Friday, October 1, 2010

Not a Wave But a Trickle

The focus of the new expanded mission of ArtsWave (formerly the Fine Arts Fund) is not the arts, but a vibrant community or impact. This is what ArtsWave President & CEO, Mary McCullough-Hudson told a handful of us who attended the first of a series of brown-bag lunches.

During this meeting we heard a little bit about the history of the Fine Arts Fund and the recent marketing research that led to their re-branding. (I speak about this here and here and here). While I maintain my criticism of their outsourcing of marketing research and the embarrassingly sloppy re-branding of the Fine Arts Fund, my immediate concern is their expanded mission.

Expanding their mission to include arts and culture will make money available to all non-profit cultural institutions. Ms. McCullough-Hudson stressed the support of the "Big Eight" (Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati Ballet, Contemporary Art Center, Playhouse in the Park, and the May Festival) will not weaken. ArtsWave will also continue to support the growing number of smaller arts organizations throughout Greater Cincinnati. Though she did say the mission towards impact would now allow the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and Cincinnati Museum Center to seek funding support from ArtsWave.

I will let (and hope) others ask how access to this new funding source will affect the passage of future taxes to support these two organizations. As I mentioned recently, my concern is for the artists. Perhaps more accurately, for art.

I attended the meeting to ask the one question, "Does this new expanded mission include artists grants?" The answer, "no."

Ms. McCullough tried unconvincingly to suggested ArtsWave may make grants available to artists in the future, but right now they must work to define organizational impact. After additional discussion about the concern of the lack of direct artist support, Ms. Margie Waller, ArtsWave Vice President of Strategic Communications and Research, went on to explain many of our local artists do in fact receive money from ArtsWave as they are hired by supported arts organizations. Further, many of our local artists start their own art organizations ArtsWave continues to support.

Borrowing from their water imagery, I accused Ms. McCullough and Ms. Waller of employing trickle-down economics.

Funding impact is simply a way to be sure the largest organizations get the biggest piece of the pie. But more troubling is ArtsWave unapologetic lack of support for the individual artist. Yes, many of our artists have started wonderful arts organizations throughout Greater Cincinnati that truly impact our communities. With no competitive artists grants, this is the only way our local artists have been able to get any support from ArtsWave. ArtsWave is not supporting artists doing art, but by doing the work of ArtsWave; heading art organizations that will bring capital into the city.

There are always a number of interesting and important conversations artists in and outside of Greater Cincinnati in which artists are engaged. Without competitive artist grants, there is little to no path for our artists to participate in these arts discussions. Of course this is a horrible situation for our local artists. This also harms any claim Cincinnati can make in the art world. And this situation is not healthy for arts in general.

Earlier this week, Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts visited Cincinnati. During this visit, he witness the work of the ArtsWave and now points to this funding machine as a national model!

As much as it claims in their calls for donations, ArtsWave does not support the arts. It uses the arts to celebrate the city. These are two very different things. I have no problem with the recognition of the arts as an important or even the most important factor of a healthy and vibrant community. Hell, I'm the biggest cheerleader. But riding the ArtsWave capital campaign on the backs of artists as administrators kills the arts.

If ArtsWave is being presented as a national model, their expanded mission, must be challenged. Those of you who honestly support the arts in Cincinnati as well as throughout the country and want artists to be able to do art, contact Ms. Mary McCullough-Hudson and demand ArtsWave develop competitive grants that are awarded directly to artists for their art work.

ArtsWave as a national model will have a damaging impact on the arts in the United State if artists face losing access to competitive grants. Contact ArtsWave and tell them you support the arts by supporting the artists.


Anonymous said...

Did Artswave, or more accurately--did the Fine Arts Fund--ever fund individual artist grants? I don't feel like they ever did, but I could be mistaken. I seem to remember the City doing this, but I believe they have stopped. Wouldn't it be better to direct your outrage at the City?

Me said...

ArtsWave has never supported artists directly with grants. You are right, the city has, then stopped. I'm not happy with this cut either, but that money comes from taxes and there are budget cuts that have to be made. There are many cuts I am not happy with.

In fact, one could make a strong argument that the very existence of ArtsWave makes cutting city funding of the arts much easier. People think if they support ArtsWave they support artists. They don't....that's my point.

ArtsWave however continues to collect millions of dollars in the name (Fine "Arts" Fund or "Arts"Wave). They are the ones to claim a mission towards the city. They are the ones who insist the arts provide vitality to our city. Yet they still do not support artists.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your critical eye on all things art related in the City. And I agree that many things could be better. What I'm not sure is that we can say that one model is definitely better than another. Funding organizations is a great mission, if done properly. If this leaves artists out of a particular funder's direct mission, then so be it (and I'm an artist). While I appreciate (and have had the benefit of) competitive funding sources (OAC, Summerfair, City of Cincinnati, Efroymson, etc.) are all options for local artists, I do not sit around my studio crying in my coffee that someone won't GIVE me money. I work hard to earn it.

There is a syndrome in society (among many) where artists have come to be thought of as non-profit entities. And this makes them begin to see themselves as such - to the point where they resent funding going to charitable non-profits instead of themselves. It's disgusting. And it's tied to the ever decreasing sense of integrity, of fineness, and dignity in the arts today.

While trickle down economy in general may not work, I believe (and have seen it to be true) that on a smaller scale and carefully managed it DOES help artists AND communities regarding the arts, and does so on a much longer lasting basis for more people.

Still, your critical voice is appreciated. We need more of it from more people.

Thanks for what you do.

Me said...

Interesting argument.

First, I know no artist who resents funding going to charitable non-profits. If that infighting is happening here in Cincinnati, I would blame ArtsWave for their trickle down plan.

Second, I don't see over $11 million in donations to ArtsWave as small scale.

Anne said...

So, basically FAF/AW is the arts branch of the Chamber. Fair enough!

Should they, or should someone else, fund individual artists? I know there are state grants (such as the one you got for the school, giving an Ohio artist a job) -- is there a local counterpart? If not, why not? If not, then who?

FAF/AW will say "not us," and indeed they never have (and never will?)

I know, a bunch of questions!