The American Academy of Rome exists to help young US artists get their first step on the world ladder. It will do everything it can for them – provided they have no children. Young parents need not apply.
The distinction seems discriminatory in these enlightened times. it’s not so much an open-door policy as a door half-shut. You might like to support Susanna Ashton’s petition below.
Elizabeth Rivlin and I have drafted a letter to the American Academy of Rome objecting to the exclusionary language they use in their guidelines for applicants. If you’re an academic and would like to lend your name and title as a signatory to this letter, we would love your support. Please contact one of us know by email or private message. We’re not doing a huge petition project; rather, we’re just hoping to get enough signatures to get this some notice when it arrives on their desk (and the desk of the NEH officers who help fund their grants). Their language infuriated us and we thought we could make a difference by calling them out.
Let us know if we could add your name. Thanks, Susanna
Dear Officers of the American Academy of Rome,
We write to call your attention to the very unfortunate tone and phrasing of your most recent announcement and call for applications. The poor phrasing of the announcement conveys quite powerfully the message that artists and scholars with children are not welcome to apply.
Parents who juggle careers and families, particularly those at the pinnacle of international achievement that would make them viable candidates for the fellowships, are already well aware of the challenges faced by meeting the needs of family while simultaneously producing meaningful work. To state that “the Academy is not designed for families with children, and those considering going to Rome should be forewarned. They will have to pay rent, subsidize the stipend, figure out schools, baby-sitting, and all other family needs independently, and most significantly, realize that the amount of work they can get done is historically less than for those without these responsibilities” is to send a message to potential applicants that is misguided at best and, frankly, condescending and hostile at worst.
We appreciate that the Rome Prize is designed for “emerging artists and scholars in the early or middle stages of their careers.” But it is shortsighted indeed not to recognize that for many people, this stage of career coincides with the child-bearing and child-raising years. To ignore this fact or to suggest tacitly that artists and scholars are less committed to their work and careers than their childless counterparts is profoundly retrogressive and even risks sounding discriminatory.
We expect a more inclusive and progressive tone, commensurate with the American Academy of Rome’s stated commitment to “Intellectual and artistic freedom, interdisciplinary exchange, and innovation.” Where the announcement implies that ideal recipients of the prize are those who most closely match the founders’ vision of “single men under 30,” we would like to see a call that instead embraces the opening of academia beyond the Romantic ideal of the ascetic male scholar laboring away from a family. Indeed, artists and scholars who have succeeded so brilliantly in their careers so as to be viable applicants, while also maintaining families, have already demonstrated a productivity that is profoundly indicative of a potential for spectacular careers and creating great things. Moreover, we find it ironic that the American Academy of Rome should strike such an admonitory chord in the context of Rome, a culture famous for its appreciation of children and loving embrace of family structure.
We propose that you consider reshaping your call to make it more consonant with the strategies other institutions and organizations use to embrace rather than discourage the widest range of stellar applicants. We suggest removing the phrasing that seems patently exclusionary to many women and all parents and instead emphasizing the Academy’s commitment to accommodating a broad, diverse applicant pool and to providing guidance and resources for families who contemplate relocating to Rome for the duration of the prize.
Susanna Ashton & Elizabeth Rivlin
See the part about “May I bring my family” on their FAQ page.