. The fellows present across a diverse range of gender and ethnic identities, disabilities, geographic locations, media, and ages.
The inaugural Disability Futures Fellows are: Navild (niv) Acosta, Patty Berne, Eli Clare, John Lee Clark, Sky Cubacub, Jen Deerinwater, Rodney Evans, Ryan J. Haddad, Jerron Herman, Carolyn Lazard, Jim LeBrecht, Riva Lehrer, Jeffrey Yasuo Mansfield, Mia Mingus, Perel, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Alice Sheppard, Christine Sun Kim, Tourmaline, and Alice Wong.
In order to mark the debut of the fellows, the Ford Foundation, in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and United States Artists, are also presenting the first Disability Futures Virtual Festival. From July 19–20, the festival will present art and ideas from leading disabled artists, writers, performers, and designers. The virtual festival is free and open-to-the-public and honors the work of the Disability Futures Fellows and their collaborators through a series of new performances, conversations, and a virtual dance party. Anyone can register for the festival and get a sneak peek of the future that is possible when those historically relegated to the margins are given support at center stage.