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survival arts in new york

julieanne campbell: funding, foundations, philanthropy & alternatives

Julieanne Campbell is a writer and arts administrator, and has been General Manager of Performance Space since 2003. She lived and worked in New York from 1998 to 2001.

We Are No Longer Strangers We Are No Longer Strangers
I WENT TO NEW YORK IN OCTOBER TO TALK TO ARTISTS AND ARTS WORKERS ABOUT SUSTAINABLE PRACTICE, SPECIFICALLY CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE AND DANCE. I GOT A NUMBER OF GUFFAWS AND SOME EYE ROLLING, BUT ONCE THE CYNICISM SUBSIDED, IMPASSIONED CONVERSATION SOON FOLLOWED.

Like all arts stories, it started with government funding cuts. In April this year, the Governor of New York announced an almost 40% reduction in arts funding for the state. After much public and political resistance, the budget was passed with ‘only’ a 15% reduction on 2009-10 levels.

As funding diminishes, the number of artists and arts organisations applying for support is only increasing. From 2002 to 2006, the number of unsuccessful applications to the New York State Council on the Arts grew by a staggering 210%. New York-based arts organisations offering residencies, small commissions and mini-grants are reporting similar increases.

Many of the larger organisations are feeling the squeeze. Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) and 3LD Art & Technology Centre were all burdened with major capital campaigns prior to the crash, so they had little room to move. In April this year, The New York Times reported that DTW’s mortgage was about $2.9m and they were slated to merge with Bill T Jones Company, a move many speculate is financially driven. In July, DNA rallied City Hall in a plea to keep their relatively new downtown space, which they moved into after an outpouring of support after 9/11. They are still in negotiations with their landlord and the city.

The city and state funding cuts are exacerbated by a broader national context. Philanthropic organisations such as The Greenwall Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York and The New York Times Foundation have stopped their support of the arts since the financial crisis. Others have significantly scaled back their arts programs, including some of the larger ones such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Many have moved away from supporting general operating costs and will only support capacity building initiatives, national projects or re-granting through service organisations.

For organisations such as PS122, support from foundations represents around 30% of their income. Morgan von Prelle Pecelli, PS122’s Director of Development, believes a new economic model is needed. “The situation with foundations is not going to get better. Arts institutions like us need to shift to a more independent business model, with more diverse and robust contributed-, partner- and earned-income streams that stem directly from their missions and programming activities.”

Despite the Rockefeller Foundation’s diminishing arts dollar, it launched the NYC Cultural Innovation Fund in 2007. Two projects were supported that directly addressed the issue of sustainability for performing artists.

One project was Economic Revitalisation for Performing Artists (ERPA), an ambitious entrepreneurial lab run by The Field, a strategic consultancy for artists (established in 1985 by our own Wendy Lasica). Described by Jennifer Wright Cook, The Field’s Executive Director, as “experiments in making money,” its premise was that the traditional philanthropic model is no longer working. Out of 116 applications they received, seven were selected for grants of up to $20,000 each to develop their ideas. Four of these received implementation grants and their projects are detailed in the publication, We Are No Longer Strangers.

Stolen Chair Theatre Company used the model of Community Supported Agriculture, in which members provide seed money for a local farm in exchange for a share of the harvest, only in this instance the harvest was a theatre production. While they didn’t meet their original financial targets, Jon Stancato says he learned that it’s not just the final product that has value. “By opening up our process, we built an audience along the way.”

Our Goods, another ERPA awardee, removed money from the equation and developed a website for artists based on an exchange of goods. The site only launched a couple of months ago, so it’s hard to gauge its success. Their belief is that more work gets done in networks of shared respect and shared resources than in competitive isolation.

The other Rockefeller Cultural Innovation project was MADE HERE, a documentary series and website produced by the HERE Arts Centre which focuses on the challenging and eclectic lives of performing artists in New York. “We wanted to talk about issues from the artists’ perspective, how they’ve struggled and solved some of the problems they’ve faced,” explained Katrina Mangu-Ward, HERE’s Associate Producer. “There is a young core of artists who are reinventing the wheel, so we wanted to consolidate that.”

Season one, which rolled out from May through September 2010, covered five topic areas: Day & Night Jobs, Creative Real Estate, Family Balance, Activism, and Technology. Season two comes out in 2011.“People are isolated,” stressed Mangu-Ward. “We need a sense of community.”

Community support is at the heart of a number of alternative funding models that have proliferated in recent years, many of which are based in Brooklyn. Sweet Tooth of the Tiger, run by independent curator Tracy Candido, is part DIY food service project, part participatory art project. It used the model of a bake sale to fund small-scale residencies for artists in Brooklyn.

In a similar vein but with a stronger philanthropic push, FEAST (Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics) is a recurring public dinner designed to use community-driven financial support to democratically fund new and emerging artists in Brooklyn. Similar models are emerging across the United States, building a network of organisations committed to rethinking how art is financed and experienced communally.

In the past two years, FEAST has hosted eight events and supported 20 projects. However the money raised is modest: $12,756 since it started in 2009. “These projects are developed because they’re needed,” says Candido, who wound up her renegade bake sales earlier this year. “They start as scrappy, original, independent projects; they succeed, they grow. But how do you sustain that?”

Modest in scale, DIY platforms for presentation mirror community-based arts funding in that they too have emerged (and proliferated) in New York as a necessary alternative to mainstream channels. To name just a few: Catch, a multi-faceted, multidisciplinary, rough-and-ready performance series curated and hosted by Andrew Dinwiddie and Jeff Larson; Throw, curated and moderated by Sarah Maxfield, which provides artists with a platform for ideas-in-progress and audiences with insight into performance-making; and AUNTS, founded by Jamm Leary and Rebecca Brooks, which is “about having dance happen.”

A key issue is the degree to which these alternative models are supported by volunteer labour. In his article “The Mental Labor Problem,” published in 2000, cultural studies theorist Andrew Ross states that “artists and other arts workers accept non-monetary rewards, the gratification of producing art as compensation for their work, thereby discounting the cash price of their labor.” Arguably, an over-reliance on volunteer hours also favours younger artists, creating a reduced pool of mid-career and established artists able to survive long-term absence of adequate financial and job security, and associated healthcare benefits.

Many of the people I spoke to stressed that the system was problematic well before the financial crisis. In that way, the GFC has had less of an impact on the arts as opposed to other industries; artists were already living below the poverty line.

“Since the 60s, artists in this country have worked in challenging economic circumstances,” explains Barbara Bryan, Executive Director of Movement Research, a leading laboratory for the investigation of dance and movement-based forms. “But there is greater pressure on this generation of artists. The cost of living for rent and food for all New Yorkers has increased. We’re at a tipping point.”

Critical Correspondence, a project of Movement Research, developed a video project titled “What Sustains You?” which asks dance artists about money and sustainability. Like MADE HERE, it aims to galvanise community through collective storytelling that investigates how something seemingly unsustainable continues to survive. In one video, performance maker and writer Clarinda Mac Low relates her experience of burn-out in the late 90s. “I knew that if I did continue making work it would have to be in a very different way. It would have to not rely on money. It would have to rely on exchange of resources, creating networks.”

While talk of sustainability consistently returns to notions of community and shared resources (many of them online and non-monetary), it seems the biggest challenge was identified by cultural academic and commentator Arlene Goldbard when she spoke at the launch of The Field’s findings from their ERPA grants. Goldbard insisted that society needs to value the artist, a paradigm shift to which we should all contribute.

“Artists are the stem cells of the body politic, generating the many forms of beauty, meaning, and connectivity essential to our survival, our resilience—indeed, to all hope of a sustainable future.”


The Field: www.thefield.org/t-erpa.aspx MADE HERE: http://madehereproject.org; What Sustains You?: www.movementresearch.org/publishing/?=node656; Sweet Tooth of the Tiger: www.sweettothof the tiger; FEAST: http://feastinbklyn.org; Arlene Goldbard: http://arlenegoldbard.com

Julieanne Campbell is a writer and arts administrator, and has been General Manager of Performance Space since 2003. She lived and worked in New York from 1998 to 2001.

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 30

© Julieanne Campbell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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