National Campaign for Freedom of Expression In 1990, Art Matters gave fellowships to Joy Silverman and Alexander Gray to start an advocacy effort representing artists whose rights and needs were not necessarily addressed by other art world organizations mobilizing against attacks on government funding. The National Campaign for Freedom of Expression (NCFE) was in active operation later that year. At that time, NCFE was the only nationwide organization exclusively dedicated to challenging the erosion of First Amendment rights as applied to the support, presentation, and creation of the arts in the United States. The heart of NCFE's mission was one-on-one work with artists under attack or simply seeking to promote freedom of artistic expression. NCFE provided strategic advice concerning grassroots and national coalition-building, using the media effectively, legal referrals, support from community and beyond, mediation, and educational and reference materials. NCFE created the Free Expression Network (FEN), a coalition of more than forty national organizations representing artists, record companies, the motion picture industry, booksellers, civil liberties groups, libraries, museums, theaters, publishers, and the Internet community, all concerned with defending the First Amendment. NCFE ceased operations in 2000, and transferred its programs and assets primarily to the National Coalition Against Censorship's Art Censorship Project, as well as to the First Amendment Project and NAAO.
Visual Aids Founded in 1988 by arts professionals as a response to the effects of AIDS on the arts community and as a way of organizing artists, arts institutions, and arts audiences towards direct action, Visual AIDS has evolved into an arts organization with a two-pronged mission. 1.) Through the Frank Moore Archive Project, the largest slide library of work by artists living with HIV and the estates of artists who have died of AIDS, Visual AIDS historicizes the contributions of visual artists with HIV while supporting their ability to continue making art and furthering their professional careers. 2.) In collaboration with museums, galleries, artists, schools, and AIDS service organizations, Visual AIDS produces exhibitions, publications, and events utilizing visual art to keep focus on the AIDS pandemic.
Art Matters enabled the growth of Visual AIDS, offering office space and operating support from the organization's beginnings. In 1989, Art Matters helped fund one of the most well-known, international AIDS initiatives, Day Without Art, a commemoration by arts institutions for those who lived with or had died from AIDS. Visual AIDS also created The Ribbon Project, which turned a simple Red Ribbon into an internationally recognized symbol of AIDS awareness; and Night Without Light, a commemoration that coincides with World AIDS Day/Day Without Art (December 1 each year)---for fifteen minutes, the lights on Manhattan's historic buildings and monuments are turned off in recognition of those who have died.
The Arts Forward Fund In 1991, Art Matters was involved in the conceptualization of the Arts Forward Fund and subsequently provided programmatic administrative support for it. Thirty-six New York City funders cooperated in this effort to bolster self-sufficiency among struggling arts organizations, many of them focusing on new art and facing the decline of government assistance. A strong assumption behind the Fund was that old fundraising and administrative structures no longer worked well enough and that fresh thinking was needed if organizations were to thrive (or in some cases, even survive) in the new climate. Financial administration was provided by the New York Community Trust, though the pooled resources that represented the Fund were controlled collectively by all thirty-six participants. The program was open to any arts group in the five boroughs of New York City. The Fund intended to send a positive and encouraging message to the arts community in New York City in a time of financial crisis, to change the nature of the dialogue between grant-makers and arts organizations, and to foster innovative collaborations. During the course of the Fund, thirty-six planning grants totaling $681,500 and seventeen implementation grants totaling $1,026,425 were awarded.
The Art Matters Catalog was initiated in 1994 to sustain and potentially expand the foundation's grant-making activities. The catalogue was funded in its startup solely from Art Matters' endowment with the goal of supporting artists in two ways: by advertising and selling the products of artists working in the marketplace, and by using profits to provide fellowships. The first Art Matters Catalog was published in fall 1995, the second in the spring of 1996. Both catalogues far surpassed the projections of experts in the industry, exceeding projected sales for Fall 1995 by 20 percent, grossing over $1.2 million and achieving higher average orders than comparable catalogues like The Metropolitan Museum and The Museum of Modern Art. The 1995 Catalog also received first place in the Consumer Catalogue division from the prestigious John Caples International Award, one of the highest achievements possible in the direct marketing industry. The Art Matters Catalog was also widely covered in the media, from feature articles in TIME Magazine, Newsweek, and The New York Times to over fifty design and shelter magazines. The call for entrepreneurial activity from the non-profit arts community had found a fitting example in this project. Before the Catalog became self-sustaining, however, it reached a point where additional investments funds were required. Despite an energetic search for investors, none were forthcoming.
The Estate Project for Artists with AIDS In 1991, with the involvement of Art Matters, the Alliance for the Arts in New York City initiated the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS intending to develop a way of advising artists on estate planning, as well as providing strategic direction for the arts community in the face of the enormous cultural losses created by AIDS. Since that time, 75,000 copies of the resulting publication, Future Safe, have been disseminated internationally in English and Spanish. By 1993, the Estate Project was actively pursuing a national program of archival projects, including the Virtual Collection, a digital archive of work by visual artists with AIDS that has been developed in conjunction with the Getty Information Institute, and which brings together an extensive collection of images created by artists with AIDS. This archive makes it possible for curators and historians to have access to this material over the Internet. An even larger effort is the Estate Project's initiative to catalogue and preserve the majority of AIDS activist video made in America.
The Critical Needs Fund for Photographers with AIDS In 1992, Art Matters and Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS initiated a collaborative effort, The Critical Needs Fund for Photographers with AIDS. Photographers + Friends and The Estate Project provided money from various fundraising activities and Art Matters publicized and administered the fellowships. By 1998, forty-five photographers had received assistance. The grants provided support for art supplies, archival purposes, and health care expenses, all intended to allow photographers with HIV/AIDS to continue their artistic practices. Applications were accepted on an ongoing basis, with notification made within a month. The Fund ceased operations in 1995.