Ella Baff will step down in March from her position as Senior Program Officer for Arts and Cultural Heritage at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to focus on new opportunities involving innovative arts and culture programs. After a strong run at the Foundation in which she catalyzed new and worthy initiatives, Baff will renew her career-long commitment to shaping dynamic arts programming in a wide range of disciplines.
Baff joined the Mellon Foundation in 2015 to lead the newly formed Arts and Cultural Heritage program, which grants approximately $65 million annually to arts and cultural organizations in the U.S. and abroad. She led the unification and advancement of the Foundation’s historical programs in arts and cultural heritage, which encompass art history, conservation, preservation, museums, the performing arts, and public media. In alignment with the Foundation’s strategic plan, she led grant programs that are responsive to promising newer organizations and emerging practices, as well as to established institutions and national networks that strengthen the arts ecosystem. She expanded and initiated grantmaking across the arts and in support of innovative cross-sector collaboration.
With a longstanding commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, Baff broadened the Foundation’s support of previously underrepresented art forms and communities. She developed a national cohort of cultural organizations dedicated to the traditional and contemporary arts in multiple disciplines, including the Alaska Native Heritage Center, Asian Arts Initiative, Caribbean Cultural Center, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and Japanese American Community and Cultural Center. She also initiated new relationships in support of public arts, access, and civic engagement with organizations such as City Lore, Project Row Houses, Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the Wing Luke Museum, the Queens Museum, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Baff was also responsible for a number of fellowship programs that advance professional development, training, and cultural exchange with organizations including the International Society for the Performing Arts, United States Artists, The Asia Society, American Dance Abroad, the Sundance Institute MENA Initiative, and Georgetown University’s Global Performance and Politics Lab. Her portfolio included multi- and interdisciplinary arts organizations, national service organizations, heritage organizations, and arts centers that are dedicated to artists’ residencies.
She has recently spearheaded an initiative aimed at elevating national recognition and support for jazz, with initial grants to National Public Radio, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Earshot Jazz Seattle. These initiatives have profoundly reshaped the Foundation’s approach to arts and cultural heritage.
In her role at the Mellon Foundation, Baff has been a passionate advocate for the cultural field as well as a warm and insightful colleague. She plans to continue her work in philanthropy as well as in program development for cultural and heritage organizations in the visual, performing arts, and public media. Baff will continue to advise the Foundation on the development of the Jazz Initiative launched earlier this year.