Mary J. Blige - Crowning Glory - December 2017

This Photographer Has Anonymously Donated Millions to Female Artists for Decades

Seventy-seven-year-old photographer Susan Unterberg has revealed that she is the anonymous benefactor behind the Anonymous Was A Woman grant program. For over 20 years, female artists over the age of 40 have received $25,000 grants from the organization, which was somewhat shrouded in mystery. There was no grant application process; recipients simply received an out-of-the-blue phone call with an offer. And few people knew, exactly, where the money came from. But in an interview with The New York Times, Unterberg said "she finally decided to come forward in order to more openly advocate for female artists and to demonstrate the value in women supporting women," per The Cut. According to the article, the money from the grants comes from a foundation that Unterberg and her sister inherited from their father, Nathan Appleman, "who was a prominent oilman and philanthropist."

"For most of history, anonymous was a woman" is a quote from Virginia Woolf in which she recognizes that women have long had to disguise their gender to be taken seriously in the arts, and in any profession or industry. Even now, female authors often use their first initials on covers so that men and boys aren't put off from buying their books, the most notable recent example being Harry Potter scribe J. K. Rowling.

Anonymous or not, initialed or not, this altruistic generosity has certainly helped the female artists of our era. Grant recipients have included Amy Sherald (most famed for her Michelle Obama portrait), Carrie Mae Weems, Eve Sussman, Louise Lawler, and Nicole Eisenman. In the interview, Unterberg reiterated that she revealed her identity to put herself in a position to continue helping female artists, not for any kind of special recognition. "It’s thanks enough knowing I’ve helped people’s lives when they needed it," she said.

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