In 1962 Jasper Johns, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and some other artists came together to help Merce Cunningham and his dance company finance a proposed season on Broadway by arranging for a sale of their artworks. Their fund-raising efforts were so successful that there was money to spare, and when they asked Cunningham what he thought they should do with it, he replied, “We’re all in the same boat--why don’t you give it to other performing artists?”
Thus in 1963 Jasper Johns and John Cage established the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts based on the belief that visual artists - painters and sculptors - were sufficiently concerned about the state of the performance arts – dance, theatre and music – enough so to donate artwork to benefit performing artists. Marcel Duchamp, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Saul Steinberg and Andy Warhol were among the sixty-seven artists who contributed to the Foundation’s historic first benefit exhibition—the first fund-raising benefit of this kind. Proceeds from sales enabled the Foundation to launch a significant program of assistance to performing artists who were engaged in work of a contemporary nature. To date, over 600 visual artists have supported the Foundation’s grants programs with major gifts of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints contributed for benefit exhibitions held over the years.
During the first year of its existence, the Foundation made grants to composers Earle Brown and Morton Feldman, and a concert of their music was presented at Town Hall in New York. Additional grants went to choreographer Merle Marsicano, the Judson Memorial Church and the Paper Bag Players. Joining Johns and Cage on the original Board of Directors were painter Elaine de Kooning, Alfred Geller, David Hayes, and Lewis Lloyd.
Since its inception, the FCA has held thirteen benefit exhibitions. The first fund-raising exhibition of paintings and sculptures was held at the Allen Stone Gallery in 1963. A number of significant benefit exhibitions followed: “Drawings, 1965,” simultaneously shown at Leo Castelli, Tibor De Nagy and Kornblee Galleries; a print exhibition at the Kornblee Gallery in 1967; the 1980 “Drawings” show; “Eight Lithographs,” published by Gemini G.E.L. in 1981, shown at Leo Castelli; the “25th Anniversary Exhibition,” jointly shown at Brooke Alexander and Leo Castelli in 1988; the “30th Anniversary Exhibition of Drawings” at Leo Castelli in 1993; “Prints” at Brooke Alexander in 1995; “Drawings & Photographs” at Matthew Marks Gallery in 2000; and most recently, “Clarissa Dalrymple’s Exhibition of Young Artists to Benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Arts” at Bortolami Dayan in February 2006, “Posters: Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Arts” at Paula Cooper Gallery in December 2006, "Photographic Works: Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Arts" at Cohan and Leslie in December 2008 and "Painting and Sculpture: Works Donated by Artists to Benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Arts" at Lehmann Maupin in December 2010 and January 2011.
Public events were an integral part of the Foundation’s activities in its early years. In 1966 a lecture series by Norman O. Brown, Peter Yates, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Harold Rosenberg and Marshall McLuhan was held at the 92nd Street YMHA. The performance series “Nine Evenings: Theater and Engineering,” based on collaborations between engineers from Bell Telephone Laboratories and performing artists, took place at the 69th Regiment Armory with Foundation sponsorship.