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NEA, Regional, and Private Support for Individual Artists

by Jules White

While direct grants to individuals awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts are not as numerous, there are many grants available through regional arts councils and private funding, as well as through state arts agencies. This article focuses on NEA, regional arts agency, and private grants to individuals.

The 2000 budget proposal of the National Endowment for the Arts ("Challenge America") before Congress and spearheaded by William Ivey, Chairman is project oriented and emphasizes giving to non-profit agencies who in turn give to projects and to individuals. The appropriations history of the NEA, as stated by the Office of Policy Research and Analysis, ranges from 2.9 million in 1966 to 174 million in 1991 and 97.6 million today.

In 1996 Congress eliminated most of the NEA’s funding for individuals-except in literature and in Heritage and Jazz Masters (E-mail Cherie Simon March 30 2000). The current policies of the NEA concerning supporting individual artists is summed up in a letter from Saralyn Reece Hardy (Director of Museums and Visual Arts, NEA):

The National Endowment for the Arts is prohibited by Congress to fund individual artists except in literature and folk arts. Therefore we do not make direct grants to visual artists. However, we do fund many projects around the country that support artists in a variety of ways-commissions, residencies, exhibition fees, installations, support services, publications, and planning/consulting.

In the future, I believe that more and more community arts organizations will decide to work with artists in deep and long-term ways. In other words, to use a very tired word-partnerships with artists to create work within communities. At the National Endowment, we are discussing what kind of funding and other activities can support artists as our most important living cultural resource. How can we support artists, thinkers, and encourage artist/organization relationships? This may eventually evolve into special grants or project support for places that want to work closely with artists who are pursuing their own work. For now, we are thinking and planning, with the first steps including a series of listening sessions with individual artists and other people from the field. This will be happening within the next year. The big picture is that while there are many many creative people working in both the for profit and the not for profit sectors, we need to create a climate where the process of communicating meaning and value is nurtured. I heard Susan Sontag speak last night and she made the point that it is the expressive part of human beings that is the most beautiful. I agree.

In terms of the impact of not giving to individual artists-I think the area of greatest loss is the recognized confirmation of artists that a national grant affords. I do not know how it is affecting specific artists directly, but I do think that the country needs a constant reminder of the very particular gifts of individual creative people. In visual arts, there are some other foundations that have picked up the gauntlet...Creative Capital, Pew Foundation, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and others. Still I would venture to say that our challenge is to; be sure that the artist has a voice and presence to assure the broadest possible democracy. (E-mail 30 March 2000)

According to NEA literature, the literature fellowships "serve the public good by nurturing the cultivation of community spirit, and fostering the recognition and appreciation of the excellence and diversity of our nation’s artistic accomplishments." (NEA 1) The literature fellowships operate on a two-year cycle. Prose fellowships are available one year; poetry fellowships are available the next. The year 2000 (March 15, 1999 deadline) is for prose; the year 2000 (March 14, 2000 deadline) is for poetry.

The literature fellowships are very competitive, and applicants have reasonable publication requirements. For example, in Fiction, a writer must have published at least five different stories or a collection of short fiction or a novel. In Creative Non-Fiction, five essays or a volume of creative non-fiction, is required. For Poetry, a volume of forty-eight poems or twenty pages of poetry in five or more literary anthologies, are required. For Translation, the writer must have published a translation into English of a volume of forty-eight pages or published forty-eight pages of translations in magazines or have translated a full length play that was produced.

The review criteria again is determined by "artistic excellence" and "artistic merit". The writer’s identity is not known to the panelists deciding the grants. Forty-one grants of twenty thousand dollars each were awarded in 2000.

The fellowships for Folk and Traditional Arts amount to ten thousand dollars each. Eleven awards were given in 2000. The awards went to Cambodian traditional dancers of Reston, Virginia, to a fourth generation master boat builder, the last craftsman of the unique Reelfoot Lake Stumpjumper, to an accordionist in Riveria, Texas, to Jewish Klezmer musicians in Tamarac, Florida, and to others.

NEA grants went to state arts councils who funneled the amounts to projects and to individuals and to many other non-profit agencies as well, such as the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 1999 the NEA announced nearly twenty million in new grants (24% of its grantmaking money). All but three million went to grants to organizations for "Creation and Presentation" projects, and was not to go to support to individuals. Eight hundred thousand went to fellowships for writers. 1.7 million was allocated for "Leadership" initiatives. Out of the NEA 1999 total budget of 98 million, 80.5 million was allotted for grants. Six hundred and thirty-nine non-profit agencies were awarded grants, out of nine hundred eight seven applying. (NEA-3)

Taken on a state level, for example, agencies in Alabama getting grants, besides the Alabama State Council on the Arts, included the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery (16.5 thousand), Space One Eleven, an exhibition of artists works (22.5 thousand), State of Alabama Ballet (5 thousand) and to Natasha Treatheway (20 thousand).

In summary, for writers, translators, folk craftsmen and folk dancers, the NEA awards to individuals remains strong. While the NEA will remain project oriented in the near future, hopefully its awards to individuals will increase.

Also of interest is an NEA sponsored study "Artists in the Workplace" (Research Report #37). The study focused on four groups of artists: authors, architects and designers, performing artists and artists who work with their hands. Between 1970 and 1990 the total artist population more than doubled, from seven hundred twenty thousand to one million six hundred thousand. By 1990, painters and craft artists totaled 191,160 or thirteen per cent of all artists. Female painters/craft artists numbered 107,920 or fifty-six percent.

In 1989 authors’ total earnings averaged a little over twenty-three thousand dollars with "genre" or "pulp" writers making the most. Dancers had the lowest medium earnings-eighty five hundred in 1989. Personal income for actors was most volatile.

A number of regional art organizations (typically funded by state, national and private funds) award grants to artists. These include: Arts Midwest (Minneapolis, Minnesota); Mid-America Arts Alliance (Kansas City, Missouri); Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation (Baltimore, Maryland); the Consortium for Pacific Arts and Cultures (Honolulu, Hawaii); The New England Foundation for the Arts (Boston, Massachusetts); The Southern Arts Federation (Atlanta, Georgia); The Western States Arts Federation; The New York Foundation for the Arts. Most of these grants awarded are for collaborations between artist and community,


Liesel Fenner, Program Coordinator at the New England Foundation for the Arts, oversees the Visible Republic program. In a letter to me, she indicates possible support for the growing movement that requires individual artists to ally with a non-profit organization when receiving grants.

I coordinate the Visible Republic program which is primarily focused on serving visual and new media artists. Because the work is sited in public spaces, project implementation has proved challenging for the individual artist securing permission from institutions and agencies not familiar with public art or dealing with an individual. Artists also face fiscal tax challenges in receiving fairly large grants ($40,000) and separating artists expenses from their commission. Therefore, in the future, we might require artists to become affiliated with a non-profit organization to provide fiscal sponsorship as well as administrative assistance for implementation of work. Many similar programs around the country alreadyrequire this. The program also advocates for funding emerging artists, which can assist in launching an artist's career. Many individual artist grant programs only offer grants to established artists with years of work and exhibition experience. Artistic content, or quality of work has not been an issue for this program, in fact, we encourage more risk-taking and avant-garde projects than 'safe' public art. (E-mail 29 Mar 2000)

A survey of grants from these institutions reveals a diversity of opportunities in creation and performance, but not in creation alone. The Mid America Arts Alliance Project, for example, states that in its twenty-five year history, it has reached over twenty-seven million people, provided 12,334 performances, and generated $232,159,222. in direct economic activity. The Association was organized "to bring arts and audiences together" (Mid America Arts Alliance 2). Supported by federal, state and the private area, it serves Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. One of its goals is to introduce ‘emerging or renowned’ performing artists or exhibitions to communities.

The Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation offers the ArtsConnect grant for touring companies, the ArtsEmerge grants for artists/presenter collaborations and Artist as Catalyst grant which is an artist in residence program that supports new work and community projects and dialog.

The New York Foundation for the Arts does offer individual artist fellowships ($7,000 each) for artists working in the state of New York. In fifteen years, NYFA has granted over two thousand artists a total of fifteen million dollars. The fellowships, partially supported by the New York State Council for the Arts, are given in sixteen disciplines, including fiction, music composition, playwriting, and video. Arts Midwest (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio), a twenty-five year old organization, also provides grants which "connects the arts to audiences." (Arts Midwest 1)

The Southern Arts Confederation in Atlanta states that it "is making a positive difference by creating partnerships" (Southern Arts Confederation 1). It works in partnerships with artists from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. It also provides development opportunities in workshops and strongly supports jazz and traveling art exhibits. Barbara Benisch of the Southern Arts Federation indicates in a letter to me some of the negative effect of the NEA cuts on individual funding. She writes: "We used to make grants to individual visual artists through a National Endowment for the Arts funding program, but that funding has been cut, as I'm sure you are aware, and we did not replace it with anything"(E-mail 31 March 2000).

The Western States Art Confederation "focuses its efforts on strengthening the financial, organizational, and policy infrastructure of arts in the West." (Western Art-3) The New England Foundation for the Arts "connects the people of New England with the power of art to shape our lives and improve our communities." (NEFA 1) The emphasis on arts granting among regional associations is clearly community oriented and not an area abundant with grants to individuals.

Creative Capital is a 501 (c) 3 tax exempt grant giving institution that began as a reaction to deep federal cuts to individual artists. It is an example of a private commitment to funding artists during a period of federal cuts. In defining the institution, Creative Capital publications state that "Creative Capital is a new, national organization designed to support artists pursuing innovative approaches to form and content in the media, performing, and visual arts, along with emerging fields" (Creative Capital Guidelines 1). The information adds that "Creative Capital is committed to working with artists in long term partnerships" (Creative Capital Guidelines 2). All of its grants go to individuals, and it is committed to "diversity in all its forms-racial, cultural, sexual, graphic, and generational." (Creative Capital Guidelines-3).

Founded in January, 1999, Creative Capital has raised five million from twenty-three foundations and individuals. One provision of its grants is that artists agree to share a percentage of the proceeds derived from the project. While full time students are not eligible, anyone eighteen or older and not enrolled in an educational institution, is eligible. The initial granting is to be fifty projects at five thousand dollars and ten projects at ten to twenty thousand dollars. Evaluation of the project will be based on "artistic strength" and "vision" (Creative Capitol Guidelines 3)

A number of other private institutions grant directly to individuals. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awards prestigious fellowships to creative artists who are advanced in their careers. The average grant in 1999 was $33,568. The purpose of the grant is to "help provide Fellows with blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible" (Guggenheim 1). The foundation annually receives three thousand to thirty five hundred applications from productive and well-established artists and scholars. It awards fellowships to two hundred.

The most lucrative of the private grants are the MacArthur Fellowships. MacArthur Fellows are awarded thirty thousand to seventy-five thousand dollars a year for five years. McArthur materials state that, "The fellowships are intended to support individuals, not projects" (MacArthur 1). Awardees have the freedom to continue work in the area awarded or to change areas of concentration. No individual artist can apply. There are one hundred nominators across the country who provide artists to be selected.

The Pew Fellowships in the Arts are another strong source of support for the individual artist. Each fellowship is for fifty thousand dollars. Awards are made only to Philadelphia artists in "performing, visual and literary categories." (Pew Fellowships 1) The goal of the grant is to "provide such support at moments in artists’ careers when a concentration on artistic growth and exploration is most likely to have the greatest impact on an artist’s long-term personal and professional development. Up to twelve fellowships will be awarded annually." (Pew Fellowships 2). The evaluation criteria is "artistic accomplishment" and "future promise." (Pew Fellowships 2).

Other examples of private institutional awards to artists are the residencies given by the oldest artist colony, the MacDowell in Petersboro, New Hampshire, and the DIA Center for the arts "enabling the realization of extraordinary artistic projects" (DIA History 1). Over four thousand five hundred creative artists have worked at MacDowell since it began in 1907. MacDowell offers travel awards to and from the Center and Writer Aid awards based on financial needs. The DIA awards are based on financial needs also. The DIA awards initially focused on works that did not suit large conventional museums. DIA also sponsors a Poetry Reading Series (with chapbook publication) and an artists’ web project, among others.

Certain private institutions such as the Gunk Foundation in Gardiner, New York, award project oriented grants to artists. The Jerome Foundation also emphasizes project oriented grants to artists living in Minnesota and New York City. It "places the emerging creative artist at the center of its grant making," and usually awards the grant to a non-profit organization (Jerome Foundation 1). Visual Aid offers grants to artists with life-threatening diseases so that they can continue with their work. The Fleishhacker Foundation in San Francisco offers grants to individual painters as well as grants for cultural education. The Creative Artists Network is a Philadelphia institution that assists artists in project/audience designed works.

Another institution strongly supporting individual artists is the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. Applications are accepted throughout the year from artists who have genuine financial needs. Grants are given for one year and are meant to aid artists whose work is interfered with because of financial difficulty.

A survey of private foundation growth sponsored by the Foundation Center in 1999 points out that the number of all grants awarded grew by 12.8%, to over 97,000 grants. There were three hundred and fifty grants of two and a half million or more given in 1998. The area of arts and culture (15% of the total) was included in those experiencing the fastest growth. Educational institutions received the largest share of all grants. (Foundation Center 3)

The survey that I made of the private institutions giving grants indicates an on-going commitment to giving to individuals. Creation of new foundations such as Creative Capital suggests new strength in private giving to artists.

Overall, the state art council awards appear to be the most available to artists, despite the trend toward project oriented awards. There appears to be an evident move toward supporting more artist grants. This can be seen in the following letter from Kathy Jones of Maine.

The Maine Arts Commission is very proud to continue to give individual artist fellowships after other agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts and the New England Foundation for the Arts discontinued fellowship programs. Our board has even increased the program by raising the number of $3,000 awards from 8 to 10 this year. (E-mail Mar 31 2000)

These numerous grants to individuals show the promise of new growth. NEA grants, more limited in category and number, are very competitive and unfortunately are offered every other year by subject. The private sector offers the most competitive grants (MacArthur, Guggenheim), but also, particularly in certain areas such as Philadelphia, has excellent opportunities. Despite exceptions, private sector support of individual artists appears focused on the established rather than the emerging artist.