The sociological phenomena of funding the arts
It’s grant season! So, if you know an artist then they are probably working on getting a grant written or procrastinating on writing a grant or wondering if they will ever get a grant or deliberately ignoring a grant deadline. I am struggling with writing a grant right now and perhaps taking time out to write this blog isn’t the most productive thing I could do but there you go and here I am writing, just not a grant.
I was painting last night and realized that it is kind of impossible to explain how art works. But this is what you need to do when you write a grant. You need to tell the jury what you are doing, why it is so important to you and how is it helping your career. I’ve been told over the years that the descriptions are not as important as the imagery you send. I would believe this if the grant I received came with great imagery, it did not. In fact it was one of the weaker assortments I had ever sent.
I used to take a look at what art projects received grants when I didn’t get one. Now I forget about it by the next day because I can’t be bothered any more to care or I’ve become too busy to care, either way, getting turned down hardly registers to me any more. But I still apply because you can’t win one without applying right?
I would prefer not to ever apply but I live with someone who does get them and they can make your life easier if you get one. Isn’t that what they are for? Maybe not. Years ago an arts officer told me that they were not a social organization which is why they don’t ask artists for income statements. Without asking whether artists actually need the grant because they don’t have the money to make their work creates a system where people who are millionaires can get a grant. Yes, they can. There have been several. But these organizations are not social organizations so they don’t ask.
What is a social organization? I guess it is one that helps people. People without money. But not artists. An artist’s merit is what determines whether they get help. Your merit is based on your imagery from past or current work and once again that description of what you do. Here’s what is really hard about this description, in only a few hundred words you need to explain your art, your philosophy, your project and why the funding is imperative without telling them how much you really need the money. Telling the jury you are poor doesn’t fit under merit.
To me it’s like that Stephen Harper quote about the ongoing violence against Aboriginal women in our country is just a bunch of crimes not sociological phenomena. You can get a cramp twisting your thoughts into such an idea. What this says to me is that Harper believes that the ongoing, unsolved disappearance and violent deaths of over 1000 Native women doesn’t reflect anything but that a lot of bad stuff happened to them. It takes anything remotely nuanced, patterned, institutional and systematic out of the mix completely. I know this is a rather grand and perhaps seemingly absurd comparison but hang in there.
Telling artists that their incomes are not part of the equation when dealing with their merit and that funding for the arts isn’t a social obligation removes the chance for a larger view of how artists are coping with changes in the culture. Asking for a person’s income regardless of the art they make actually puts their intent and commitment on the table and illuminates to the larger public how artists actually get by. These organizations would then have statistics on how much income the artists in our country are making in real terms, and eventually this could turn into an understanding about how we subsidize the culture not the other way around. If people only know how little artists and arts organizations made while creating all the stuff they do they would be floored, and I think the conversation about art might change dramatically.
The way you gauge anything with human beings is to understand sociological processes and phenomena. We need these long views so that we can see patterns among us and safe guard against all sorts of things like having our basic rights compromised. Artist’s incomes are necessary to any discussion about the future of art and culture otherwise we continue on this boring treadmill of having to make a case why art matters every couple of years.
Speaking of treadmills, it’s grant season and I have got to get back to that description!!