Songs for the Struggling Artist


Crowdfunding the Arts Doesn’t Work

My theatre company is over twenty years old. We started in 2001 and we’ve seen some things.

For our first show, we raised funds by writing a letter – yes, an actual paper letter – and we mailed it to anyone we thought might write us a check. This worked pretty well. I’d have to double check the numbers but it’s not impossible that it was the most effective fundraising we ever did. There are a couple of reasons for that, I imagine. One is the First Steps Toward a Dream Effect. This is the thing where people love to fund the FIRST something. They enjoy helping people take a first step toward a big dream. (They don’t love so much the slog of keeping something afloat.) But I think the other factor that helped this first show’s fundraising was just the moment we were in and the circles to which we had access.

It seems like it should have been harder in those days. The efforts that people had to make to donate were substantial. First, they had to open and read our letter. (Not a given!) If they wanted to donate, they had to get out their check books, write the check and then put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and put it in a mailbox. There are a lot of moments for this process to get derailed. It’s a lot. It was not like clicking on a link, letting your credit card info autofill some boxes and then hitting submit.

When donating through the internet started to be a thing, we were very excited. It seemed like, by eliminating all those steps for people, we’d get so many more donations. It didn’t really work out that way, though. We saw charity donation websites come and go. (Remember Charity Blossom?) The donations got smaller and smaller and people who’d written us big checks never made it to the digital mailing lists. We didn’t have their emails. I’m not sure a lot of them HAD emails.

Then crowdfunding kicked off and everyone was so excited about its potential. In some circles people talked about it as a democratizing fundraising source. We wouldn’t need to depend on rich people to fund things anymore! If we got enough tiny donations, we could make a big difference! What a win for democracy! Poor people could pay for the arts instead of rich people!

But here’s the thing. You need a LOT of people to give you $20 to make up a 10k budget. You need 500 people, in fact. (Actually, given that all these platforms take a cut, you’ll need MORE than 500 to get there.) And for people without much to spare, even that $20 is a huge deal. It’s a huge deal for me. Most folks, no matter how much they like you or believe in what you’re doing, are not going to bother or they just don’t have it to spare.

If you want to really depress yourself as a theatre fundraiser, take a tour of the theatre fundraisers on a platform like Indiegogo. You’ll see a lot of folks barely making a dent in their humble 3k ask. Theatre isn’t a good candidate for crowdfunding. It doesn’t scale well. We don’t have compelling prizes. But crowdfunding is sort of the only deal anymore. Even wealthy donors expect you to eke out a bunch of $20 donations before they’ll think about sending over a few hundred bucks.

It feels a bit like crowdfunding has killed our ability to actually raise sufficient funds because sometimes a wealthy donor looks at how a crowdfundraiser is doing and thinks it’s not worth the investment. They see that we didn’t get 10 people to give us 20 bucks and they reconsider the 2k check they were thinking of writing us. In having our struggles be so transparent, we lose leverage. We can’t sell someone on a dream because they can see how little others have put in to it.

Crowdfunding, like a lot of things, has turned out to work best for things that are going viral. Remember that potato salad? Or the Josh battle? Crowdfunding also does really well in a well publicized tragedy – but it is terrible for the day to day art making. It is a very blunt instrument. It may be the only instrument at the moment, so we pretty much have to use it but it’s not very effective. Like anything in this capitalist world, your ability to fundraise is dependent on the wealth to which you have access. Your crowdfunding campaign does not depend so much on the content of your work but on the wealth of the people in your circle who will open their wallets for you. We had more access to those people two decades ago than we do today. Today, most of my contacts are fellow artists. We have a joke in the indie theatre community about how we all just pass the same $20 around between us.

To make a 10k budget, you only need 10 people to give you a thousand dollars. Big deal! That’s only ten people! But you have to know ten people who might have a grand to spare first. That’s the real kicker and why crowdfunding the arts doesn’t work. Not unless you only want work by and for the wealthy, which is what you get when you don’t subsidize the arts, no matter which way you slice it.

Crowdfunding demands an extraction of wealth from the artist’s community. Every time I put on a show, I have to go to the crowdfunding mines and extract a little wealth from the people I know. I know some folks have found a way to perceive this as obtaining their community’s investment in their work. I appreciate that perspective but I find it particularly challenging to see it that way in this moment where most of my community is in the performing arts and most of my community lost their jobs or their big plans or their dreams or their support. Now is not the moment to extract wealth from the performing arts community – even if you call it an investment. Same goes for a lot of people right now.

I know someone is thinking, “Hey what about grants?! Grants exist. Can’t you just get a grant?” Oh darlings. Yes. We have gotten some grants. Most of them were about $500. Very nice! It’s helpful! Not as helpful as someone just writing you a check for $1000 that you didn’t have to write several essays for but helpful! $500 is a very nice start and other funders like to see that you got it but there is not a grant in America that will fund your whole project. They want to see that you can extract $10k of wealth before they will give you $10k. The best way to get an arts grant is to show how much you don’t need one.

In my experience, it takes around 10k to do just about any significant art project. That’s with a shoestring budget. Shoestrings cost about 10k. For some people, donating that 10k would make less impact than the $20 coming from a struggling artist – but an arts organization lives or dies based on where that $10k might come from. Crowdfunding seemed like an answer and it’s probably not going anywhere but you can tell that it’s not an effective tool because you’ll never catch one of the big arts institutions using it. No one suggests that The Metropolitan Opera do a Kickstarter. They extract their wealth in a much more efficient way.

And yes, of course, I’m in the middle of trying to crowdfund a project right now which is, of course, why I’m thinking a lot about this. I feel extraordinary gratitude to the people who gave us their $3 or their $1000 and I really wish I didn’t have to ask them for it, just to make a piece of art.  

I made this for the company for World Theatre Day. I figured I could extract a little more value out of my labor by putting it here, too.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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A Grant Ain’t One

You may not be shocked to learn that the City did not give me one of its 5k City Artist Corps Grants. I did end up applying for it, after all that sturm und drang – and two days after my birthday – I got a rejection email from them. Happy Birthday to me!

Well, I guess I got 99 problems but a grant ain’t one.

You may be saying to yourself – “Well, Emily, perhaps if you hadn’t publicly complained about this grant in two previous blog posts, maybe they would have given it to you! Maybe badmouthing grantmakers is not a great strategy for receiving their bounty.” And you would be absolutely right about that. I know I’m saying stuff that does not endear me to people who give those things out. This is why most artists don’t say anything. This is why they can be pathologically POSITIVE! OPTIMISTIC! Because, yes, it’s true, talking about our challenges with these things is probably not a great way to get these grants.

The thing is, though, I have a kind of freedom, as a marginal artist, to say whatever I want. I know that very few people are listening and that the odds of my grant panel actually reading a single word of this blog are very very slim. After all these years of doing this, I feel even more comfortable in my relative anonymity than I did when I started. I’ve had only a very small handful of blog posts land in front of arts folk with power and if they do end up there, it’s because I said whatever I said in such a way that it spoke to those folks and got passed around between them.

I can almost guarantee you that no one from that City Corps committee read either of my posts about their grant. I doubt, very highly, that it was a factor in my rejection. It’s much more likely that my project just didn’t sound like what they had in mind for this thing. Or that they were turned off by the fact that I have a company when they’re trying to help individual artists. But – of course, despite the odds, I still wonder if these posts somehow tanked my chances. It’s hard not to guess at things when you know nothing. It won’t stop me telling these sorts of truths in the future, though.

In fact, the only way I can see myself stopping talking about these uncomfortable nitty gritty arts realities is if they gave me one of the big grants. That is the most reliable way to shut up a troublesome artist – just give them your resources and the criticism will likely dry right up. It’s the artists with something to lose who will keep quiet, blow smoke or do whatever they have to do to remain within the good graces of the goods givers. I’d like to believe I would continue to speak my truths no matter what resources were given to me – but I also recognize that part of the reason I can do it is that I have absolutely nothing to lose. I can see how easy it would become to say nothing when to say something might actually register with the people I was receiving grants or funding from. I know this is true because I’ve already done it. If a hand is feeding me, I do not bite it. Grants like these, however, are not hands that feed me – just hands that might feed me one day if I got extremely lucky. God willing and the creek don’t rise, which the creek always does, so, you know, it’s unlikely to happen. This blog, on the other hand, is a hand that actually feeds me (through Patreon) and so the choice feels very clear. I write for the hand that actually feeds me, not the one that MIGHT.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to actually feed me?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Making “Something”
August 15, 2021, 10:38 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, Imagination | Tags: , , , , , ,

In response to my post about the $5k arts grant, several sweet well-meaning people offered some suggestions for stuff I could do to take advantage of it. There were project suggestions and ideas for ways to game the system. But the parts I can’t stop thinking about are the suggestions that featured “making something” because that “something” is exactly the thing that’s at issue. The art happens in the “something.” That’s the place where the idea happens. Deciding what the “something” will be is the hard part. If you have a good something – a lot of things can start to fall into place. But finding a good “something” is not easy.

Generally, I don’t have much trouble coming up with ideas. Ideas have, historically, come pretty cheap for me. I foster the environment for them to turn up and they do, often in numbers too big to execute. But an idea is not a “something.” An idea is not necessarily a thing I can make. I had an idea about a Butoh barista once but that little nugget had nowhere to go. It wasn’t anywhere close to a something. Let’s say this little nugget of an idea were to grow up into a play. Then I could imagine the places it needed to develop and it becomes a show in my imagination. That’s still not really a something. It could be somebody’s something but if I don’t have an idea about how to produce it, it’s just a full idea in my computer. I have bushels of those. They only become something I can make when either the conditions are possible OR I feel so fired about it, I’ll find a way to make it even without the right conditions. It is a long journey from an idea to SOMETHING and that journey is often a whole lot of work. But because it’s the kind of work no one sees it seems like the something just emerged fully formed out of my head, like Athena being born to Zeus. But you get a something the way you birth an actual baby – with a lot of pushing and crying.

I don’t know if maybe artists have somehow made what we do look too easy? Is this why people think we can make things by just wishing for them? Most art takes a ton of work. You want a swank artistic mural on your public square’s wall? That’s awesome. But settle in because it’s going to take a while. It’s not just the time it’s going to take to paint it. In a way, that’s the easy part. Your muralist is going to have to come look at the site, measure the wall, get a sense of the environment it’s in and maybe then, they can start playing with some ideas. They’ll have to draw the idea they settle on, figure out how it will work in the space and THEN get the approval of the person who commissioned it. That’s a lot of work before the visible work of standing in front of a wall with a paintbrush happens. Most of the public will think of the something as that time with the paintbrush but most artists think of that part as the easier bit. It’s the performance that people see, not the months of prep and rehearsal. The something appears to be the show but, in fact, it’s the whole process, even from that first nugget of an idea.

When you make something, context matters. You make a different mural on a door than you would on the walls of the National Palace. If you’re putting on a show, you put on a different something on a Broadway stage than you would on a street corner.

It’s not that I have no ideas. If someone said, “Hey – I’ll give you a Broadway stage and a Broadway budget,” – I’ve got six shows ready to go. What I don’t have in my back pocket are the ideas for no budget, no fuss, quickie street performances. I have had those ideas but I’m fresh out at the moment.

But let’s say you make stuff out of popsicle sticks. Maybe it’s not so hard to just make something because all you do is just sit down with your single material and see what happens. But even for a singular popsicle stick artist, with a grant like this, you’re going to have to make up a context for it. Figure out where to have your popsicle stick show or figure out how to involve an audience. You’ll need a whole something that isn’t just the making of your something.

Is there something I could make for this grant? Actually. Turns out there is. I applied for it a week ago. But do you know how that something came to me? Three weeks in a quiet place with access to a swimming pool. That’s how it came to me. My brain needed that kind of quiet and pleasurable movement before it could put any water in my well of inspiration. So this story had a happy ending but only because I happen to be lucky enough to be gifted such time and space. I don’t like the chances of the rest of New York’s artists to get the same sort of opportunities. Not everyone gets the chance to replenish depleted creativity wells and see a something emerge.

I feel like the thing to hold on to here is that somethings come out of resources. If someone said, here’s $5000, go make something; that would be a whole different world of inspiration. I would have $5000 to make something and something would emerge. If a Broadway producer gave me a theatre and a Broadway size budget, I would make a Broadway sized something. As it happens, I had a different sort of resource that allowed me to come up with something for $5000 but I needed those resources first. That’s why all arts funding is backwards. They ask us to tell us what we’d make with next to nothing when really, if we had the resources, we wouldn’t need to invent anything. The well would be full and ideas and somethings would pour out of it.

Oh look – Something hasn’t magically appeared on this page! How odd.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me make Something?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



A Highly Competitive Mystery Solved
January 28, 2021, 8:41 pm
Filed under: art, art institutions, Art Scenes, Non-Profit | Tags: , , , , ,

A mystery just cleared up before my very eyes. I was reading the alumni magazine from my grad school and there was an article about a brand new artist residency set up by some funders. The story was really about the funders and this generous thing they’re doing. It sounds nice enough – but what popped out at me was the description of the application process as highly competitive. This explained many things for me.

As someone who applies for this sort of thing, I have often wondered why the process is so onerous. Why do they make us write multiple essays? Why do I have to upload my resume again? Or, in some cases, type it out into their format? Why do I need to fill in a box for Awards and Recognitions? What is this for?

It’s not because the people reading these applications have a shortage of reading material and have a bizarre taste for reading Artist mission statements. It’s because, like in the press release they put out about the thing, they want to be able to say it’s “highly competitive.”

It does not matter that EVERY SINGLE THING that artists can apply for is highly competitive by nature of the scarcity of opportunities and the numbers of applicants. It matters that they feel confident in saying that their residency (or grant or opportunity) is a highly competitive process.

By almost every measure, a lottery would be more equitable, inclusive and democratic, as well as the least onerous for artists. It would very probably yield better results in the quality of the work produced, as well. If we had a lottery, the hours saved that artists would have spent on time-wasting applications could be used to actually make art.

But almost no one ever doles out their opportunities this way because seeing their opportunity as highly competitive is part of the appeal in funding such a thing. People who fund artist opportunities want to be seen funding the artists they think are the best based on what they perceive as a highly competitive process. And all of those processes are onerous in their own way because each funder imagines “competitive” differently.

What is best for the artist is an easy lottery. But no one will choose the way that is best for the artist because it doesn’t sound as good in the press release. It all makes sense now.


It sucks, of course. For the artists.

And this is a symptom of a capitalist system that somehow thinks that this bizarre system of individual donors funding opportunities for small numbers of people is the best way to get a vibrant arts culture. It’s not.

The best way to get a vibrant arts culture is to fund one, on a national scale, in the most democratic and inclusive way. It would still be highly competitive, of course. The numbers mean that it always is in this field – but privileging the artists’ experience over the funders’ would really flip the whole thing on its head in a way that I would love to see.

I’m accepting applications for funders. It is a highly competitive process. Very selective.

Super Sexy Competitive Paperwork

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Rejection Roundup of 2018
January 31, 2019, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , , , ,

In 2018, I applied to more things than I have ever applied before. My goal was 100 rejections and I did not come close at all – but in applying for 44 things, I still applied above and beyond any previous year.

In 2017, I applied to a few things that got me closer than I’d gotten to anything in the past and I got those rejections in 2018. So being a finalist and semi-finalist for stuff is nice but it’s ultimately still a rejection.

The most recent rejections:

My second literary agent rejection came through and like the first one, it stung. I’m not inoculated yet! And also because this genre of rejection is new, I do a lot more catastrophic thinking – having received TWO rejections for my novel, I am now batting away a bunch of “Well I guess I’m not a good novelist. I guess fiction isn’t my thing!”

And believe me, I know better than to do this – but it’s like fruit flies on a rotting banana…those thoughts just show up out of nowhere.

I applied for the Jerome Foundation Artist Fellowship back in the spring and lo, these many months later, the rejection came through.

My second Space at Ryder Farm application of 2018 was also rejected.

Also, my friend suggested I apply to this residency at Guild Hall because he’s worked a lot out there and thought we’d be a good match. Despite the connection, though, they rejected me.

I thought I might have stood a chance for the Writing Between the Vines residency because it is a series of residencies in vineyards and I have a novel about winemaking sisters that needs a lot of work. What could be better than a novel about wine being written at a vineyard? A lot of things apparently.

And to sum up 2018, here is a list of things I applied to but never heard back from, so I just assume they are rejections: NYFA Fiction Grant, Keruoac Residency, New Dramatists, The O’Neill and Great Plains Residency.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of February for the second album, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

If you have a particular album you’d like to keep there, let me know!

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Art as Service

I considered his suggestion to play some open mics. I haven’t done one of those in over a decade and even though I hate them and had sworn off them, I thought, “Well, yes, those are a thing I could do. Maybe I should make myself go again.” But then, I thought, “Why?”

When I played open mics in the past it was to try things out, to practice playing in front of an audience, to perform when I was hungry for applause. But, after decades of performance experience, I am about as comfortable in front of an audience as I can expect to be and I have no real need for applause. In the past, those kinds of performances were an opportunity to learn and a boost for my fledgling ego. Neither of which I am particularly motivated by anymore.

Now – I am motivated principally by service. I look for how and where I can best be of artistic service – what I can create that can make a difference for someone. In other words, I don’t do things so much for myself but for some (usually imagined) audience. I create theatre that I imagine someone like me would want to see. I write books that I would want to read. I sing songs that I hope will be of help to people. I blog for the same reasons. I’m not saying it’s an ego-free situation. My ego is perfectly healthy. But – the decisions I make about what to do are more connected to serving some greater imaginative force than something I’m doing for myself.

When you try to make a career in the arts, over and over, you learn how to “put yourself out there” how to “sell yourself” how to market your best assets. The business of the arts is more like a car sale than a public service. And for some that suits them just fine. They are happy to promote themselves and their work, no matter the cost. For most of the service-oriented artists I know, though, the focus on salesmanship is not only tremendously disappointing, it is also at odds to what brought them to art in the first place.

I have learned all those marketing things. I’ve taken the workshops, read the books and I get it, more or less. I understood how to shift my thinking to make marketing a way to share my work instead of selling a used car. Some days, I can actually take all of that on board and be as creative in marketing as I am in my work. But it never really does the job. Somehow my creative marketing ideas don’t actually sell the thing I was meant to be selling and despite all those workshops from organizations that claim to be serving the arts, nowhere have I learned how to be of service when producing. Every arts service organization teaches you institutional skills and marketing and grantwriting but no one will teach you how to be of artistic service.

When I apply for grants, the applications ask me how many people we will serve – and genuinely, I have no idea. And due to the lack of visibility I have as an artist, the answer is usually not a very large number. And because grants and such have to have measurable outcomes, if you serve more people, you are more likely to get the funding. My not very large number numbers (due to lack of visibility) are a pretty large barrier to actually serving any community, despite my drive to do so.

The thing that’s tricky about being motivated by artistic service is that, for the most part, no one particularly needs what I have to offer – or they don’t know how what I have to offer might be of service.

For example, I’ve been writing plays about women and power for decades. I’ve been putting women at the center of mythological stories for ages. I think this is entirely necessary if we want to change the world. Stories matter and the stories that are the foundations of Western civilization are the foundations of the patriarchy. I’m convinced that shifting those stories is important work – that I’m doing my bit to change the world. But – the world is not asking for such things. At least they haven’t been so far. And now, if they are starting to, they are not asking for them from me. Am I really being of service if so few are seeing my work?

That is the painful conundrum at the heart of almost every service-oriented artist I know.

Very often, the most service-oriented artist suffer more than those who have leaned into the salesmanship of artistic production. Many of my artistic kindred spirits have left the arts to work more directly in service. They became teachers and social workers, physical therapists and aid workers. Which is great for all those professions but not so great for the arts.

Losing our service-motivated artists to actual service is not good for the art itself. When art is full of salesmen, instead of people who want to serve, it becomes emptier, less rich in feeling and depth, more decadent, more shallow. This is related to my recent post about Art vs. Entertainment – the preference of the culture is for louder, brasher, splashier work. That splashier work is easier to sell over the clamor of the car lot, where there are so many flashy things competing for your attention. Art that wants to serve, like almost all service professions in American culture is radically undervalued.

Almost all service-oriented professions are insufficiently valued and compensated. Teachers, nurses, social workers, non-profit workers, careworkers are some of the most underpaid people around. And artists with this bent toward service are similarly undervalued and undercompensated. But, additionally, I think we, the service-oriented artists, are also overshadowed by our showier, flashier comrades. Most of the world sees no difference between me and a Broadway chorus boy. And maybe I’m fooling myself to think there is a difference between my life-long commitment to serving art in the best ways I know how and an attractive young man who’s learned some choreography. Maybe I just need to make myself get back out there and sing at open mics for a smattering of applause. Maybe singing a song or two to some other people waiting for their turn in the spotlight is the way forward. But I hope not. I don’t think me doing something that I don’t enjoy and would have to force myself to do in an environment that tends to be uncomfortable and loud and unpleasant for me serves anyone, really. I don’t think it serves the art. And that is what I’m here to do. Art is service for me and I choose what I do based on what I think serves art the best.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help me be of service

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



The Danger of Relying on Opinions

My theatre company’s crowdfunding campaign for Research and Development of our show got me thinking about arts funding and the way art gets supported. Generally, arts crowdfunding campaigns live or die based on the response to an idea, that is, the opinions of the people funding it. If a project’s friends and family LIKE the idea of the project, they fund it. If they’re not keen on it, like they think, “I wouldn’t want to go see that,” – they won’t. This is actually, at the gut level, often how grants get passed out as well. “Is this show, art-work, dance – something I’d want to see?” If yes – Stamp of Approval. If no – Rejection.

This basically means that whether or not something gets made is connected to the opinions of the consumer. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I decide whether to support something or not based on whether or not I think it’s a good idea. But I think this is problematic and symptomatic of an overly commercial sensibility when funding the arts. If you’d pitched me some of my favorite shows just as ideas, I’d definitely not have funded or chosen them. A stage version of the film, Brief Encounter? A one man show about tribes in the rainforest performed by a white dude? If you’d asked me to fund a show about a horse who goes to war, I’d have said that was an idea that was doomed to fail. And I would have been very wrong about that.

The fact is, whether or not I LIKE an artist shouldn’t preclude that artist’s ability to make the art. I don’t like all kinds of things every day. But I shouldn’t get to be the arbiter of what gets made.

We live in a world where Spiderman The Musical got made because Marvel had money to burn on it. We had Legally Blonde, The Musical because it was paid for. And I have to bet that not many people were truly passionate about making Legally Blonde the Musical. It was not born from a group of artists getting together to create something where there was nothing. A group of producers hired a group of writers to do a job and make some money using an existing property. It has all the hallmarks of a show put together by agents to showcase people at their agency.

Do we truly want a world where agents and movies studios decide what theatre gets made and artists like us – and like so many of our peers – have to send our ideas to the Idea Cemetery simply because our friends and/or granting organization didn’t like the idea? From Broadway all the way down to the smallest company, we’re letting the market determine who gets to make art.

This is why government funding for the arts makes sense. While no Arts Council is perfect, they at least aspire to a more equitable distribution of resources. They can keep their eye on inclusion and diversity. They can fund things that people won’t necessarily LIKE but really should get made and seen anyway. I’d rather have all kinds of work I don’t like funded, knowing that there are other metrics under consideration than whether the panel or audience thinks it’s a good idea.  I mean no disrespect to grant panels or audiences – but they don’t always recognize the good ideas from the outset. They tend to respond to things that are like something they’ve seen before. And this is not a great way to innovate in the Arts.

For the arts to thrive, we need to be able to explore a wide variety of ideas. We need to chase down the “bad” ones as well as the “good” ones. Good ideas sometimes make bad art. And vice versa. We need an arts funding culture that isn’t predicated on whether or not someone likes the idea. If we could, instead, fund the artists, fund the companies and fund the places that say to artists, “Whatever you want to explore, here are some resources.” That’s the way toward a vibrant, thriving arts landscape.

And, I think, that is why my company’s current campaign is going better than any crowdfunding we’ve done before. We’re not trying to sell the idea this time. We’re sharing a process. We’re looking to fund an exploration instead of a product. No one has to have an opinion about where we’re headed or what we create. And it is liberating for both artists and funders. We’ll save the opinions for the critics.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



The Secret to Grant-writing
November 17, 2015, 12:44 am
Filed under: advice, Non-Profit | Tags: , , , , ,

I just figured out the secret to grant-writing.
I’ve been writing grants for my theatre company for over a decade – sometimes with success, sometimes not. In the process of writing the most recent one, I suddenly had an epiphany. The more we can sound like we don’t need a grant, the more likely we are to get one.

It occurred to me that grantmakers are like popular kids. They’re only interested in you if you seem like you’re already popular. Even when grantmakers ask you what your challenges are, and what you need funding for, they still want to know why you’re awesome and why they need to get on your super cool wagon train.

Almost every grant, while theoretically a source of support, doesn’t want to be the first one to fund you. Like a popular kid, a grantmaker doesn’t want to be left out on a limb, taking a risk on someone who hasn’t gotten approval from someone else. He’s not going to be friends with the weirdo until the other kids have approved of him first.
I haven’t really understood this before. I was baffled by this question of why no one wanted to be the sole support of an artist or artistic project. I even wrote a post about it. But now, reframing all this like a high school cafeteria, I get it.

My job when applying for funding is not tell the truth of our struggles or challenges. My job is not to show how much I need the grant. My job is to show much I don’t need it. I’m supposed to demonstrate how great we’re doing and how, if the popular kids want to stay popular, they’re going to want to get on board my cool circus theatre wagon and throw in some cash.

As you may have worked out from reading the blog, this sort of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. I am much more able to tell the truth than create a popular fiction. However. Truthfully? I need the funding. So with a little coaching, I can pull a Sandy from Grease and throw on the metaphorical padded bra and lipstick for my next grant application. Watch out Grantmaker High, you’ll never recognize Sandy now!

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Two for One Rejection
November 13, 2015, 1:39 am
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , , ,

Rejection #1

That grant was a long shot but I figured I should take the shot anyway. Because my organization is so small, we aren’t actually eligible for a lot of funding. Most foundations are much more interested in more institutional theatre – more institutional arts. This makes sense – foundations and institutions being more like each other than not. But neither thing is particularly creative at its heart.

I apply for these things, though I doubt we’ll receive them, just in case. Because an extra grand could make the difference in our survival. Or, on a good year, could make a difference that would allow us to thrive.

Rejection # 2

I can feel the human behind the rejection letters from the Edward Albee foundation. Last year’s letter was somehow encouraging – as if they’d actually read the play – and almost – for a moment – like, they could have given me the residency but went another way at the last minute.

This year’s letter had a different tenor – but it was clearly a different letter than last year’s.

It feels like, perhaps, actual writers write these rejection letters. Humans, not apology machines.

They’re among the best of all the rejection letters I receive – not overly apologetic or defensive. Just the facts but in a compassionate way.

Of course, I’d rather receive an acceptance! But – these rejections aren’t so bad.

 

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*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

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Rolling Deadlines just roll on By
August 6, 2015, 5:30 pm
Filed under: art, Rejections, theatre | Tags: , , ,

I applied for a travel grant that had a rolling deadline. I almost submitted it earlier several times but a rolling deadline is a little trickier to motivate when there are three or four other things in the works with hard deadlines. But this was a grant I wanted maybe more than any other. I labored over it over many weeks.

Not long after I finally submitted it, they wrote back to say that they’d received my application but could not grant me a grant yet because they were out of money. Which I hadn’t realized might be a risk of the rolling deadline.

Luckily, this organization has plans to somehow refresh their granting coffers and asked if I’d like to be submitted to the next granting cycle. Um – yes, please.

So while I did not get the grant – it is not yet an outright rejection. That may be coming. (Though at this point, I’m skeptical, it has been over 6 months.) Meanwhile, I’ve learned a lesson about the perils of a rolling deadline – and next time I’ll jump as soon as applications are released because it seems like, with rolling deadlines, it’ll be the early grantwriter that gets the worm. And the grant.

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You can help beat deadlines by becoming a patron on Patreon.

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