Potent Potential

City Council reinstates individual artist grants

click to enlarge Tamara Harkavy, director of ArtWorks
Tamara Harkavy, director of ArtWorks


ood news from City Hall? Yes, actually. City Council has voted to re-instate and improve a long-established program providing grants to individual artists, which was cut for budgetary reasons in 2009.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who made the proposal, says the new version will provide “fewer but more impactful grants,” by raising the individual amounts, and that a swifter process will be instituted.

“Artists say the old process was laborsome and frustrating,” Quinlivan says. “Administration of that plan bounced around during its 20 years of existence, but the Recreation Department has community development people at the Clifton Arts Center who will handle the new version.” 

The new version of the program will be decided upon by a volunteer seven-person advisory committee, which will also choose grant recipients. 

“We want the streamlined system to make application easy and worth it,” Quinlivan says. 

Prospective members of the newly created Artists Fellowships Award Committee, to be made up of “individuals from various art disciplines,” were invited to submit a letter and resume before Jan. 15 to Quinlivan, who then would assist Mayor Mallory in making the choices. (Their names had not been announced by CityBeat’s press time.)

Under the old system, grants of $3,000-$5,000 were awarded; Quinlivan hopes the new committee will provide “seven grants of $7,000 each.” Like the original program, the grants are open to artists from all disciplines. Another new element, however, is that “at the end of the fellowship we’ll ask the artists to make a presentation of some sort, perhaps a performance,” says Quinlivan, so the community can see tangible products.

The arts community is quick to see the potential for results. 

“Supporting individual artists is not a luxury, it is essential in creating a healthy, reflective society. Artists need space, time and support to think, dream, create and realize their vision for artworks that open our eyes to different aspects of our world,” Contemporary Arts Center Director Raphaela Platow said in response to an email query. 

Cincinnati Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky also says by email: “Cincinnati was long a place where great art was made, not just bought. It is wonderful that the city is, in however small a way, supporting the local community of working artists.” 

Jim Tarbell, arts advocate and former councilman, sees the encouragement of artists good in itself and “an additional benefit to the renaissance of downtown and Over-the-Rhine.”

Tamara Harkavy, director of ArtWorks, the agency behind lively outdoor murals all over town, applauds the move as an indication of increasing recognition that “individuals who create art are a pretty potent part of the city’s economic engine.” Individual artists grants, her email continues, “are a good start towards supporting artists and creatives in our city. … This first pass at allocations is important and can serve to create a platform of success so that the initial $50,000 allocation can grow.”

Kristin Dietsche, alternative theater producer and former vice chair of the Cincinnati Arts Allocation Committee, sees this action as a hopeful beginning. 

“It’s exciting to have a city council in place that recognizes the value of public funding for the arts in our city, and the restoration of an arts grant program is terrific news,” she writes. “The next priority should be to establish a permanent and stable funding source for non-profit arts in Cincinnati so that there can also be coherent arts planning. Arts funding that is just occasional or dependent on politics will not provide the needed support for a vibrant and innovative arts community. But it is a step in the right direction. It is very important that as many artists and organizations as possible apply for this grant to demonstrate the need for public funding.”

Artists who received grants from the earlier program, asked by email about the grants’ effects on them, replied with a common theme — the grant made a significant contribution to the development of their careers. Filmmaker Melissa Godoy wrote, “The grant for my documentary Do Not Go Gently supported a creative stage of the project just enough that the results allowed me to raise even more funds and finish the project! By finishing this thing that I had labored over for years, I was able to gain traction, expertise and wonderful connections that helped to launch an exciting new aspect to my filmmaking career. I’ve been ever grateful.” (Check out the film at www.donotgogently.com.)

Cedric Cox replied: “As a recipient I was able to not only achieve my goals as a visual artist but also share my art with diverse audiences and age groups. With the grant I was able to support the education outreach portion of my solo exhibition at the Weston Art Gallery with programming that impacted young students.”

Artist book-maker Kate Kern’s involvement with the earlier program was both as a recipient and as a member of the allocation committee for six years. She says the three Individual Artist grants she received “made a tremendous impact on my career. The process of application gave me a reason to dream a bigger dream, to search for a project that went beyond my studio, beyond what I could do alone, to strive for a larger challenge. Receiving this funding allowed me to develop a series of multiple artists’ books now in collections across the country, including the Museum of Modern Art Library in New York City, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.” 

Quinlivan’s other arts proposal, $150,000 toward the Emery Theater Requiem Project’s restoration of the theater’s entrance canopy and marquee, passed at the same council meeting. The proposals were based on the strength of the 2012 city budget not having a deficit, Quinlivan says, and the money will come from capitol funds.


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