Tag: arts funding

This Is What Democracy Looks Like: Music Advocacy on Capitol Hill

It’s not an easy time to be a musician in America. When President Trump announced his budget proposal for 2019 back in February, cultural leaders were disheartened to find that the plan calls for the elimination of various funding sources for artistic institutions. Among those on the chopping block are programs which provide food, housing, and healthcare to underserved populations. In the midst of a tumultuous political climate where the lives of countless impoverished Americans hang in the balance, it is easy for artists to feel that their cause pales in comparison to other issues. We know that the life-changing capacity of music is worth fighting for, but can its voice be heard on Capitol Hill?

The answer is “Yes”—and will be quite clear this Thursday morning, when more than three hundred students, educators, and other leaders gather at the nation’s capital to advocate for music education. Facilitated by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), Hill Day is an annual assembly of music advocates from all fifty states. After a preceding day of advocacy training and briefing (and a singing rally on Capitol Hill), attendees meet with their state senators, representatives, and legislative advisors to testify to the importance of access to music in schools. This expansive presence of passionate musicians in the congressional office buildings is both compelling and effective.

Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at the end of 2015. Thanks to the tireless efforts of music advocates, music was specifically mentioned as a part of a “Well-Rounded Education” for the first time in American history (as opposed to being umbrellaed under “the arts” in No Child Left Behind). This explicit definition of music as core was a massive victory for music educators. In addition to definitively conveying the importance of music in schools, ESSA provided a clearer avenue for arts programs to obtain Title I, Title II, and Title IV funding: resources which promote accessibility for all students, regardless of circumstance.

Stories from educators like John Gallagher of Longwood, New York, demonstrate the profound impact of Title IV funding in music programming. Gallagher’s district employed their funds to increase access to musical instruments for children. “We are a lower-middle class school district,” Gallagher stated in a Title IV webinar. “We, like many school districts, could use funding to reach a lot more students to get them involved in our art and music programs… for no other reason but to expand access to them because a lot of them cannot afford the cost of renting an instrument.” Gallagher’s district owns a few instruments which can be rented to students free of charge, but like many school-owned instruments, they were in rough shape. Longwood’s grant application called to resolve this issue: “In my needs assessment, I told people that we need every instrument… We put in for equipment to help our students with special needs: to have instruments adapted to their physical disabilities. It’s for the benefit of our students and all the students we’re not reaching because they can’t afford the purchase or rental of a trombone or a flute or a bass clarinet.”

By arming ourselves with information and a strong network of local, state, and federal advocates, we may add to the nationwide call for equal access to a robust arts education.

The language of ESSA also provided a strong foundation for new advocacy efforts. In the reauthorization of Perkins-CTE, for instance, the inclusion of a “Well-Rounded Education” would allow schools to receive funding for music technology courses through Career and Technical Education (CTE) provisions. Still, despite its definition as a standalone core subject, music remains largely inaccessible in underfunded and underprivileged schools.

Enter the Guarantee Access to Arts and Music Education Act (GAAME). Introduced just last week, this bipartisan bill is the first standalone piece of music education legislation to enter Congress. The GAAME Act calls for school-wide access to “sequential, standards-based arts education taught by certified arts educators (as defined by the State) and community arts providers to meet challenging academic standards.” The bill also outlines “programmatic assistance for students to participate in music programs that address their academic needs.” If passed, the GAAME Act will be a critical step in dismantling the socioeconomic barriers which prevent disadvantaged students from accessing music in their schools.

These massive strides toward equity in music education would not be possible without the advocacy efforts of concerned citizens. ESSA’s continued success is largely thanks to the music students and educators whose stories speak to the importance of Title IV-A funding. In a few short years, music has grown from underneath the umbrella of “the arts” to encompass its own piece of legislation. Still, there is work to be done. This week, the Hill Day delegations will continue the fight for music education by advocating for the GAAME Act in their congressional offices. The bill currently has a list of thirty-eight cosponsors which is likely to grow after Thursday’s 200+ meetings on the Hill. Advocates who can’t make it to their congressional offices can support music education by contacting their senators and representatives by phone, mail, or electronically.

The most important and effective form of advocacy, however, is staying informed. All ongoing legislative processes can be tracked on the official website for Congress. Online resources like NAfME’s Advocacy Bulletin provide analysis and information on congressional developments pertaining to music education. By arming ourselves with information and a strong network of local, state, and federal advocates, we may add to the nationwide call for equal access to a robust arts education. The voice for music can be heard on Capitol Hill—and it’s getting louder.

Loving the Lottery: Arts Funding for the Unfunded

Henry photostrip

The Strip

A self-destruct feature would have been nice, yet unlike those voice mails “archived for 30 days” (never to be retrieved, we’re going to be honest here), my grant application videos (all umpteen million takes) stood in a row across my phone, one thumbnail after another.

There should be a photo of those thumbnails right above this sentence, but I’m embarrassed. I don’t want you to see the sequence of images (yes, still stuck on my phone) of me peering into the camera with a ghost-white play button plastered over my begging face.

Instead here’s a photostrip of my dog Henry. Much like other focused and successful artists I know, Henry’s art entails being blissfully unaware of most of the world and begging only when he really needs to.

Henry photostrip

Can I describe what I didn’t want to show you? One of the new facets of arts funding applications is the “Introductory Video” (a.k.a. the “Video Statement” or “Virtual Pitch”) where you bid everyone a not-too-jaunty hello and then convince strangers on an arts panel that you are a genius, but still a nice person, not too threatening, not too arrogant. You hit Stop after your first try, just in time: There, you think, that should be the one!

Delete that file and try again, take two: A nice genius who is making art? Nope, not quite.

Attempt number three captures a nice, attractive genius who is making compelling art, but you left it in Pause or Still Photo Mode or you still don’t know what happened. Damn it anyhow.

Ah, the final take! A nice, attractive genius who doesn’t come off as a genius or too attractive at all AND instead makes compelling art and, after all that, would be an amazing collaborator, colleague, and friend. That better do it. If it doesn’t, what will?

None of my videos turned out well. After visiting the foundation’s website (which I am too kind to name), the ugly and unremarkably visaged need not have applied. Only the beautiful write symphonies while fixating on “transplanar strategies” and “extensible, multi-nodal resources.”

Instead, I’m left with a souvenir of what we artists do: Spend extensive time and money creating lottery tickets for arts funding organizations. To my shame, I did (for the first and last time) what I swore I would never do with my art: Abase myself for money, chasing the almighty dollar by presenting my work, myself, my life, as something it ain’t.

The Five Models of Arts Funding

I have experienced five models of arts funding for individual, non-corporate artists:

– Rely on paying audiences and other ancillary income (royalties, licensing, “merch”) to keep the art and artists afloat.

– Pay for everything yourself (even minimally, such as online), profits be damned. Being wealthy helps (I’m not, sorry; I’m missing an added “is” as in Giada De Laurentiis.”

– Find yourself on the receiving end of a “we love you award” from a foundation which bestows money while refusing to accept applications. One variant: You are invited (in my case, “solicited”) to apply and paid generously for your time and effort.

– Gather a coalition of donors and patrons who contribute to the cause via Kickstarter or by writing letters and taking people to lunch.*

– And lastly, apply to an arts funding organization for money by filling out an application and making a video better than mine.

Let’s get any axe grinding out of the way with full disclosure: I have never applied for nor received a grant from Meet The Composer or New Music USA or the American Music Center—all fine organizations, but I’m not sure what I make (found soundscapes, Activist Sound, interstitial work rooted in silence, and orchestra intermissions) fits with their respective mission(s).

Yet I have been blessed (and I use that verb sincerely as an atheist) with more than my fair share of artist fellowships, as well as funding for my projects and performances. And I’m lucky that many labels have released and advocated for my work. I treasure the occasional funded artist residency too, though if the artist is paying room and board to make art in seclusion for seven days, that’s a discounted resort, not an artist residency. (Let’s save that screed for another time.)

Playing the Lottery

The application is where we fib, lie, dream, and rhapsodize. We distill endless hours of creative investigation, failure, and triumph into punchy paragraphs. We suture in the buzzwords hinted at (or suggested by) the application, including “[insert adjective] community engagement,” “[insert weird noun] innovation,” “social latticework with sustainable [insert another weird noun with an adverb]” and so on.

Cash Week - sm

Read more new music and money coverage all this week on NewMusicBox.

You try to encapsulate yourself, wisely or at least without too much nonsense; if you have not read Nayland Blake’s Some quick notes on Artist’s Statements” please do so now. And (usually at the last minute) you try to cram a life’s work into less than ten minutes (cued and labeled, please) of uploadable work samples and hope someone cares.

During this application process you are doing something similar to what you do as an artist: Sending your gifts out into the world with little hope of recognition or remuneration. For most of us, the sending is enough. To quote Nayland Blake again, “If you get to experience being in the midst of the moment of creation, of exceeding what you thought was possible for yourself, you’ve already won.”

But you are not sending forth your art; instead you are launching a very elaborate lottery ticket into the world. There is a way to make that a win for you too, no matter what anyone says.

“Give them the fucking money!”

Here’s what I learned from serving on panels for arts organizations, almost more than I can count. There is never enough time to review all of the applications. The lack of time and overwhelming number of pages (e.g. 10 per app) all but guarantees that the process is akin to a lottery.

Promises, promises: I was a good panelist and diligently read every application before we convened. Then, I tallied the time, averaging ten minutes for each one of 200 applications, excluding bathroom breaks. Do the math and weep for me. While I did my darndest to treat every artist’s application like my own, not everyone does. And to think I can absorb a lifetime’s work in ten minutes—really?

At the panel, all it takes is one naysayer. At one contentious panel, a fellow panelist moaned, “She pointed a microphone into a tube, where’s the art in that?”

“Plenty, if you listen. Didn’t you just say you ranked her work high on the list?” Yes, I was irritated and I’m a Seattle native. We never get irritated, except after earthquakes.

“But where’s the WORK?” came the reply, rolling like thunder.

Exasperated and drained of diplomacy (hey, it was Day Three of deliberations) I fumed, “We have just heard the work, a good four minutes of it. We all liked it. If you mean labor, that’s another issue.”

I wish I had hammered my point home with “We’re rewarding art, not sweat!” Alas, by then the panel had Balkanized as many panels do. My two choices got funded, panelist X got their two choices funded, and so on.

But the best lesson came during my first panel. Another artist/panelist, furious at the interminable amount of time spent debating now-forgotten fine points of something or other, screamed, “Let’s give them the money! Give them the fucking money! They made art, they will make art again, give them the fucking money!”

Next week: Winning the Lottery

* I have to reserve a special word for Mark Radonich, who contributed to one of my projects back in 2004; he described it as modest, but without that “modest” amount my work since then would be very different. Thank you, Mark.

2012 Cary New Music Performance Fund Grantees Announced

New Music USA has announced the Cary New Music Performance Fund’s 2012 grant recipients. The fund provides general operating support to New York City-based professional music organizations and presenters that demonstrate excellence in innovative new music programming and/or performances consisting primarily of new music by living composers, improvisers, sound artists, or singer/songwriters working in any style or genre. Awarded organizations receive a general operating grant ranging from $3,000 to $10,000. The funds can be used for any purpose that supports the mission of the organization and promotes new music and its creators. For the purposes of this program, organizations may include ensembles, collectives, and non-commercial concert venues or promoters. 501c3 non-profit status is not required.

Out of a total 96 applicants, 38 New York City-based new music organizations have received funding totaling $152,000 in the current round. The 2012 grantees are:

American Contemporary Music Ensemble
American Modern Ensemble
American Opera Projects
Arts for Art
C4: The Choral Composers/Conductors Collaborative
Connection Works
Da Capo Chamber Players
ISSUE Project Room
JACK Music Inc. (JACK Quartet)
Kyo-Shin-An Arts
League of Composers/ISCM
Look & Listen Festival
Mantra Percussion
Metropolis Ensemble
Momenta Quartet
Music at the Anthology
Music From China
Musical Chairs Chamber Ensemble
New Sounds Music (PRISM)
Quintet of the Americas
Roulette, Inc.
Search and Restore
So Percussion
Sybarite Chamber Players
Talea Ensemble
The Jazz Gallery
The Tank
TILT Brass
Wet Ink
Young New Yorkers’ Chorus

The next deadline to apply for a grant through the Cary New Music Performance Fund is February 2013. More information about all of New Music USA’s grant programs is available on the New Music USA website at www.newmusicusa.org/grants.