When Andy Warhol died unexpectedly on February 22, 1987, he left a vast and complicated inventory of works of art and personal possessions. His will dictated that his entire estate, with the exception of a few modest legacies to family members, should be used to create a foundation dedicated to the "advancement of the visual arts." In its early days, the Foundation brought artists, curators, administrators, educators, critics and others together to help it shape a responsive, committed and engaged philanthropic organization. The grantmaking program that grew out of these meetings and the Foundation’s ongoing efforts to protect and enhance its founder’s creative legacy ensure that Warhol’s inventive, open-minded spirit will have a profound impact on the visual arts for generations to come.
The primary focus of the Foundation’s grant making activity has been to support the creation, presentation and documentation of contemporary visual art, particularly work that is experimental, under-recognized, or challenging in nature. The program has been both pro-active in its approach to the field of cultural philanthropy and responsive to the changing needs of artists. A strong commitment to freedom of artistic expression led the Foundation to play an active advocacy role for artists during the culture wars of the 1990s and continues to inform its support of organizations that fight censorship, protect artists’ rights and defend their access to evolving technologies in the digital age.