IIE and the Arts: A History

The Institute of International Education has a long history of providing fellowships to artists, supporting arts education, and providing safe haven to artists and scholars of art from around the world.

The Institute’s first arts exchange program took place in 1930, when twenty American students received grants to study at the Institute of Art and Archaeology in Paris. Since then, the arts have held a central position in many of the flagship exchange and rescue programs we administer.

In 1933, the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Scholars was founded to assist scholars who were under threat by Nazis. The program assisted a number of artists, including the writer Thomas Mann, and also collaborated with individuals and organizations that offered help to artists fleeing Nazi persecution. Varian Fry worked for a time with IIE’s Emergency Committee and was instrumental in saving the lives of many artists including painter Mark Chagall; sculptor Jacques Lipchitz; painter, sculptor and writer Marcel Duchamp; and painter, sculptor, graphic artist and poet Max Ernst.

In the 1950s, IIE published the Directory of International Scholarships in the Arts for a number of years and also worked closely with the Smithsonian Institution to sponsor a nationwide tour of Fulbright painters' artwork, which opened at the Whitney Museum. We also received Ford Foundation funding to start an IIE Arts Division to bring young foreign talents in creative arts to the U.S. for study, travel, and observation. In 1958, Van Cliburn, selected by IIE's Music Advisory Committee to compete in the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, won first prize. Just over ten years later, IIE grantee Garrick Ohlsson became the first American ever to win first prize at the Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. For a number of years, IIE managed Arts International, which provided grants, advocacy, exchange and information to thousands of artists and arts groups around the world.

Today, we continue to build on this history. Around the world, the Institute works with the full range of arts programs in art institutes and conservatories as well as university art schools and departments. IIE's arts programs involve professional internships, academic study, and the design of specially-tailored projects in cooperation with U.S.-based and overseas organizations. The Institute also regularly organizes specialized programs for artists around the world to participate in short-term visits to U.S. museums, galleries, arts institutions, conservancies and other locations.

Programs in which IIE currently works with artists or on behalf of the arts include the Department of State’s Fulbright Program and International Visitors Leadership Program, IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund and the Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, and the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency Programs.


The Fulbright Program and Alumni in the Arts

IIE has administered the Fulbright program on behalf of the US Department of State since 1946. Fulbright grants have always included the arts, including fellowships and placement for artists in the following fields, among others: Arts Administration, Architecture, Dance, Design and Digital Media, Film, Music, Theater and Visual Arts. Some of the most famous Fulbright alumni are artists, including the below alumni:

  • Edward Albee, playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Jeffrey Beers, architectural and interior designer
  • Dale Chihuly, glass artist
  • Chuck Close, painter
  • Aaron Copland, composer and Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Renee Fleming, opera singer
  • Milton Glaser, graphic design
  • Philip Glass, composer
  • Joseph Heller, novelist
  • Lorin Maazel, conductor, violinist and composer
  • Sylvia Plath, poet, novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Richard Serra, sculptor and video artist
  • John Steinbeck, novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Julie Taymor, stage and film director
  • John Updike, novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner

IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund

Since its founding in 2002, IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund has provided life-saving fellowships to enable persecuted scholars of art, including scholars of Iraqi painting, Chinese film, and Uzbek music, among others, to escape from harm and continue practicing their art and scholarship in freedom and safety. We also receive many applications from artists and musicians who, because they are not scholars, are currently not eligible for IIE-SRF support. For example, we recently received applications from two musicians from Syria facing horrific threats to both their lives and livelihoods.

Established in 2014 as part of the Scholar Rescue Fund, The Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts supports scholars of the arts suffering human rights violations in their home countries. The first honoree was an established Syrian professor with a portfolio that spans architecture and interior design. She established one of Syria’s first interdisciplinary undergraduate degree programs in fine arts and has exhibited her work in Poland, the United States, and Syria.