Ruth Arts Grants $1.25 Million to Cultural Organizations, Including 3 in Milwaukee

Black Arts MKE, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts and Woodland Pattern were all selected as part of the grant program.

The Ruth Foundation for the Arts on Wednesday announced the 2023 recipients of its second annual Artist Choice—the foundation’s flagship program uniquely guided by an artist-driven nomination process to award a total of $1.25 million in unrestricted grants across 56 arts and cultural organizations.

The Milwaukee-based foundation, also known as Ruth Arts, is supported by a bequest from the late Ruth DeYoung Kohler II. It launched in June 2022 with the first iteration of Artist Choice to honor Kohler’s lifelong and groundbreaking models of artist support and community-building across the country. 

This year’s Ruth Arts grantees include three Milwaukee organizations – Black Arts MKE, which works to increase the availability and quality of Black arts and culture; Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, a long-time powerful advocate for underrepresented artists in Milwaukee and beyond; and Woodland Pattern Book Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the discovery, cultivation, and presentation of poetry, independent literature and the arts.

Each year, Ruth Arts invites a wide selection of artists from across the country to nominate up to three organizations that have impacted their practice and instill a sense of creative community. Artists interpret the invitation as they wish, with responses ranging from residencies to film festivals, collectives to performance spaces, to arts education at all levels, to organizations in rural communities and on the islands.


Nominations are open for the 2024 Unity Awards! 

Know an individual or group committed to bridging divides in our community? Nominate them for a Unity Award by Oct. 31.

Ruth Arts has launched five grant-making programs in addition to Artist Choice: Core Grants, RDK Legacy, Sites & Stewardship, Thought Leaders, and Wisconsin Grants to Artists. All these programs are the result of Ruth Arts’ direct dialogue with artists and creative practitioners.

With the second edition of Artist Choice, Ruth Arts’ grant-making streams total $15.74 million in funding to date.

“Artist Choice brings us full circle and back to the root of our work which is to learn with and from artists and the communities that raised them,” Ruth Arts Executive Director Karen Patterson said. “Thanks to this exceptional cadre of artists, Ruth Arts now has a more complex understanding of the national arts landscape. We are thrilled to support these exceptional organizations and are indebted to the artists who nominated them. They have been excellent partners helping us craft an integral roadmap for the foundation and I hope a cogent bellwether for arts philanthropy.”

This year’s cohort of Artist Choice recipients spans 41 cities in 26 states, including the three Milwaukee-based organizations.

Artist Choice is designed to feature artists in the grant-making process, aligned with Ruth Arts’ mission and reflecting the belief in the integral role artists play in their communities.

This year’s selection process was guided by the recommendation of 53 esteemed artists across various disciplines and geographic locations.

“The organizations awarded truly reflect the multitude of ways an artist comes to be—these are the spaces where artists first became teachers, where they met their mentors, where they discovered what was possible in artmaking,” Ruth Arts Program Director Kim Nguyen said. “This year, artists acknowledged alliances and coalitions, signaling that advocacy and collectivity continue to be at the forefront of their interests. They wanted to honor both burgeoning artist-run spaces and the longstanding organizations that have shaped their practices. So many of these organizations are asking what does it mean to endure? And how do we care for one another? Fundamental questions that we are so grateful we get to support.”

The 2023 Artist Choice Nominators include: Zarouhie Abdalian, Indira Allegra, Teresa Baker, Chlöe Bass, Cara Benedetto, Jessica Campbell, Carolina Caycedo, Kiah Celeste, Raven Chacon, Jane Chang Mi, Sean Connelly, Maia Cruz Palileo, Alex Da Corte, Jovencio de la Paz, Erica Deeman, Jeremy Dennis, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Hasan Elahi, Josh Faught, Verónica Gaona, Tia-Simone Gardner, Karolina Gnatowski, Pao Houa Her, Tomashi Jackson, Steffani Jemison, Dasha Kelly Hamilton, Sahar Khoury, Fatima Laster, Kathy Liao, Carolina Maki Kitagawa Frisby, Azikiwe Mohammed, Jiha Moon, Jason Moran, Hương Ngô, Lorraine O’Grady, Angela Piehl, Hayal Pozanti, Nirmal Raja, Ashwini Ramaswamy, Edra Soto, Renée Stout, Martine Syms, Hồng-Ân Trương, Anna Tsouhlarakis, and Lynne Yamamoto. Others chose to remain anonymous.

“Ruth Foundation for the Arts asking artists to nominate the people they see working is an incredible way to give a chance to smaller structures to grow larger, or at least sustain their size, which in and of itself can be a momentous task,” artist Azikiwe Mohammed said.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.