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LOI trends and issues Part 1

November 3rd, 2011

It may not be a particularly exciting “trend,” but the number of applications made ineligible this year because one of the lead artists was already submitted on another grant was notable (about 7 percent of applications were affected; all parties were alerted immediately in these cases) and it led me to wonder if it wasn’t simply negligence on the part of applicants (failing to read the guidelines) but some deeper issue at root — something that might be addressed by MAP or by the field in general.

MAP, like many other grant programs, restricts artists to one shot per grant cycle to ensure that our relatively limited funds (in comparison to the need) are as equitably distributed as possible.

That restriction gets aggravated (and aggravating, for busy artists) as resources shrink and the dependence on the few remaining funding source increases.

Another — happier — aggravating factor is the marked increase in the number of artists who self-produce projects. Over 10 years at MAP I’ve watched and been deeply encouraged by the growing sense of entitlement (a word I use very much as a compliment) among artists to make what they want, how and when they want to make it. I’ve also watched the sheer volume of projects seeking support skyrocket, just as available resources are going down. Those shifts are related, of course — the poor economy rightly inspires artistic responses, especially from those artists/citizens most immediately affected. But it nonetheless creates a complicated funding environment that can risk biting its own tail. Many of the ineligible-due-to-duplicate-artist cases this year were self-produced works coming from vibrant, smaller communities that share talents of necessity.

And then there’s always technology to blame. This is particularly an issue where designers are concerned. MAP’s restriction among duplicate artists extends only to what we call “lead” artists, those taking a generative role in the creation of the work; those without whom the work would not exist. It strikes me that five or ten years ago, fewer designers would have fit that definition than do today. Designers today have powerful new tools available to them. They are — brilliantly, critically, thrillingly — impacting performances in signature ways that can only be considered generative. They can also work remotely more easily than many other artists in the field, and therefore can have this authorial or co-authorial impact on numerous projects at once. It seems entirely wrong-headed that MAP might in any way stand in opposition to this activity.

Yet the question remains, how can we fairly and wisely distribute the dollars entrusted to us by our generous donors, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, without restricting artists to one grant submission per year?

Or…maybe people just didn’t read the guidelines.


MAP Fund Letter of Inquiry Phase

October 25th, 2011

The MAP deadline for submission of Letters of Inquiry  – effectively Phase One of the MAP annual grant cycle — was three weeks ago. If you are an applicant, congratulations! The biggest piece of the grant-application task is behind you!

Over the next few months, we’ll blog here occasionally about the review process, and issues or trends we perceive from the breadth of work we encounter. One of the privileges of accepting grant applications for a nationally focused award is the bird’s-eye view it provides of movement in the field. I’m here to report that even in our so-called post-human culture, contemporary performance is screaming with life!

The first thing to note about this year’s submissions are the numbers: 889 LOIs were submitted to MAP this year. That’s a jump of 13 percent from last year, and the second largest number of apps we’ve had in MAP’s history. This is thrilling for what it says about the vitality of the field, but  it also points to the enormous gap between available resources and need. As you know, MAP has the means to support only 40 of these many brilliant offerings, and the winnowing down will be painful indeed. That said, another striking thing to note are the inventive ways in which artists are looking at economic issues, often transforming those very challenges into sophisticated aesthetic statements.

Geographic representation is wide, if imbalanced: 42 states and 243 distinct cities across the U.S. are represented in this pool, with a notable increase in submissions from the Midwest (go Illinois!). As always, though, applications from New York and California dominate the numbers, this year representing well over half of all projects. (To compare demographic stats from prior MAP years, go to MAP Open Apps.)

176 projects identify as Dance, 298 as Interdisciplinary, 136 as Music Composition / New Opera (prediction: experimental opera is the next rabid cultural phenomenon. Such an exciting trend there!), 269 as Theater, and a brave 10 as Other.

As I write this, a small army of your peers — this year’s LOI readers — are submitting their assessments. We ask readers to judge a project according to its alignment with the MAP Fund goals and the strength of the artistic idea as articulated in the project description. When all the scores and comments have been collected, we carefully review each one and invite those with the strongest MAP-affinity to make a full proposal. Notification will be made the week of November 7.

We will post again soon to share more general impressions of recurring themes and issues. For now, let me say that you are a truly remarkable constituency, full of spirit, ingenuity and driving talent. Reading these proposals has been uplifting, a precious antidote to the daily news, and I am grateful for the dialogue they introduce.

Moira and the MAP Fund Staff