We will not forget the year 2020 and the mark that it made upon our lives. It was a year that began with a frightening and often mismanaged global pandemic that killed millions, was further shaped by a painful national confrontation on racial violence and injustice, and culminated in an insurrection by white supremacists, with the encouragement of an American president, at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Twenty-twenty challenged our Mellon Foundation community, and held us to account through hundreds of days spent in physical isolation from one another, weeks spent grieving over who and what had been lost, and months spent determined to be as helpful as we could, however we could. We were challenged to be even more precise and even more persistent in our work, addressing our responsibility as the nation's largest funder of arts, culture, and the humanities. That Mellon moved surely and deftly through these challenges was due not to serendipity, but to the institutional analysis in which we already had been engaged, examining and reframing our mission and values within a new strategic direction and rigorously clarifying which problems we were trying to solve with our grantmaking.
Due to that dedicated process, 2020 was the year when we at Mellon made the shift to assessing all of our work in the arts and humanities through the lens of social justice. Because our new strategic direction debuted as the interconnected trauma and turbulence of COVID-19 and racial injustice unfolded, this shift proved to be especially potent. The speed with which our new focus allowed us to address the urgent needs of our grantees meant that, in less than twelve months, the Mellon Foundation made nearly $200 million in emergency grantmaking—in addition to our regular $300 million grant budget—to significantly support a vast range of organizations across the country.