The American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honorary society of great architects, artists, composers and writers, announced 33 new members on Friday as part of an effort to grow and diversify.
Among them are painter Mark Bradford, poet Joy Harjo, artist Betye Saar and composer Wynton Marsalis and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Founded in 1898, the institution had capped membership at 250 since 1908; members are elected for life and pay no membership fee. In addition to adding 33 members, the academy has announced it will grow to 300 by 2025. Its movement to diversify comes as the arts consider issues of race, inclusion and social justice.
“The Board of Trustees is committed to creating a more inclusive membership that truly represents America and believes that expanding the membership of the Academy will make it easier for the Academy to achieve this goal,” the organization said in a statement.
From its inception, the organization – which now administers more than 70 awards and prizes totaling more than $ 1 million – was comprised primarily of white men, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent and Mark Twain. Previously, new members could only be elected after the death of existing members.
“The fact that the institution’s doors have opened to a more representative membership is a symbol of a long overdue cultural change,” Harjo said in an email to The New York Times.
“Every culture has contributed to the restoration, overhaul and overhaul of this country,” she added. “Together, we form a rich and dynamic field of history of all nuances, tones and rhythms.”
The academy is ushering in its most diverse group as institutions across the country have considered racial justice, equity and inclusion over the past year. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced a $ 5.3 million program to distribute curated book collections in prisons across the country last June and then pledged $ 250 million to help reinvent the country’s monuments and memorials. to include the story of marginalized people. In January, the Library of Congress also announced a Mellon-funded initiative to expand its collection and encourage diverse outreach for future librarians and archivists.
Employees of other arts organizations are also voicing their issues with the custodians of the great arts: a coalition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and other New York-based cultural institutions. York posted a letter on social media regarding the “unfair treatment of Blacks / Maroons” last year, demanding “the immediate removal of ineffective and biased administrative and curatorial leaders,” among other demands.
The academy only includes American architects, artists, writers and composers. Among the new additions, which do not fall into these categories, there are honorary members, like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Spike Lee, Unsuk Chin and Balkrishna Doshi.
All new members will be inducted on May 19 in a virtual awards ceremony.