This is the second of my pieces on straightforward, practical ways that institutional arts funders can be more effective. Here, I want to discuss the challenges of evaluating applications in terms of their artistic merit. Naturally, if you’re going to the trouble of funding the arts, you may as well try to fund the good stuff. As such, most funders rightly place artistic merit near the top of their priorities—even programs not specifically aimed at merit usually have an indirect connection via arts education, underserved niches, emerging artists, etc. Given this focus, materials that demonstrate excellence in art making, such as work samples and press clippings, feature prominently in application guidelines.
But noble intentions aside, artistic merit is difficult to judge. It has a tendency to get overshadowed by more objective but less relevant criteria, often without anyone realizing it. When you set out to pick the best applicants, it’s unfortunately not enough to create fair guidelines and lock a bunch of arts professionals in a room. (more…)
Stack of US Bills, CC by "401(K) 2012" on Flickr
Some friends of mine were having an interesting Facebook discussion around Ellen Cushing’s recent article in the East Bay Express, about crowdfunding, philanthropy, and what the young and well-to-do of Silicon Valley mean for the future of the arts. The issue was whether or not crowdfunding was replacing traditional arts philanthropy and what this means for the long-term viability of arts organizations. Kickstarter campaigns are great for early-stage artists, but they couldn’t reasonably sustain something like the San Francisco Symphony, or even smaller chamber organizations like SFCMP or SFSound. So if young people with a lot of money are eschewing the traditional philanthropic route in favor of crowdfunding, what does that mean for arts organizations?
Nothing. Crowdfunding is a new category of fundraising, and it draws a different set of people for reasons unrelated to traditional philanthropy—each addresses a separate “need” for the donor that the other doesn’t. The reduction in philanthropic support for the arts right now is not tied to crowdfunding, but rather to larger shifts in cultural priorities. (more…)