Q+A: Carolyn Ramo, Artadia

Artadia is one of the many non-profit organizations dedicated to the preservation and development of the arts which have their home base in DUMBO. Founded in 1997, Artadia supports visual artists with unrestricted, merit-based awards; in the last 18 years, they have awarded over $3 million to artists across the country. We sat down to talk to Carolyn Ramo, Artadia’s Executive Director, about the work that her organization does.

What is the origin story of this non-profit organization?

Artadia is almost 20 years old; we were founded by Chris Vroom, a collector and banker with the basic idea that artists need support. Chris collected artwork and formed relationships with artists, but felt that as a whole, and as a community, there was more that we could do to support artists. The NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] stopped giving individual artist grants about 22 years ago, and he felt that there was more that we could do to help artists in that way.

How do your grants work? How often are they offered?

We have grants in six different cities: New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. We have one award cycle in each of our cities every year, so about every two months there’s a new grant application open. Our grants are unique for a few different reasons: we have an open application, so any visual artist can apply. This allows us to reach a body of artists that normally wouldn’t have access to this sort of support system. We have a two-tiered process where we have curators and established artists reviewing all of the applications, so no matter who applies, their artwork is seen by someone who they normally wouldn’t have access to. We have studio visits in the second round, with the group of finalists. To see the work in person is important; with most grants you’re just looking at things online and it doesn’t provide the best sense of the work. We also give unrestricted funds, so the artists can use it for anything they want. Most of the time it’s used for production funds or their rent, but it can also be used for obstacles that are in their way to become the artist that they want to be, such as credit card debt or student loans. Someone even famously used it to get divorced because that was the obstacle that was in their way.

Why are they only limited to a few specific cities?

It’s our long term goal to have Artadia in every city that wants it. We were founded in San Francisco— the organization was started in cities that were not commercial art hubs. They were artistic cities, but did not have the same recognition as New York or Los Angeles. As the organization has grown, we’ve brought it to cities that have an existing robust artist community as well. One of our cities is Houston, which is under-recognized for its artistic community even though it’s the third largest city in the country; it most likely has more artists per capita than a lot of other cities!

There’s a lot of things that a city has to have to become a city we would want to support. I always say that it has to have artistic institutions, a collector base, and a strong curatorial presence. It has to have a full-bodied community where Artadia would become just one aspect of the support that the artists in that city need. But we are certainly looking to expand; we always talk about possibly expanding to New Orleans, and Miami, and Detroit. There’s a wide range of cities that we would like to be present in. We would love to also consider international cities in order to support their art communities, including Mexico City and others. One of the best things about this job for me is that I get to learn about and visit new cities.

We are very interested in shining a light on the importance of artists, but also responding to their needs.

Carolyn Ramo, Executive Director of Artadia

What other ways do you support artists?

We have a lot of different programs that are all geared towards connecting artists to their greater communities. We have programs where curators come to our cities to do studio visits and public programming so everyone can learn and listen from the curators. We just did an event like this last fall at the Brooklyn Museum, which provided another connection between us and the New York community. We are very interested in shining a light on the importance of artists, but also responding to their needs. We have individual outreach and also participate in art festivals.

Where does the funding for these awards come from?

It’s a combination of national and local funding sources. Most of the grants are funded locally, so we’re interested in making people join us in recognizing artists in their cities. We’re part of organizations in each of our cities, and we work with a large group of individuals that join us as members and then help support the grants. We also utilize a small amount of corporate partnerships as well, but the main idea is to expose the artists and their work to a larger group beyond just us. For example, in the New York branch of our grants, Two Trees has been a huge help to us.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Giving the funds away, for sure. We are just finishing an LA round of applications, and I get to call artists and tell them that the are receiving funds from us. It’s not just the money that makes these artists happy, but also the validation and recognition. It’s really a fantastic feeling.

Artadia x Kickstarter Panel: Art & Politics
Artadia x Kickstarter Panel: Art & Politics

Why is funding for the arts important, especially in cities and low-income communities?

I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but especially in these times, it feels like there are a lot of other worthy causes that deserve our support right now. But I’m also really aware that part of the reason of why are we trying to make sure that our climate change is reversed, or have gun control, is all to preserve our culture and freedom. More than ever, the ability to be able to express ourselves and appreciate other people’s expressions is part of having a rich life; in greater sense, this is what I ultimately care about.

What is your favorite thing about running Artadia?

So many things! On a day-to-day basis, what’s exciting is that no day is the same, and it’s very challenging to balance all of the different things we have going on. Overall, it’s wonderful to be able to make connections on behalf of artists, such as between an artist and a collector or an artist and a curator, and seeing that kind of impact.

Art & Dialogue: Chicago, held at partner Museum of Contemporary Art. Featuring curators Naima Keith, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Programs at the California African American Museum and Naomi Beckwith, MCA Curator.
Art & Dialogue: Chicago, held at partner Museum of Contemporary Art. Featuring curators Naima Keith, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Programs at the California African American Museum and Naomi Beckwith, MCA Curator.

How did you become Executive Director of Artadia?

Most of my prior work experience was in commercial galleries, other than a small stint in the publications and new media department at the Whitney Museum right after I got out of college. I always loved working at galleries because it seemed like the place where you had the most interactions with artists and support to give them. Artadia felt like a natural extension of that thread. I also surprised myself with my ability to fundraise, so it’s nice to put that to work to support artists that I care about.

Why did you base the office in Dumbo?

We were originally part of a cohort of New York non-profits that had exhibition spaces, and as we moved away from that model, we felt that moving our office to Dumbo was a wonderful way to feel a connection between the artists that were here. Combined with being close to Manhattan, where many of our supporters live, this is an essential spot between the two boroughs.

What is your favorite place in Dumbo?

The lunch options in the neighborhood make me so happy, especially Sweetgreen. But also I love Cecconi’s on Mondays where you can get a discounted lunch if you’re a member, or Smile to Go, or VHH Foods. Any of those places are really good.

All images courtesy of Artadia. 

Mentioned in this article

sweetgreen Cecconi's Dumbo