June 5, 2010 § 2 Comments
Why are artists asked to contribute to the administration budget of small arts organizations?
Part of me just DETESTS paying application fees for grants, when the whole reason I am applying to things is to INCREASE my net wealth, in order to do my project. I mean, please! It’s just so illogical! And irritating! Sometimes I feel like the people running these competitions and grant programs have no respect for the effort I am putting into funding and doing my work. TANTRUM.
Then, other times, asking for an application fee seems like a perfectly reasonable—and even socially productive—thing to do. I think about Cadre, the art grant started by photographers Carla Williams and Deirdre Visser, which was designed to function as a community of artists supporting each other. It built relationships and a feeling of connection, because you got to be the donor who supports artists, as well as the artist who receives support. The problem they ran into was the time it was taking them to administer the grant (and update the communications around it), so it got put on hold.
Cadre was very distinctive in the way it overtly acknowledged the buy-in it required from artists. I really liked that. I felt empowered, rather than used. But overhead—which Cadre didn’t have at all, which undermined it—is the very thing that most of these application fees provide to the organization.
Small nonprofits, started by other artists, like Amy Elkins’ and Cara Phillips‘ Women In Photography NYC (WIPNYC) for example, don’t have a large enough administration budget to cover the grantmaking process. (And no wonder–I imagine it’s just as hard for them to raise money for the org as it is for me to raise money for my project.) They have enough money for one grant ($3,000), but–I assume–not enough money to pay staff to do all the stuff you need to do to actually give it away. Plus, the grant provides a way for them to build an audience, and build a following, and promote their other projects just as much as it provides a way to support an individual artist’s project.
For many organizations, their grants are a marketing and communications tool in addition to being a grant. While I recognize that as an effective strategy, it can be frustrating to feel as though I am paying for their marketing.
This is where I’m on the fence. I want to support WIPNYC as an organization because I think they’re great, and my application fee is a way to do that. But I don’t think there’s enough pay-off. They don’t acknowledge my support as a donation to them. They make it a requirement of applying for the grant. And that act, of me giving away money in order to compete to get money, just feels so counter-intuitive (and counterproductive). The more grants of this type that I apply to, the more I run the risk of spending more on application fees than I receive in actual funding.
Hey, Hot Shot!, Critical Mass, and Humble Arts Foundation NY’s Collector’s Guide all have much higher application fees, but fall into a different category for me. They all give me more than just a chance at an award or a grant. Hey, Hot Shot! has an escalating fee (the later you apply to the deadline, the more you pay—good idea from an organizational-logistics perspective!). Right now it’s around $70. And in exchange for it, you get a high probability that they will blog about you, and automatic entry into a sub-competition for smaller awards. They have an impressive marketing machine, so if that machine goes to work on your behalf, that is a significant gain. I’m still ostensibly contributing to their overhead, and it’s still not a sure bet that you receive anything, but there’s a relatively high probability that you will. (One hopes.)
Like Hey, Hot Shot!, PhotoLucida’s Critical Mass promises that powerful eyes will look at your images. And you get a CD of all the entrants’ work. And it promises to send you the books that get created as a result of the competition that you are a part of. Depending on who you are and what you’re doing, that can be worth the $75 entry fee. (Yay, books!) Meanwhile, the Humble Colletor’s Guide has a $40 submission fee, and then a $295 fee if you are accepted, which feels astronomical, but you are basically helping to pay for and distribute your work to gallerists and curators, in an extremely sophisticated format. Again, for some people, it’s the right moment to make that kind of investment. For others, it isn’t–the process encourages self-selection.
With more generic entry fees for grants, there’s a lot less certainty that you’ll get anything at all from entering the competition. Meanwhile, when you are applying to foundations, city or state grants, or other organizations that exist exclusively as grant-making entities, there is usually no application fee at all. The problem with many of those is that it can be hard to find funders for individuals, rather than organizations. And their applications are so complex that it can take more time to complete them than the grants are actually worth, in terms of dollars per hour.
This is an issue I’d really love to hear your thoughts about. Whether you’re an artist, a philanthropist, a nonprofit, someone running these kinds of initiatives, or an innocent bystander, let me know what you think about this. It’s always helpful to hear organizational strategies and user-perspectives.
May 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
What do you get when you add exotic roadkill to your diningroom table? Why, something that looks like a 17th century European masterwork, of course! I invite you to take a look at the work of Marian Drew, an Australian photographer who blurs the lines between fact and fiction with the utmost care.
I find her work very moving. Somehow, her modern photographs dramatically increase my interest in antiquated still life paintings. And they also comment on stillness and motion, reality and imagination, and the tension between the natural and the man-orchestrated worlds.
To an American eye, the wildlife itself, which is one of the “real” or documentary aspects of this work, is almost the least believable component of each image. A rainbow lorikeet, for example, hardly looks like your average bird. Although now, living in Australia, I’m getting to know them better.
I found Drew’s work through the recommendation of a friend of mine, named Leigh Merrill. Leigh also plays with our conceptions of reality and fakery in her work. She mixes fabric flowers with real flowers with wall paper. What is “real” here?
The camera is the equalizer—in a way, the camera makes everything equally real, equally fake.
And she brings in supermarket cakes, which I have eaten with gusto, but which, now that she mentions it, have very little of the “real” in them. (She had a few in her studio that lasted, unchanged, unspoilt, for weeks. Which was more than a little alarming.)
The same thing happens again with images of Phoenix, the Sonoran desert, and the Grand Canyon. Using the tilt/shift capabilities of the view camera, street scenes look like dioramas.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in this look, Olivo Barbieri’s photographs of Las Vegas are astounding.
And this video by Sam O’Hare called The Sandpit—a day in the life of New York City, is also quite wonderful.
And just try to figure out what is real and what is not in this picture:
What I like about all these photographers is that they call our attention to the world around us in a new way. It’s just as the kids from the kNOw said last week—the power of photography is that it can make people think; it makes them see things differently; it makes them reevaluate what they know about their world. And sometimes, an effective way to do that is to surprise people. To play. To take something familiar, and make it strange. Or to take something strange, and make it familiar.
I still think that one of the most arresting photo essays we received last year is from Sumit Dayal, who made composite images about the flooding of the Kosi River, in Bihar, India. He was able to take something strange to me—I have little experience with floods, or India—and make it familiar. He found beauty there, and loneliness, and a sense of how vast and powerful a river can be. Those things transcend individual experience. So he used them to draw me in. And it worked.