History

Founded in 1997, Art21 is a nonprofit organization that, over the past two decades, has become the go-to place to learn first-hand from contemporary artists. The organization’s beginnings centered around the flagship broadcast series, Art in the Twenty-First Century, and has expanded to include multiple original digital series, a feature-length film, an active arts education program and community, and digital programs and publications.

1995
Art21’s founder Susan Sollins begins consulting on the visual art component of City Arts, a television series produced by New York’s local PBS station WNET/Thirteen. A few years later in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art, she pitched the idea for the Art in the Twenty-First Century series to Glenn Dubose, Managing Director of Thirteen’s Cultural and Arts Division and future Art21 board member.

“Most people don’t get a chance to talk with artists,” she told artist Laurie Simmons in 2009. “You might see the work, but you’re remote from the person. I wanted to bring these experiences together.”

Susan Dowling, a longtime television producer in the field of visual arts, assisted Susan Sollins in co-creating Art in the Twenty-First Century.

October, 1999
Art21 has its first film shoot with Richard Serra at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

September 21, 2001
The inaugural season of Art in the Twenty-First Century airs nationwide in the U.S. on PBS, later receiving an Emmy nomination for its groundbreaking work.

2003–2007
Between 2003 and 2007, Art21 premiered three subsequent seasons of Art in the Twenty-First Century on PBS. Collectively, Seasons 2, 3 and 4 featured 49 contemporary artists. Season 2 featured celebrity introductions created by artist Charles Atlas, who would go on to be a consulting director on later episodes. Each episode of Season 3 included an original video artwork by the artist duo Teresa Hubbard/Alexander Birchler.

February 18, 2008
Art21 launches the Art21 Blog with one of the earliest guest blogging programs online. The Art21 Blog would feature some of today’s foremost contemporary art writers and critics, such as art historian Ben Street, Sharon Butler (Two Coats of Paint), and Hrag Vartanian (Hyperallergic).

March 13, 2008
Pioneering for its time, Art21 premieres its first digital short film series, Exclusive, with a film on Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 4 artist, Mark Bradford. Since its inception, nearly 250 short films have been released as part of the ongoing series. Each film provides an in-depth look at significant artworks and exhibitions from the artist’s unmediated perspective. Stories are told both through newly shot footage and previously unseen moments preserved in Art21’s archive of footage.

June 16, 2008
Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 4 wins a Peabody Award.

July 15, 2009
Art21 launches the professional development initiative, Art21 Educators, inviting fifteen educators from across the United States to New York, for the first Art21 Educators’ Summer Institute.

October 21, 2010
Art21’s first feature-length documentary on a single artist, William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, airs on PBS.

May 23, 2011
Art21 wins its second Peabody award for the feature-length documentary William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, “for giving viewers the equivalent of an all-access pass to a great creative mind.”

June 13, 2011
Art21 premieres its second digital series, New York Close Up, with films on Shana Moulton and Kalup Linzy. A documentary film series devoted to artists in the first decade of their professional career and living and working in New York City, the innovative project captures rarely documented aspects of the creative process, and to date has featured 30 emerging artists.

April 11, 2012
New York Close Up is nominated for Best Documentary Series for Online Film & Video in the 16th Annual Webby Awards, a prestigious nomination that ignited continuous festival acclaim for Art21’s short form series.

June 15, 2012
Art21, in collaboration with artist collective assume vivid astro focus, launches the digital artist project, avaf + art21 comboworks, inspired by the artists’ on-going exercise wherein participants contribute word combinations based on the “avaf” acronym.

January 31, 2013
With the completion of Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 6, Art21 launches its 100 Artists initiative, a year-long celebration of passing the milestone of having filmed 100 innovative artists. Throughout 2013, Art21 releases previously unpublished content from its archive.

October 1, 2013
The Art21 Magazine launches its first issue, “Becoming an Artist,” completing the transformation from the Art21 Blog. From 2013 to today, the Art21 Magazine has published bi-monthly thematic issues of insightful writing on contemporary art.

October 11, 2013
Art21 premieres its third short film series, Artist to Artist, with three films featuring art biennials in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Venice, Italy; and Istanbul, Turkey. Featuring contemporary visual artists in conversation with their peers, each film follows a single artist as she engages with other artists in a shared exhibition setting.

October 13, 2014
Susan Sollins, Art21’s founder and Executive Director of seventeen years, passes away. Well known for more than 30 years for her innovations in public programming and museum education, Sollins was also the co-founder and Executive Director Emerita of Independent Curators International.

February 20-21, 2015
Art21 hosts a first of its kind two-day public forum and experimental platform, Creative Chemistries, bringing artists and educators together to explore innovative practices for art and education.

January 8, 2016
Art21’s Board of Trustees announces the appointment of Tina Kukielski as Executive Director. After more than thirteen years as a contemporary art curator with previous positions at the Whitney Museum and the Carnegie Museum, she was unanimously selected to succeed Susan Sollins.

September 16, 2016
The eighth season of Art in the Twenty-First Century premieres on PBS. The new season marked a significant shift in the series, which had previously been organized around artistic themes. Season 8 was instead oriented around the singular concept of cities to promote geographic diversity and enliven the storytelling by emphasizing the here and now through place-based narratives.

March 9, 2017
Art21 launches a redesigned Art21.org, transforming its existing website into a more accessible and interactive resource for viewers around the world. With new features like an updated video interface and a responsive design across all devices, the new website also includes curated interactivity between Art21 films, articles, and interviews.