Don’t be a schemer!

I much appreciate grantors offering workshops to help applicants to engage with requirements. For its 2016 individual Artist Program Grant cycle, DCASE made workshop attendance mandatory. Eight workshops and a webinar will be available, scheduled at different times of day. This number is commendable, given limited staff availability.

The grants available are for up to $5000, for projects or professional development. They are offered to artists “at all career levels (emerging, mid-career, mature), and working across numerous disciplines”, but a program priority is to support “projects proposed by emerging artists.”

I attended a workshop hoping to better understand why it was made mandatory, to see what it offered, and to get a sense who might attend. In a nutshell, presenters stated the desire to provide information to generate a greater number of complete, well-executed applications. Previous problems had included submissions without work samples or with outdated drivers licenses as proof of residence. The use of overly complicated language in project descriptions and artist statements was cited emphatically. Recommendations were to “make it easy-breezy”, common mistakes to avoid presented on the workshop PowerPoint as “the PhD’s, using 10 dollar words” and “being a schemer, slanting language to what funders want to hear.”

Under the excellent heading, “budgets help to tell the story,” quite a few questions were asked, about budget line assignations and eligible expenses. The mandates to not pay oneself and exclude capital expenses were examined. It seemed that it was still undecided if the final report would require receipts or just an updated budget. Applicants were made aware of grant taxability.

There was interest in the granting process. We learned that it is no longer possible to attend jury sessions, because electronic materials have made meetings obsolete. Panelists rank applications, while DCASE staff make final decisions on awardees and amounts of awards, to aid equal distribution of grants across disciplines.

30 potential applicants attended this first workshop on 9/24. In questions, they indicated their fields as theater, music, painting and curating. Last year, the grant was said to have received 640 applications. This year, applications will be checked against workshop attendant lists, sites are additionally guarded by a password distributed at the workshop. Does this mean about 300 applications might be received this year, generated by the 9 available workshops? Some attendants offered clarifications to presenter statements, which were at times read from slides. Others, supportively, added scenarios they had experienced. Several expressed gratitude for being walked through the process.

The greater DCASE Cultural Grants program framework is stated as:

1) Elevate Chicago’s arts and culture community;

2) Promote access to the breadth of arts and cultural programming in our city; and

3) Support those not typically represented in traditional local funding infrastructures

While it would be worth the effort to consider how the above, both grant structure and workshop, supports those goals, more generally, what needs examining is the range of expectations and languages spread across arts organizations, their users and representatives.

Artist, professor [Arts Administration and Policy] at SAIC.

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