Reflecting on CANVAS

Who would be crazy enough to launch a fund supporting Jewish arts and culture in March of 2020? To our own amazement, we did.

It’s been barely a year since CANVAS, which is incubated at Jewish Funders Network, made its first grants to Jewish arts and culture networks. Since then, CANVAS has committed more than $1.4 million to encourage and strengthen modern Jewish creativity in North America. And we’re just getting started. But before we look ahead, we’d like to take stock of what’s happened thus far. 

We started CANVAS because the challenge was clear: there are perilously few funders making coordinated, meaningful investments in this field. We could say this about the art world in general, but the Jewish art world faces even more existential challenges. The pandemic has only accelerated the crisis, in both immediate financial terms, and in lasting ways that we are only beginning to fathom. 

Total CANVAS commitments to the field have exceeded $1.4 million to date, including $736,000 in funding of Jewish arts and culture networks: Asylum Arts, The Council of American Jewish Museums, Jewish Book Council, LABA, and Reboot. These networks collectively represent more than 2,000 professional Jewish creatives. CANVAS grants to networks were unrestricted, but grantees were encouraged to focus on: core operations (strengthening and growing its primary network or distribution channel), and/or the organization’s capacity-building plan.  

CANVAS also made a strategic pivot at the outset of the pandemic, releasing $180,000 in emergency relief to artists and creatives economically impacted by Covid-19. Leveraging the power of our grantee networks, we were able to quickly identify and distribute these funds to those who needed them most.

Coordinating funders and making strategic grants was the first step in supporting an ecosystem. But real change and growth come when the field is empowered.

Almost immediately after funding our first cohort of network grantees, we brought the group together for monthly meetings. They were all aware of one another. Some had worked on projects together. Yet the potential of the group had never been explored in this way.

While it was not a specific goal of CANVAS to develop a collaborative cohort among its grantees, we have been genuinely thrilled to see the mutual interest, support, and creative energy that has flowed among them. The evidence can be seen in their monthly meetings, their collaborative writings and cross-promotions, their shared wisdom and learning, and their collective proposal to stage a Covid-safe, coast-to-coast exhibition called “Dwelling in a Time of Plagues,” for Sukkot 2020 and Passover 2021.

This initiative, supported and guided by CANVAS—with a total commitment of $241,000—commissioned world-class Jewish artists to design pandemic-friendly exhibits for the outdoor spaces available at several major Jewish museums and other sites around the U.S., including Boston; Tucson; Portland, Ore.; Charlotte, N.C.; New York City; Toronto; and Los Angeles. 

Media coverage is an important next step for CANVAS in terms of ensuring that the tremendous work of our grantees and other creatives in the field finds its way to the widest possible audience. To that end, we recently distributed an additional $257,000 in media grants to increase the volume, diversity, and sophistication of the coverage of Jewish arts and culture in media outlets like The Forward, Alma, and HyperAllergic. 

We are extraordinarily grateful to serve these outstanding Jewish organizations, and we’re particularly proud of supporting so many artists. The Renaissance of Jewish art and culture is a fragile one, but through the structural support of CANVAS we hope to reinforce and grow its foundations for years to come. 

Naturally, none of this happens without partnership. In our case, it is fueled by these visionary grantmakers who see clearly how essential a healthy Jewish arts and culture ecosystem is to a healthy Jewish community: 

  • The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies
  • The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation
  • The Jim Joseph Foundation
  • The Klarman Family Foundation
  • The Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation
  • The Peleh Fund
  • The Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Additional support for CANVAS has come from the John Pritzker Family Foundation and the Donald and Carole Chaiken Foundation. 

Note: This post is excerpted from a larger piece in the CANVAS Compendium, a weekly newsletter that highlights the best of Jewish arts and culture. Sign up for it here, and learn more about CANVAS at