How the Gordon Parks Foundation Supports Burgeoning Artists

By Namon Eugene | November 16, 2021

The Gordon Parks Foundation (gordonparksfoundation.org) supports emerging artists through its coveted fellowship program. The organization recognizes that visual art has several functions: It can be one’s way of expressing themselves, a method to tell stories, an object of everyday use, or, most obviously, simply something of beauty. Each of these ideas is acceptable but can be achieved by an endless array of fine artists, many with an endless number of works.

Gordon Parks, “Untitled” (1941) PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION
Gordon Parks, “Untitled” (1941) PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION

So, when an artist chooses to engage with social issues the world relentlessly delivers upon us with the intent to spark positive change, a heap of history, personal experience, and optimism magically become part of the craftsman’s materials—and the artwork seizes the viewer’s soul, reaching way beyond a basic aesthetic purpose of display.


Tyler Mitchell, 2020 Gordon Parks fellowship recipient TYLER MITCHELL PHOTO BY JACK SHAINMAN
Tyler Mitchell, 2020 Gordon Parks fellowship recipient TYLER MITCHELL PHOTO BY JACK SHAINMAN

The Gordon Parks Foundation understands this in a personal way and has been pouring into visual artists, through the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship, since 2017.


Nina Chanel Abney, 2020 Gordon Parks fellowship recipient NINA CHANEL ABNEY PHOTO BY JET TOOMER
Nina Chanel Abney, 2020 Gordon Parks fellowship recipient NINA CHANEL ABNEY PHOTO BY JET TOOMER


From left: Designer Dapper Dan, Gordon Parks Foundation Executive Director Peter W. Kunhardt Jr. and actress Sarah Jones attend the 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction. RED CARPET PHOTO BY VLADIMIR WEINSTEIN/BFA.COM
From left: Designer Dapper Dan, Gordon Parks Foundation Executive Director Peter W. Kunhardt Jr., and actress Sarah Jones attend the 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction. RED CARPET PHOTO BY VLADIMIR WEINSTEIN/BFA.COM

The foundation, co-founded in 2006 by Gordon Parks himself, alongside his close friend and former Managing Editor of Life magazine Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., was created to permanently preserve the work of Parks, who is widely considered one of the most important photographers of the last century. In addition, the two men also wanted to progress “the common search for a better life and a better world,” something Parks focused deeply on in his own work. The Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship is key to achieving this goal.


The 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation scholarship and prize recipients  SCHOLARSHIP RECEIPIENTS AND SWIZZ BEATZ PHOTO BY MIKE VITELLI/BFA.COM.
The 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation scholarship and prize recipients SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS AND SWIZZ BEATZ PHOTO BY MIKE VITELLI/BFA.COM.


2013 honoree Swizz Beatz attends the 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction. SCHOLARSHIP RECEIPIENTS AND SWIZZ BEATZ PHOTO BY MIKE VITELLI/BFA.COM.
2013 honoree Swizz Beatz attends the 2019 Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction. SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS AND SWIZZ BEATZ PHOTO BY MIKE VITELLI/BFA.COM.

Artists bestowed the fellowship, which awards each person $20,000 to assist in creating work that focuses on the themes of representation and social justice, include Devin Allen, Harriet Dedman, Derrick Adams, Deana Lawson, Guadalupe Rosales and Hank Willis Thomas. The most recent fellows are Tyler Mitchell (who rose to fame after becoming the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue, capturing Beyoncé for the publication’s September 2018 issue) and Nina Chanel (who recently set Twitter ablaze after being revealed as the artist behind Meek Mill’s Expensive Pain album cover). Toward the end of their respective fellowship periods (two creatives are selected annually), each artist presents an exhibition at the Gordon Parks Foundation Gallery in Pleasantville, N.Y.


Gordon Parks, “Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria” (1970). PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION
Gordon Parks, “Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria” (1970). PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION

The Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship, by its name alone, carries prestige that no doubt amplifies the profiles of these incredible talents. But more importantly, it provides space and support to people who have chosen to bravely use their artistic gifts to uncover and inspire new ways to see the world—and hopefully make it a better place for all.


Gordon Parks, “Department Store, Mobile, Alabama” (1956) PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION
Gordon Parks, “Department Store, Mobile, Alabama” (1956) PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION


Gordon Parks, “Untitled, Watts, California” (1967). PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION
Gordon Parks, “Untitled, Watts, California” (1967). PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION

Photography by: (Images Credited Above)