For Creative Capital’s Christine Kuan, Supporting Artists Is Everything

As the president and CEO nears two years in her post—and the grant-making organization nears its 25th anniversary—she reflects on the most challenging years for artists in recent history.

Credit: Jordan Tiberio

In March 2021, Christine Kuan took the helm of Creative Capital as president and CEO of the grant-making organization that has awarded millions of dollars in direct funding to nearly 1,000 pioneering artists like Simone Leigh, Etienne Charles, and more, while also providing professional development and educational resources to grant recipients and a wider, 32,000-strong community.

As Creative Capital’s next grant cycle approaches, Kuan, whose 20 years of experience in the art world’s nonprofit and commercial sectors includes serving as CEO of Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Chief Curator & Director of Strategic Partnerships at Artsy, spoke with Surface about her vision for the organization. “Our model of 360 support proved to be extremely resilient during the pandemic—many of our grantees realized incredible new works, such as Jackie Sumell’s The Abolitionist’s Tea Party & Apothecary at MOMA PS1, Ry Russo-Young’s Nuclear Family on HBO, and Samora Pinderhughes’s The Healing Project at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,” she says of recent years in review. In the following interview, she shares her vision for supporting artists through the next grant cycle and beyond.

How have artists’ needs changed since the pandemic? Have you noticed any shifts in the latest grant cycle?

Artists need funding now more than ever, particularly artists of color and women who have traditionally not been embraced by the marketplace, museums, or commercial channels, like Hollywood or Broadway. Our ethos is to be there for artists—from picking up the phone when there’s a crisis to believing in their wildest dream projects.

Creative Capital is about discovering new ideas. The most risk-taking artists are not just observing or responding to the times—they are way ahead of the times. We’ll be announcing never-before-seen, out-there technology, literature, and performing arts works that will premiere five to ten years from now—that’s how future-forward these artists are!

Funding matters to artists, especially now with the uncertainty in our economy. Each year we raise millions to give to artists. For every dollar we raise, 83 percent goes to artists in grants and services. In my first year, we increased the number of awards from 35 to 50 because we were seeing such a strong need for project support.

How have you leveraged your extensive art-world experience to show up for artists at Creative Capital?

I’m applying my learnings from running Sotheby’s Institute of Art by creating a new online curriculum for artists—an evergreen toolkit that breaks down barriers to essential knowledge and professional skills. 

From Artsy, I’m bringing strategies from the technology and startup sector to create streamlined ways for artists to access our grants and services. We’ve completely revamped our Awardee Hub for our 800+ global grantees to request on-demand industry consultations, professional services, and peer mentorship. 

What are you most excited about for the future of Creative Capital and its mission to support artists through financial and educational resources?

We’re about to turn 25, and in that time Creative Capital has influenced every corner of the arts ecosystem. We are incredibly proud of our legacy. I’m most excited about the next era of philanthropy for artists. It’s a space odyssey into the unknown because we are constantly reevaluating and reimagining how to support the most radical thinkers of our time.

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