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LOI trends and issues Part 1

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.


9 Responses to “LOI trends and issues Part 1”

  1. Tanya Calamoneri Says:

    I’m glad you brought this up! We ran into exactly this problem in that the video designer we wanted to use was applying for his own project already. Thankfully we DID read the guidelines and so we did not include him in our application. However, we have not yet found someone else as good to work with, and so perhaps our “designer TBA” is not as competitive as another project that already has someone in place.

    In my experience it’s true that designers tend to be key collaborators on more than one large project in a year because of the nature of their work (and income sources), while theater and dance artists often only undertake one major project per year. Perhaps there’s another way to conceive of the project team for the application? Maybe there could be lead artists as main applicants and a space for a lead designer, but allow that person to be on more than one application?

    Thanks for thinking about this!

  2. Brian Baumbusch Says:

    As you said in your comment on this trend, there are plenty of artists out there, and the community is only getting bigger. No reason to feel guilty for excluding worthy projects because they involve the same artists; it is up to the artist to have the discipline to decide which project is the most important and do whatever is necessary to see it through, rather than to toss up several ideas half-heartedly and see what comes down.

  3. Melissa Says:

    that is a major, and interesting question – because not only have the kinds of generative artists grown, but the types, styles and breadth of collaboration has grown and flourished.
    As artists I think we see clearly that we need one another to continue onward.

    And, perhaps as part of that, or in response to the difficulties/boredom of “space chase” there has also been fabulous explosion in site/unusual space work that has been happening for the past 10 years – This pushes even further the collaborations and joint visions of new work.

    Perhaps there could be an elastic clause with the MAP Fund donors regarding the contributing role of an artist?
    that would be acknowledging the facets of the artists and the options of collaborative energy of projects.

    …. I am sure we could all use to read the guidelines one more time.

  4. Sarah East Johnson Says:

    I don’t know the statistics of who applies and who receives funding but I am wondering if perhaps the decision to not fund the same artist on two projects could be made after all of the applications are in, and MAP can choose not to fund the same lead artists on more than one project. Perhaps that is too large of a burden to place on the panel, but it seems like the percentage of projects that actually get chosen is so small that it could lead to more fruitful terrain for ideas and possibilities if people are allowed to submit for more than one project and the selection process takes care of the concern for not over-funding the same artists with too many resources.

  5. Rozy Says:

    I understand that it can be frustrating to wade through duplicate lead artists proposals. It isn’t really fair to the panel or to artists that followed directions ( leads to more commitee time being dedicated to reading applications that will not end up being competitive because of lead artist duplication).
    Having said that I would like to add that the MAP website is a bit confusing regarding this matter. On the one hand making it very clear that lead artists can only work on one project in one grant cycle, while ALSO stating that IN CASE of lead artist(s) being peated in another application then he/she will have to choose which project they wish to proceed to the next level of review. So while its clear that only one application will be accepted for final review, if somehow an artist is lucky enough to have more than one application accepted then, it is the artists choice with which project to move forward. I realize this is very unfair to those artists that interpret the website to mean, “one lead artist one proposal” versus one lead artist who gets to pick which proposal, (like buying extra “lottery tickets” to make ones chances better) but perhaps the website could emphasize that if a duplicate lead artist submission is made then all applications from that artist will be disqualified. That way it ensures that artists will only allow their name on one project per cycle.

  6. admin Says:

    Ah, yes, I can see how that’s confusing. There’s another wrinkle here, which is that in most cases when an artist is submitted on more than one proposal at a time, it’s because someone else submitted them without their knowledge. That’s why we leave it to the artist to decide. And that’s why, simply making both ineligible, would seem particularly harsh. But perhaps we can make that clearer in the guidelines. Thanks!

  7. admin Says:

    I like that idea, Tanya. Will give that some thought. Thanks!

  8. Jen Abrams Says:

    I often find that, when things seem fuzzy, it’s best to let them be fuzzy for a little while. I wonder if it might make sense to open the process up a bit by saying that MAP is open to discussions about lead artists being listed on more than one application. That way you can 1) actually get real information about what is going on out there, and, 2) make exceptions to your current rule on a case-by-case basis until you have a better sense of the actual landscape. Changing a rule without understanding the landscape can result in unintended consequences.

    Also, it seems to me that there’s a difference between a generative artist on a project and an artist who is deriving a significant portion of his/her income that year from the project. It seems that the latter is more of an issue vis a vis fairness than the former.

  9. Adrienne Mackey Says:

    I can speak from experience as someone who has submitted my own work and was then unintentionally included as a lead artist on an application for a project with another company. In that instance I submitted my own application as a director/lead collaborator for my own company and was also submitted as a voice and music coach for another project. I often have to provide info and work samples for a variety of grants at once and given the amount of fundraising I need to do for the works I make, I rarely have time to also check up on every potential application my collaborators of other works are submitting.

    In that instance though I played a critical role in both pieces, in one case I “hired” myself (ie I was responsible for overseeing the main artistic vision and perhaps more importantly, held the fundraising responsibility) and in the other I was “hired” by someone else (I agreed to bring my skills to a project and help change and shape it based on my expertise, and in return, I got a paycheck). I think that other company had a totally legitimate claim that I was in fact a lead artist. In a given fiscal year, I probably partake in 3- 4 such major new works in varying capacities of authorship.

    I think part of this issue arises from a change in the way works get made, especially in experiemental settings. I know in my community it’s rare to have the more traditional “auteur” model of art-making. One person with most of the ideas just isn’t the way devised theater most often gets made, it seems, at least in Philadelphia where I live and work. That more and more artists find themselves creating in a variety of capacities and utilizing a variety of skills is an exciting trend, if a tricky one to fund. I am constantly collaborating with a shifting group of creators, each of whom at various times may take the lead on a given project. For example, I am a director, experimental vocalist, and sometimes performer. I have led my own works, co-captained projects, and come in for a specifically definited supporting role depending on who and what I’m tackling at a given time. I think the “lead artist” can sometimes be a tricky category to define. Though I would never submit two proposals in which I am taking the main originator/author role, nor would I probably have time and energy to implement two such major works in that time frame, if you do lots of different things, you get involved with lots of projects.

    It’s not an issue I admire the MAP fund having to sort out.

    But in my experience, I appreciate the care and thoughtfulness from MAP I’ve experienced in applying. It seems like one of the few places that genuinely works to get the red tape out of the way and make the process as clear and simple as possible.