Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation


* Assets: $6,855,615,466 (2017)
* Grants Received: $0 (2017)
* Grants Awarded: $302,078,167 (2017)

This foundation is the namesake of Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937), a banker, entrepreneur, industrialist, philanthropist, and art collector who made his fortune with such entities as Mellon Bank, Union Savings Bank, Gulf Oil, the American Locomotive Company, Pittsburgh Coal, and Alcoa. Mellon also served as Secretary of the Treasury under U.S. Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. During his lifetime, Mellon gave away some $10 million—mostly to educational and charitable organizations. In addition, he helped fund the creation of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Three years after Mellon’s death, his daughter, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, established a charity known as the Avalon Foundation, which made grants to support colleges and universities, medical schools, hospitals, youth programs, community services, churches, environmental projects, and an array of cultural and arts organizations. And in 1941 Andrew’s son, Paul Mellon, created a charity of his own—the Old Dominion Foundation. Twenty-eight years later, Avalon and Old Dominon merged to form the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (AWMF). Though Andrew Mellon himself was politically conservative, the foundation that was named in his honor embraces left-leaning values.

AWMF’s mission is to “strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies.” To this end, it supports “exemplary institutions of higher education and culture” with grants in five core program areas:

(1) Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities: This program assists select colleges, universities, and research institutes in the work of “training scholars and producing scholarship in the humanities.” Specifically, it supports initiatives designed to “enhance the learning experience” of both undergraduate and graduate students in these disciplines; helps institutions and professional organizations “respond to the economic, demographic, financial, and technological challenges affecting higher education”; and aims to “foste[r] collaborations within and among institutions.”

(2) Arts and Cultural Heritage: In an effort to strengthen performing arts organizations, art museums, research institutes, and conservation centers, this program funds the work of artists, curators, conservators, and scholars. It especially emphasizes the importance of research, training, and recruitment programs that “enhance diversity and inclusion in arts organizations.”

(3) Diversity: Dedicated to defending and promoting race preferences in academia, this program seeks to “help diversify the next generation of college and university faculty” through such initiatives as its Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF), which was established in 1989 “to increase the number of highly qualified candidates for PhDs in core fields within the arts and sciences who come from minority groups that are seriously underrepresented in these fields—principally African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.” The Diversity program also aims to “strengthen institutions that improve educational attainment of historically underrepresented groups”; supports research and projects that are “focused on the relationship between diversity and learning”; strives to “enabl[e] students of all social, ethnic, and economic backgrounds to experience and value diversity and inclusiveness in their pursuit of learning”; and backs organizations that “employ traditional and non-traditional means to help colleges and universities diversify their student population.”(4) Scholarly Communications: This program assists research libraries, archives, museums, universities, presses, and arts organizations in the use of digital technologies that have “the potential to expand and equalize access to cultural and scholarly resources across sectors of society.” It also aims to promote the evolution of academic publishing in the Internet age, the preservation of digital scholarship and collections, and the development of a global collections initiative to provide access to non-English-language resources.

(5) International Higher Education and Strategic Projects: These initiatives seek to support the humanities, the arts, and higher education as a means of helping to “stabiliz[e] fragile democracies” and “create favorable conditions for their participation in global networks of research and culture.” Moreover, AWMF tries to promote “integrative engagement” with scholars in all academic disciplines—most importantly in the social sciences—to facilitate the creation of “equitable societies in the face of deepening inequality.”

In the summer of 2020 — when Black Lives Matter and Antifa were spearheading a massive nationwide protest movement against America’s allegedly pernicious and intractable racism — AWMF shifted the focus of its support away from the arts and humanities, and toward “prioritizing social justice in all of its grantmaking.” AWMF proudly noted in a press release that this shift represented a “major strategic evolution” and a “reinvigorated mission” for the foundation.

In addition to the support it has given to many hundreds of academic institutions, AWMF has also awarded grants to such organizations as the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, Environmental Defense, the Environmental Working Group, Human Rights First, the Migration Policy Institute, the Tides Foundation and Tides Center, the Trust for Public Land, the Urban Institute, and the World Resources Institute.

To view a list of additional noteworthy grantees of AWMF, click here.

The Mellon Foundation’s current president is the social historian Earl Lewis, who has held faculty appointments at UC Berkeley (1984-89), the University of Michigan (1989–2004), and Emory University (2004–2012). A strong advocate of affirmative action, Lewis has written extensively on on various aspects of American and black history. He has authored and/or co-edited seven books as well as the eleven-volume The Young Oxford History of African Americans (co-edited with Robin D. G. Kelley, 1995-97).

A noteworthy former president of AWMF was William Bowen, the onetime Princeton University president who in 1998 co-authored The Shape of the River — a book defending the use of race preferences in college admissions. Bowen’s tenure at the helm of AWMF ran from 1988 to 2006.

(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)

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