It’s no secret that women face barriers to success across many different professional industries–and the art world is no different. This discrepancy between male and female artists is the reason why one photographer, Susan Unterberg, took it upon herself to try and diminish the gap. Beginning in 1996, a mysterious anonymous donor began to hand out grants to under-appreciated female artists over the age of forty.
Titled “Anonymous Was A Woman”, the projects statement says:
“Anonymous Was A Woman is an unrestricted grant of $25,000 awarded each year to ten women artists over the age of 40 and at a critical junction in their career. The name of the grant program refers to a line in Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” The award was begun in 1996 in response to the decision of the National Endowment of the Arts to cease support of individual artists. To date, Anonymous was a Woman has awarded over $5.5 million to 220 artists.”
However “Anonymous” is no longer actually anonymous, as the woman behind the magnanimous grant system has “outed herself”, so to speak. Unterberg, who is now in her late seventies, decided to reveal her identity to the New York Times because she felt that
“it’s a great time for women to speak up. I feel I can be a better advocate having my own voice.”
Unterberg herself was once an under-recognized female artist over forty, but due to a rich inheritance from her late father, oilman Nathan Appleman, she never had to worry about the financial aspect of being a struggling photographer. Because she was lucky in this regard, she decided it would be her mission to pass the funds on to others who could put them to use. One recipient of the grant described the experience of receiving it, saying
“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.”
To see some of the recipients of the grant and check out their work, click here.