Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation receives France’s highest award

NEW YORK – Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and pre-eminent liaison and advocate for artists and arts institutions, joined the exclusive company of global superstars such as Stevie Wonder, TS Eliot and Meryl Streep to receive France’s highest cultural award.

Walker was appointed Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters on Tuesday for his work as a benefactor of the arts at a Gilded Age mansion in New York owned by the French embassy.

“To stand in that firmament is absolutely humbling,” Walker told The Associated Press. “I’m just a servant of the idea of ​​art and justice in the world because without art we can’t have justice.”

Walker became president of the Ford Foundation, one of the largest in the US, in 2013. He came with a vision to shape the organization give to support social justice partly through art sponsorship.


To symbolize this mission, Walker arranged for the sale of the foundation’s art collection, which featured work almost exclusively by white male artists. As of 2017, the collection exhibited in the foundation’s buildings was rebuilt with around 350 works by newer artists, including many people of color, women and queer people.

Walker has steadily forged a connection with French institutions, in part due to what he described as parallel journeys of the country to live up to their founding ideals of liberty or liberty for all, equality and camaraderie.

“France, unfortunately, like America, has championed the exclusion of particularly the arts and culture and stories of people of African descent,” Walker said. And just like America, “France is on a path” toward greater inclusion and recognition of the contributions of black artists, he said.

Under his direction, the Ford Foundation funded a 2018 exhibition in New York at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery that explored participation Black models painted by modernists like Edouard Manet in the creation of these works. The exhibition, curated by Denise Murrell, then a Ford Foundation fellow, traveled to Paris to the Musée d’Orsay, where it made a big impression.


Laurence des Cars, who is now President and Director of the Louvre, partnered with Walker and Murrell to bring the exhibition to Paris while she was in charge of the Musée d’Orsay.

On Tuesday, she presented the honor to Walker on behalf of France in front of 50 guests in a mirrored room overlooking Central Park. Des Cars recalled Walker’s unwavering support of the show that she was repeatedly told she would cause problems.

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

French Ambassador Philippe Etienne listed projects that the Ford Foundation and Walker have supported, including art residencies in France and the United States, and a planned exhibition highlighting the many black American artists who spent time in France, particularly after World War II.


“Obviously, as President of the Ford Foundation, he brings the foundation with him, but he also brings himself with him,” Etienne said, referring to Walker’s expertise and knowledge, “but also a real passion, a real energy.”

Walker sits on the board of directors of the National Gallery of the Arts, the first black man to do so, as well as on the boards of many other art institutions and corporations.

The Washington-based organization Americans for the Arts invited Walker to give one in 2017 annual speech in which he advocated public support for the artswho traces his own journey as a kid in Texas, growing from a single mother to a banker and now a leading voice in philanthropy.

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


“Darren Walker is the most influential grantee in arts policy and I would say he is a thought leader in America, particularly in the area of ​​diversity and equity,” he said, adding that Walker’s “dedication to supporting the arts and certainly artists is extraordinary.” ”


The Associated Press’s philanthropy and nonprofit coverage is supported through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US and is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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https://www.local10.com/business/2022/05/25/ford-foundations-darren-walker-gets-frances-highest-honor/ Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation receives France’s highest award

Sarah Y. Kim

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