Providing Working Capital for Artists

We tend to utilize a tool known as the “Individual Development Account” or “Match Savings Account” for artists. So, this is something that exists in many communities to help people who are usually low-income to be able to build some assets, and to access some capital for investing in small business development, home ownership, or higher education. We make a lot of use of that tool. It’s funded by public agencies that have a real focus on providing that kind of working capital for artists. So, what we find is very successful for artists is providing these match saving accounts that artists will use to invest in the implementation of a business plan that they’ve worked on with us through professional development training and one-on-one coaching. That match savings account incentivizes them to save their own funds, to gain some more financial literacy skills, and then to have access to some working capital. This way, they haven’t just worked through some plan; they have some additional resources available to implement that plan. These are modest size grants – a couple thousand dollars at a time – but for artists it goes a long way. One thing that’s unique about that form of grantmaking to artists is that it’s not project based, and it’s not a one-off. We enter into a relationship with the artist where they’re saving. We provide training upfront and then work with them over time to create a business plan. They only get their grant after they’ve been working with us for a year, two years, sometimes maybe three years to develop their plan, implement that plan, and get their financial house in order. Then they receive the matching funds and utilize those funds to fix and take the next steps and try to take their art practice to the next level. That kind of multi-year relationship that we have with artists and this kind of grant facilitates a really powerful impact on the artist. Partly, because it’s not just project based but it’s really about their whole art practice.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Funding Individual Artists

Creating a Platform for New Work

We have a grant that gives artists money to create new work, and then we provide a platform for them to speak about that work and how they see that work in conversation with the community. We take the backseat to that process. We allow them to shape and provide focus for that process to happen, for them to connect to the community. So, we just set the table, and they take charge of what they do or say on that platform.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Thrive Funding Individual Artists

Artists Know the Best Use of Funds

When artists apply for our financial assistance, we don’t dictate for them what the funds have to be spent on. If it’s somebody who has flooded their studio, they can spend the money on their studio – or they can spend it on getting their car retuned, or paying for care if they are taking care of a loved one. So, we empower them to know that what they think is the best use of those funds is their decision.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Funding Individual Artists

Flexible Award to Create New Work

We have a choreographer’s program, which is a $10,000 award that is given to the four selected choreographers with very few stipulations. The stipulation is to create a new piece. And there aren’t any requirements on what line items that money needs to be used on. You can quit your day job so that you can create this work. You can pay your rent with this so that you can focus time and energy. You can use this for your dancers to pay their salaries or your venue rental to create the piece. However, you spend that $10,000 is all right with us as long as in the end a new choreographed piece is developed. And the jury for that is three individuals from around the country who are as diverse ethnically and sub-disciplinarily – so ethnic dance, modern dance, ballet, hip hop, whatever – as possible. Nobody can say “These three people only knew about ballet or these three people only knew about…” They select four choreographers to award this to. And it’s been extremely successful. My only wish is that I could take it a step further and actually after having the piece created, assist in producing it.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Funding Individual Artists

Funding Artists to Experiment & Collaborate

In addition to having artists from our studios do smaller projects, we have four big projects that have many, many artists involved. They each have $15,000 to spend to build, curate, and hire for this large exhibition at the festival. It’s very exciting, but it’s also important because it gives these artists an opportunity to try experiment and collaborate with new people, or to strengthen collaborations they have. They also get to showcase all different kinds of local and regional talent.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Funding Individual Artists

Streamlined Micro-grants for Experimentation

I was presenting at a conference where they were doing a lighting round of grant proposals and awards. The figures involved were modest: $400-$800. But they had artists who had applied get up to give a two-minute pitch, and then at the end of it based on how the audience felt, they awarded these small grants to the artists with the idea of no strings attached. There was no follow-up reporting that they had to do. All they asked was that whatever they did, they credited the organization. I found that following up on a number of the artists that received those, it let them do projects that weren’t necessarily of huge career importance, but were something that they were just able to experiment with.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Funding Individual Artists

Artist Fellowship Has Long-term Impact

Another artist who lives in the western part of the state also received an individual award from the arts council, which he used to buy equipment to update his studio. He’s a custom wood furniture maker – very contemporary furniture. His work is beautiful and is in collections all over the world. Before his involvement with the arts council, he was about to go out of business because he was at the point where he couldn’t figure out how to continue making a living as an artist and promote himself the way he needed to in order to be able to stay in business and work how he wanted to work. When he learned about the arts council and began to take advantage of many of the arts council’s services, he applied for a fellowship. He basically has credited all of that string of events plus the fellowship together with not only saving his business, but also growing his sales by 400%, thus demonstrating the value of investing directly in individual artists.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Funding Individual Artists

Streamlined and Transparent Funding Process

Heather Pontonio, Art Program Director for the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, shares a previous experience overhauling an individual grant process with an eye to transparency.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Survive Funding Individual Artists

We Don’t Give as much as We’d Like to

We don’t give as much as we’d like to. Our maximum is six thousand dollars. There are some instances where artists are raising sixty, seventy thousand dollars through a crowdfunding campaign. So, while we are able to help, it’s still just a portion of what they would need to recover. Our assistance certainly helps, but it’s also not enough.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Struggle Funding Individual Artists

Lack of Funding to Support Individual Artists

One of the biggest challenges that we have as a nonprofit organization is functioning successfully as a business and making sure that our artists are always compensated for their work, rather than having to work as a nonprofit that is always looking for donations and grantfunding. One of the barriers I think we have to making sure our artists can thrive is the lack of funding, period. There is little funding to support individual artists in their work, or funding to engage individual artists into the culture of an organization.

Rubric Spectrum Category
I work with Artists Artists Give Up Funding Individual Artists