Darren Walker, Ford Foundation president and preeminent connector and advocate for artists and art institutions, joined the exclusive company of global superstars like Stevie Wonder, T.S. Eliot and Meryl Streep, in receiving France’s highest cultural honor.
Walker was named commander of France’s Order of Arts and Letters for his work as a benefactor of the arts on Tuesday at a Gilded Age mansion in New York owned by the French embassy.
“Being in this firmament is absolutely humbling,” Walker told The Associated Press. “I’m simply a servant to the idea of art and justice in the world, because we can’t have justice without art.”
Walker became president of the Ford Foundation, one of the largest in the U.S., in 2013. He came in with a vision to shape the organization’s giving to support social justice in part through funding the arts.
To symbolize that mission, Walker arranged to sell the foundation’s art collection of works almost exclusively from white male artists. Starting in 2017, the collection displayed at the foundation’s buildings was rebuilt with some 350 works of newer artists, many of whom are people of color, women and queer people.