Mellon Foundation Appoints New CEO

Elizabeth Alexander will become the next president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, effective in March. She will succeed Earl Lewis, who served as president since 2013.

The Mellon Foundation is most active in the humanities, focused on five areas: higher education and scholarship in the humanities; arts and cultural heritage; diversity; scholarly communications; and, international higher education and strategic projects.

Over the course of a distinguished academic and artistic career, Alexander has developed a number of complex, multi-arts and multi-disciplinary teams, departments and partnerships, and dedicated herself consistently to creating, building and sustaining highly successful institutions – from the Poetry Center at Smith College, to a major rebuilding of the African American Studies department at Yale University, from the poetry non-profit Cave Canem, to the Ford Foundation’s programs in journalism, arts and culture.  

“Through her work as a professor and mentor, Elizabeth knows the academic system well, and as an architect of interdisciplinary programs, she has deep experience in cultivating partnerships that extend and amplify creative vision,” said Danielle Allen, chair of the Mellon Foundation Board. “A poet who brings an artist’s forward-looking energy to institutional purpose, Elizabeth is the right person for our times as the Foundation seeks to widen the community of stakeholders committed to the arts and humanities and to increase the resources dedicated to this work,” she said.

Alexander will lead the Mellon Foundation in drawing new partners in to support the arts and humanities and in refining the foundation’s distinctive blend of a commitment to the arts and humanities for social purposes and for their own sake. She expects to build on the foundation’s success to date in supporting diversification of educational, scholarly, and cultural organizations with an innovative focus on cultivating institutional capacity for inclusive leadership; and she seeks to widen and deepen the impact of the foundation’s support for a vision of an inclusive America.

“I have lived my entire life with art, culture, and scholarship as companion, guide, and discipline,” said Alexander. “I am guided by the justice values of increasing access to the power of higher education to open and strengthen minds, encourage human exchange, and thus transform lives. I am deeply honored to have been selected to lead Mellon, an institution that has been devoted to these areas across its history, and to have been called to the crucial work of building community within and across discipline and institution,” she said in a press release announcement her appointment.

Alexander most recently served as the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Prior to assuming her position, she served as director of creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation. She co-designed the Art for Justice Fund, a $100-million fund seeded by philanthropist Agnes Gund to transform the criminal justice system and all of its inequities through art and advocacy.

Alexander holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in English (creative writing) from Boston University, and a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University, in addition to honorary doctorates from Haverford College, Simmons College, and the College of St. Benedict.

Lewis announced in September that he would be stepping down at the end of his five-year term. He will launch a new initiative, The Center for Social Solutions, to focus efforts on three core areas of concern — race and diversity, water, and the future of work. Lewis delivered the foundation’s first-ever strategic plan and brought grant-making program areas into closer collaboration. Under his leadership, the foundation brought new institutions into the fold and developed a broader network of partners across the many sectors of the higher education landscape.

The New York City-based foundation reported total revenue of $311 million with expenses of $347 million and total assets of $6.25 billion, according to its most recent IRS Form 990 for the fiscal year ending 2016, filed in November. As president, Lewis earned compensation of $785,911, according to the Form 990. The foundation’s announcement did not mention what compensation will be for Alexander.