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Susan Unterberg Revealed as Patron of “Anonymous Was a Woman” Grant Program

The New York–based artist Susan Unterberg, whose works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other local institutions, has come forward as the founder and sole patron of Anonymous Was A Woman, the unrestricted grant program that has given more than $5.5 million during the past twenty-two years to underrecognized female artists over the age of forty. 

After more than two decades of anonymity, Unterberg decided to reveal her identity in order to serve as a more vocal advocate for women artists, to underscore the urgency for women to support other women in the art world and beyond, and to inspire other philanthropists.

Unterberg founded Anonymous Was A Woman in 1996 when the National Endowment for the Arts decided to stop awarding grants to individual artists and in recognition of the challenges faced by women artists, particularly those in the middle stages of their careers. The name of the program refers to a line in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and nods to the female artists who, centuries ago, signed their paintings “Anonymous” and never received credit for their work.

Unterberg, who just turned seventy-seven, is a photographer and has had numerous solo shows at various venues in New York, as well as across the United States, including a career retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

“I remained anonymous until now to keep the focus on the artists, their work, and the continued need for support of creativity, especially for women,” said Unterberg. “However, I am eager to further expand the impact of Anonymous Was A Woman by advocating more vocally for our mission at a moment when there is heightened discussion about the vitality of women’s voices, as well as to share insight about what I have learned over the past two decades. I am immensely grateful to the past recipients and to our many notable nominators and panelists, and I am energized to continue our work in the coming years.”

The group of distinguished women—curators, writers, and previous winners—who serve as nominators and panelists for the program will continue to remain anonymous. Most recently, the award was given to ten artists, including painter Amy Sherald, who earlier this year unveiled her official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, and Michelle Stuart, whose work is currently on long-term view at Dia:Beacon.