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LOI trends and issues Part 1

Thursday, 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.