Charles Gaines Establishes CalArts Fellowship to Support Black Students in the MFA Art Program

Charles Gaines Establishes CalArts Fellowship to Support Black Students in the MFA Art Program

Following the news last summer of philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton’s $5 million gift to CalArts to establish the Charles Gaines Faculty Chair, renowned artist and long-time faculty member Charles Gaines has provided an initial donation to establish a fellowship that will provide critical scholarship support for Black students in the Institute's MFA Art program. Additionally, two lead gifts, from Jill Kraus and David Kordansky, as well as other gifts, have so far provided about $610,000 for what will be known as the Charles Gaines Fellowship.

“CalArts has made a substantial and wide-ranging commitment to racial equity, but there is still so much more work to do,” said President Ravi S. Rajan. “Charles already had a legacy as an important catalyst for change — not just at CalArts, but in the broader community of artists as a whole. His leadership-by-example inspires us to press harder and fight onward to eliminate barriers to access that exist within MFA Art programs. Today is the beginning of that change for CalArts thanks to Charles’ generosity.”

Black students make up only a small fraction of those in MFA Art programs across the United States. In recent years, this deficiency has been particularly stark at CalArts. Of the 25 students enrolled in the MFA Art program in fall 2019, not a single one identified as Black. The Charles Gaines Fellowship, which will cover at least two-thirds of the cost of tuition for those who receive it, comes at a moment when CalArts is strengthening its overall commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and equity.

Gaines views his act of philanthropy as a capstone to his career as an educator.

“I have spent my whole teaching career at CalArts working—not alone but with others—on diversity and inclusion in order to increase the presence of the minority voice in society and to help make possible access to opportunities that have been historically denied to people of color and that most Americans take for granted,” Gaines said.

The Institute has a legacy—largely due to Gaines’ own efforts—of helping to develop Black artists. During Gaines’ 31-year career at CalArts, he has mentored many Black artists, among them Mark Bradford, Rodney McMillan, Lauren Halsey, Edgar Arceneaux, Henry Taylor, and others. Gaines’ generosity, and those who have joined him in this effort, will enable CalArts to expand access and continue this important legacy.

In fact, two individuals who have been impacted by Gaines over the years have stepped forward to support the Fellowship in a substantial way. Alumnus David Kordansky, founder of the eponymous David Kordansky Gallery, is a former student of Gaines’ who was profoundly influenced by his mentorship. He sees his support as a way to honor that influence and mentorship.

"Charles was my mentor at CalArts, a role he has tirelessly and humbly provided for multiple generations of artists at the school and beyond," Kordansky said. "He is a true philosopher-artist, whose guidance and perspective have shaped my gallery, my peers, and the history of Los Angeles art. It’s no surprise Charles would envision this fellowship to help usher in necessary, meaningful, systemic change. I couldn’t be more excited to pay forward my CalArts experience to support Black student creators at this vital juncture, in the name of my friend and teacher."

Jill Kraus, a Calarts trustee whose son, Jason Kraus, also studied with Charles, has provided support for the Fellowship as well.

“I've known Charles for a long time and witnessing his extraordinary career as both an artist and an educator over the years has been a revelation,” said Kraus. “Through his efforts, Charles has made an enormous impact on countless artists, including my own son Jason. Now, thanks to his own generosity, generations of new Black artists will be empowered to find their voices. I'm so proud to be joining my friend Charles in this critically important effort."

Inspired by Gaines’ philanthropy, the Institute is embarking on a multimillion dollar fundraising initiative to endow the Fellowship and enable it to provide support for generations of future underrepresented artists to come.

To learn more, contact Emily Wells, Director of Development, Major Gifts, at (661) 253-7708 or ewells@calarts.edu.