Monday, November 28, 2022

Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker receives France’s highest honor

NEW YORK ( Associated Press) — Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation and leading connector and advocate for artists and arts institutions, joins the exclusive company of global superstars like Stevie Wonder, TS Eliot and Meryl Streep to receive France’s highest cultural honour.

Walker was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of France on Tuesday for his work as a donor of art at the Gilded Age mansion in New York, owned by the French Embassy.

“It’s absolutely humbling to be at this firm,” Walker told the Associated Press. “I am only a servant of the idea of ​​art and justice in the world, because without art we cannot have justice.”

Walker became president of the Ford Foundation in 2013, one of the largest in America. He came to shape the organization’s contribution to supporting social justice through funding the arts.

To symbolize that mission, Walker arranged to sell the foundation’s art collection almost exclusively from white male artists. Beginning in 2017, the collection displayed in the Foundation’s buildings was replenished with nearly 350 works by new artists, many of whom are people of color, women and queer people.

Walker has formed a connection with French institutions partly because of what he describes as a parallel journey to the country to live out his founding ideals of liberty for all or liberty, equality and fellowship.

“France, like the US, is, unfortunately, particularly engaged in the boycott of arts and culture and the stories of people of African descent,” Walker said. And just like in America, “France is on a journey” toward greater inclusion and recognition of the contributions of black artists, he said.

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Under his leadership, the Ford Foundation funded an exhibition in New York at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery in 2018 that explored the involvement of black models painted by modernists such as douard Manet in the creation of those works. The exhibition, curated by Denis Murrell, who was then a fellow of the Ford Foundation, traveled to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where it made a big impression.

Laurence des Cars, now president-director of the Louvre Museum, partnered with Walker and Murrell to bring the exhibition to Paris while she was leading the Musée d’Orsay.

On Tuesday, she paid honors to Walker on behalf of France in front of 50 guests in a room gleaming from mirrors overlooking Central Park. Des Cars recalled Walker’s unwavering support of the exhibition that he was told repeatedly that it would cause problems.

“You see what others don’t see or refuse to see, and you see what can,” she said before placing the medal on a green-and-white striped ribbon around Walker’s neck.

French ambassador Philippe tienne listed projects that the Ford Foundation and Walker have supported, including art residency in both France and the US, and a planned exhibition highlighting the many black American artists who have worked, most notably in the Second World War. After World War I spent time in France.

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“As president of the Ford Foundation, he certainly brings the foundation, but he also brings himself,” Etienne said, referring to Walker’s expertise and knowledge, “but also a real passion, a real energy. ”

Walker is on the board of the National Gallery of the Arts, the first black person to do so, as well as the boards of several other art institutions and companies.

Americans for the Arts, a Washington-based organization, invited Walker to deliver an annual address in 2017 where he made the case for public funding of the arts, tracing his journey as a child in Texas, a solo Raised a banker by mother and now a leading voice in philanthropy.

The organization’s president and CEO, Nolan V. Bivens, said Walker believes deeply in the power of cultural diplomacy and the power of the arts.

“Darren Walker is the most influential arts policy grant maker and I would say the thought leader in America, especially in the fields of diversity and equity,” he said, adding that Walker’s “dedication to the arts and of course supporting artists is exceptional. “


Associated Press coverage of the philanthropy and non-profit is supported through Associated Press’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. Associated Press is solely responsible for this content. For all of Associated Press’s philanthropy coverage, visit


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