Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And Speaking of (Geographic) Diversity...

Below is the list of four theatre artists recently named USA Rockefeller Fellows by United States Artists. The award is $50,000 and can be used at the discretion of the artist. Here is how you become a USA Fellow:

Selection Process
To become a USA Fellow, one must be nominated. Each year nominations are made by a different anonymous group of arts leaders, critics, scholars, and artists chosen by USA. Nominators do not know one another; their identities remain confidential.

Nominators are asked to submit names of artists they believe show an extraordinary commitment to their craft. Artists at any stage of career development may be nominated. To be considered for fellowships, artists must be 21 years of age or older and U.S. citizens or legal residents in any U.S. state. A legal resident is any individual who has the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the U.S. as an immigrant in accordance with the U.S. immigration laws. Artists must have the following:

  • Expert artistic skills
  • Artistic education or training (formal or informal)
  • A history of deriving income from those skills
  • A history of active engagement in creating artwork and presenting it to the public

Artist Applications
Nominated artists are notified of their nominations and encouraged to apply. Artists are required to fill out a simple online application and submit work samples.

Peer Panel Review
Discipline-specific peer panels composed of leading artists and art experts meet to select the program finalists. The USA Board of Directors approves the final recommendations.

Here is the list of the theatre winners for 2009:

Dan Hurlin -- New York
Ruth Maleczech -- New York
John O'Neal -- Louisiana
Anna Deavere Smith -- New York
Hmmm. See a pattern? Let's look at 2008:

Karen Kandel -- New York
Will Power -- New York
Bill Rauch -- Oregon
Rosalba Rolon -- New York
Jennifer Tipton -- New York
2007:
Pat Bowie -- Florida
Rhodessa Jones -- California
Tina Landau -- New York
Elizabeth LeCompte -- New York
Michael Summers -- Minnesota
Robert Woodruff -- New York
2006:
Anne Bogart -- New York
Ping Chong -- New York
Anthony Garcia -- Colorado
Marc Bamuthi Joseph -- California
Merdedith Monk -- New York
Dominique Serrand -- Minnesota
Basil Twist -- New York

Total Score:
New York: 14 (63.6%)
California: 2 (9%)
Minnesota: 2 (9%)
Colorado: 1 (4.5%)
Oregon: 1 (4.5%)
Louisiana: 1 (4.5%)
Florida: 1 (4.5%)
Other 43 states: 0 (0%)
No, seriously, those peer review panelists (from where? Gee, I wonder) are doing a great job acknowledging the whole USA -- you know, the USA that's in the title of the grants.

5 comments:

Ron Bashford said...

Scott, your implication that these grants are primarily political is not demonstrated by any evidence. An equal sound argument could be made that ambitious artists like being where the action is. So a lot of them move to NYC. The mandate of this grant is the commitment of individual artists, not geographical diversity. Okay, it's called USA, but NYC is in the USA isn't it? And don't many of these artists have a national profile and create work in other places, too. Yes, they do. It's no wonder then that there is a higher concentration there of artists who:

Artists must have the following:

*
Expert artistic skills
*
Artistic education or training (formal or informal)
*
A history of deriving income from those skills
*
A history of active engagement in creating artwork and presenting it to the public

Why not start a foundation committed to spreading money geographically, without regard to other distinctions? With the same amount of money, you could distribute a whopping $4000 to an artist in every state.

Scott Walters said...

As I have often said on this blog, this NYC-centricity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more it is repeated, the more artists move there, and the cycle continues. This is a big country and it deserves art everywhere, not just in metropolitan areas and not just in NYC. I Know: neo-intellectual egalitarian fascism.

One point, however, is that there are artists who fit the profile in other places. I'll suggest one: Dudley Cocke, artistic director of Roadside Theatre in Whitesburg KY. Now do a poll of your NYC buddies and ask them this question: "Who is Dudley Cocke?" -- See what your response rate is.

Cronyism is ugly, no matter in what discipline. Want more support for the arts in the country, and for things like governmental arts funding? Spending all the money in NYC isn't the way to do that.

Kate said...

I wonder how the NYC winner percentage compares to the NYC applicant percentage.

I think if you want a more level playing field in terms of people making art AND being from different classes then something's gotta change before you ask us all to leave New York. I would love to, but I'd never make a living.

I guess you can call it cronyism, but that makes it seem like we all got together at some Hilton conference room one day and created a plan for destroying all artists outside Manhattan. If so, I wasn't invited.

Another thought that occured to me is that living in a community that not only has a strong commerical theater community but also every other level of performance as well as incredible visual art collections, dance, opera, music... that healthy inspiration/competition hybrid that inspires great work runs rampant here. This doesn't mean that everything that comes out of New York is great. But it's a lot easier to push the envelope here than other places in the country (which, from what I understand is what you need to get these money awards they call grants)-- your audience is larger, wider, and (probably with the exception of politically) more diverse in taste than many other areas of the country. So if you fail with 90% of the town, that 10% is still a big group.

Scott Walters said...

Kate -- Well, of course there is always a chicken-or-egg issue. But in this case, these weren't applicants, but nominees. So who is it that is alerted that nominations should take place? And where are they from?

As far as making a living outside of NYC, according to Equity there is 87% unemployment in NYC and a median income among those who do work of about $7000, so it doesn't seem to me as if most IN NYC are making a living either.

Artists in NYC "push the envelope" in very traditional ways -- the so-called avant-garde has been "pushing the envelope" using the same techniques since the 1920s. Nevertheless, those envelope-pushers aren't making a living in NYC either.

Yes, I've heard about the effects of proximity and critical mass on artistic experiment. To be honest, I do think that communication between artists leads to new ideas, which is why it is an important part of the CRADLE (Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education) project that I head. But it is an argument more applicable to the 19th and 20th century than the 21st. In an interconnected world, I think there are many ways to share ideas and art works.

As far as being able to draw from a larger population -- true. Of course, in NYC there are so many arts organizations per capita that this effect is negated. Nevertheless, perhaps such thinking simply reinforces the idea that the arts ought to be inaccessible except to an educated elite -- an idea that began to gain credence during the last part of the 19th century, and that I reject.

Kate said...

I see the nomination thing now, yeah. I'd be interested to know who that panel is, for sure.

As for making a living in NYC, yeah, we're not making much money in the arts here, it's true. It's a more complex issue though, like anything. I get your statistics, but keep in mind equity members are just some of us (paid up equity members even fewer), and you have to take unemployment statistics in the arts with a HUGE mountain of salt. I bet MOST working actors and freelance directors have open unemployment claims. I've had unemployment claims continuously since my first gig closed-- it's what my father calls the government support of the arts. That's how those of us who aren't salaried through universities float between jobs. Remember that you have to work in the first place in order to get unemployment, and you have to keep working off and on through the year in order to continue to qualify, so in some ways those who have unemployment claims (many for years and years) are more successful than those who don't. If filing for unemployment isn't an option, New York is chock full of the survival jobs that help make it work (the food service/nannying/tutoring/bartending/retail communities are stabler here than most places), plus living in a metropolis where yeah, the rents suck but at least I don't have to scrape together a rent payment *and* a car payment like I would in most other areas. Not to mention that looking at only theater professionals' income from theatrical pursuits is a teeny piece of the picture-- art doesn't pay, you know this.

There's a couple other places I've thought of moving to work (and granted, I'm at a disadvantage because I'm primarily an actor so I need other people in charge to make the art I want to make) but if I moved to another community you better believe the one or two other gals who are making livings as actors and who would be up for the same work as me would get cast before I would. The privilege works both ways. You go with who you know.

I'm interested to know what you've seen in New York recently.

Also I don't really understand what you mean when you say

"As far as being able to draw from a larger population -- true. Of course, in NYC there are so many arts organizations per capita that this effect is negated. Nevertheless, perhaps such thinking simply reinforces the idea that the arts ought to be inaccessible except to an educated elite -- an idea that began to gain credence during the last part of the 19th century, and that I reject."

I don't understand the per capita idea (we can't all like and support more than one company each? I'm clearly not getting what you mean) and I'm unclear on your jump as to how that's related to only making art accesible to the educated elite.

And in response to this: "In an interconnected world, I think there are many ways to share ideas and art works."
Not with theater, man. The only full way to really share is to be there-- this is why theater is a more difficult art to regionalize than, say, painting. It is a one-time, one-moment experience you gotta be there to see. Reading about a production isn't going to cut it. Seeing a video of it-- that's not it. Theater is super tricky like that.