My last boss, Marge Myers* (pictured to the right of me in this photo), gave me some great techniques which I now use as an artist (and as an arts advocate). One day, when I was working on the Pittsburgh Creativity Project in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, she told me about how artists, as advocates, helped to send a message to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts that new funding streams needed to be developed. She said that sometimes the council would get applications from artists that really didn’t fit into their established (more traditional) categories. “One way artists can really put themselves on the radar is by submitting applications to funding streams–it’s a way to let the funders know you exist and that your type of practice exists, too. It gets you on the radar.”
Today I dropped of my artist application to the Sprout Fund‘s 2009 Public Art program. Before I even filled out the paperwork, out of courtesy and for purposes of art-advocacy, I made sure to call the program manager, Curt Gettman, to ask if I might submit a proposal that didn’t quite fit with Sprout’s present vision for or approach to funding public art. Curt welcomed my application and stated that during a previous round of proposals a sculptor actually got his non-mural project funded within a local community. During our conversation, he mentioned that artists can help to stimulate conversation regarding a non-profit’s approach to programming or an organizations responsiveness to serving artists and communities by participating in the formal conversation through the submission of a proposal. The day after I submitted the proposal electronically, Curt sent me an email thanking me for sharing my work with Sprout.
It took me a full and focused day to prepare the appliation (do the writing, ready the submission materials). I consider the effort arts activism which I’d describe as an “artist action.” Even if the act doesn’t directly benefit the project I’m working on, it’s a formal submission to the public art program, a written record (with supplemental audio and visual work samples) which advocates for the expansion of artists’ access to funding for non-traditional public art projects.
Here’s how I expressed my approach to the ringtone project for Sprout:
“My interest in public art is partly to conduct inquiry around the uses of public space and property through the creation and distribution of a series of locally-produced ringtones made in concert with individuals residing within the Pittsburgh region. ‘Sweetest Sounds: Locally Toned’ will employ an aspect of our commons largely underutilized as a ‘canvas’ by artists—the airspace (which is public property for sonic transmissions). Due the aural nature of the project, this art work requires no fixed place for its installation. It will ‘perform’ itself throughout Pittsburgh and beyond city limits, when its participants (makers and end-users) receive cellular phone calls.
Another outcome of the project is the formation of an online ‘participatory culture’ that serves Pittsburgh communities that exist across neighborhoods and above, beyond and through walls. My intentions exceed providing Pittsburgh with another public art project for visual intake, as I will engage Pittsburghers as collaborators in this project. While redirecting public and private attention away from acts of consumerism (the purchasing of music industry ringtones), I’ll involve the public in acts of creativity, giving this community a means, way and end to capturing, sharing and amplifying the authentic audio around them.“
*This posting is dedicated to you, Marge–thanks for the tremendous expertise you have shared with me and other artists over the span of your amazing career!
Photo of me & Marge taken by Renee Rosensteel.