This Woman Has Been Anonymously Funding Female Artists for 22 Years

For the last 22 years, an unknown contributor has been donating $25,000 grants to hundreds of female artists as part of a program called Anonymous Was a Woman. The project was developed to give artists over the age of 40 financial aid in order help them realize their creative careers. A total of 220 deserving artists have benefited so far, with grants totaling a staggering $5.5 million. Motivated to set an example for other women to have a voice, photographer Susan Unterberg has recently revealed herself as the mysterious donor.

The name Anonymous Was a Woman comes from a line in Virginia Woolf's novel A Room of One's Own and refers to historical female artists who had to keep their identities secret in order to work and be respected. And although women’s rights have come a long way, there’s still some gender equality issues in the art world. For example, female artists make up just 3-5% of major permanent museum collections in the U.S. & Europe. Explaining her decision to come forward, Unterberg says, “It's a great time for women to speak up. I feel I can be a better advocate having my own voice.” She adds, “Women have been anonymous for far too long.”

The now 77-year-old photographer’s generosity was inspired by her own struggles to become a successful contemporary artist. After hearing of the National Endowment for the Arts grant cuts, Unterberg decided to use funds she had inherited from her father’s oil business.

One artist to receive a grant was Amy Sherald, who painted former First Lady Michelle Obama's official portrait. She reveals, “I had $1,500 left and that’s exactly what my rent was. The announcement of the portrait had just come out and I was sitting there flat broke. It saved my life in terms of securing my studio to make that portrait.” Carrie Mae Weems was another artist to benefit from Unterberg’s generosity. She recalls, “I was offered this extraordinary gift…It was important, because I needed the money, but more than anything, I needed the encouragement and the support to keep making, to keep pushing—to continue to work in spite of all of the pressures.”

Photographer Susan Unterberg has recently revealed herself as the mysterious donator behind the Anonymous Was a Woman program.

She’s been giving $25,000 grants to hundreds of deserving female artists over 22 years.

Anonymous Was a Woman: Website
Susan Unterberg: Website | Instagram
h/t: [A Plus]

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Emma Taggart

Emma Taggart is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. Originally from Northern Ireland, she is an artist now based in Berlin. After graduating with a BA in Fashion and Textile Design in 2013, Emma decided to combine her love of art with her passion for writing. Emma has contributed to various art and culture publications, with an aim to promote and share the work of inspiring modern creatives. While she writes every day, she’s also devoted to her own creative outlet—Emma hand-draws illustrations and is currently learning 2D animation.
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