I’d like to pick up on this last sentence of yours Theaster, which I think is gets to the heart of the problem of building good relationships between granters and grantees. The granter is part of an institution, a formal structure, and he or she can sometimes get lost or hide behind that façade of deadlines, and application requirements. It is the same for individuals dealing with other kinds of often Kafkaesque seeming institutions. Courts, banks, schools.
While I can’t speak for others, I know of myself and my colleagues that we are continually working on breaking down that false impression. Granting organizations are first of all run by people. I am always emphasizing that I am a person–just like you. That I am giving you a deadline not because this is how the system is set up but because I have a deadline I need to hold myself.
The relationship that needs to be built is between people.
And building this relationship is the responsibility of both the granter and grantee. Both sides have to act with respect and openness towards one another, just as in any interaction between people. Setting aside a closer look at the underlying power dynamics for later in the evening, this is the most important issue for both sides to remember, as much for the granter as for the grantee, applicant, and the person that didn’t get the grant. While it is often discussed (by granters and grantees) that granters need to be more open, transparent, respectful, I think the other part of the equation is often not voiced. Artists too need to be open and respectful. In order to have a more relaxed, fruitful relationship, both sides have to be able to relate to each other, understand what their concerns and priorities are.
Thank you for agreeing to this electric space with me. Such relationship-based topics can be difficult to discuss, especially in plain view. Having courses is a great way to move the conversation forward. I have found that over dinner, I can be both candid and political depending on who’s at the table. I hope today to be the former primarily with room for political moments when appropriate. While I have become accustomed to speaking on behalf of large groups of people, I will resist this habit as there is a whole world of other artists and funders who may be able to share their own thoughts. With this said, let’s begin with a bit of house cleaning as guests to this blog site will be arriving soon. Looks like we have 10 days to get through a fair amount of relationship building. My house cleaning thoughts will just be to lay out who I am and how I enter the conversation of arts granting.
- I have been a practicing artist for about 15 years, both visual and performing.
- While I did not complete either a formal BFA or MFA, I have been invested in learning about the field for as long as I have been making.
- My degrees are in Urban Planning, Religious Studies and Public Art Administration.
- For almost 8 years, I worked in clay exclusively.
- Relationships have always been more important to me that objects.
- I have been applying for grants for over 10 years with many more rejections than awards at the outset.
- I have also had the opportunity to set up selection committees, determine the amounts for awards, design the call for artists and fight for artists who I really believe in. This process of being on both sides of the fence, I think is really important for artists in order to understand how processes work (will come back to this point over and over again).
- I am 36, African American, raised in the Black Church, with strong convictions about the pitfalls of cities and their redemptive value.
- I have shown work in museums, gallery settings and alternative spaces of my invention. Often, performance accompanies my installations.
- I sing when I am alone.
- Winning things is important to me sometimes, but just playing is also fun.
- The grant writing process can be a real challenge for me sometimes because I am not always empowered enough to pick up the phone and just ask questions to an anonymous-seeming program officer and other reasons that we can share later.
This process is already cathartic.
Theaster and I are looking forward sharing our personal thoughts and experiences about the grantor/grantee relationship with all of you. Hopefully it will be an insightful and, ideally, lively conversation. We encourage all of you to chime in with your thoughts so that it becomes a multi-voiced conversation, or—along the lines of the dinner party metaphor—we hope you can join us for dinner and wanted to ask if you could maybe bring some wine or anything else you think of.
I’ll be writing/hosting mostly from Artadia headquarters in Chelsea, New York with a few days in between on a road trip with my dad. Theaster, I believe, will be writing/entertaining mostly from Brooklyn, New York, where he is currently an Artadia Artist-in-Residence.
Hope you can make it! Ute & Theaster
In preparation for their preconference session at this year’s GIA conference in Chicago, Theaster Gates, a 2008 Chicago Artadia Awardee, and Ute Zimmermann, Artadia’s program manager, will reflect upon the artist-grantmaker relationship, its power dynamics and (co-) dependencies, as well as the creative energy, joint endeavors, and long-term partnerships that may result. Informed by their personal experience in those roles, they hope to have an authentic and frank exchange that will shed new light on this crucial relationship at the heart of arts grantmaking.
Structured like a dinner party, the blog will start August 2 with dinner preparations, followed by the arrival of the guests, the meal, after dinner conversations, and, possibly, a night cap. For every segment, Theaster and Ute will pick a theme, offer up their thoughts on that theme, and share experiences and wishes. Rather than give answers, the blog is meant to raise questions. Watch for highs and lows throughout the evening, a little bit of tension; but always love by the end of the night. Readers are invited to join in, comment, post images, poems, quotes, YouTube videos, or anything else that might (or might not) add to the conversation.
This blog will be starting soon.