When the U.S. Congress abolished National Endowment for the Arts support for most individual artists in 1996, it was a sad day for American indies. Four years later, however, the Creative Capital Foundation is helping to fill the hole. Established in January 1999 to assist artists across a variety of disciplines, the new national organization will distribute approximately 60 grants early this year – worth US$1 million in total – based on applications received during its inaugural year. (Only American citizens or permanent residents are eligible.)
‘We’re looking for work that’s engaged in some way to illuminate this particular moment in time,’ says Ruby Lerner, executive director of the Creative Capital Foundation. ‘My sense is that this will be most valuable to people who are in early or mid-career and emerging.’ The funding is available for new projects as well as ones already in progress, but is not open to full-time students.
The grants are divided evenly across four categories: performing arts, visual arts, media arts and emerging forms (such as new media and interdisciplinary work). Doc-makers have a shot at about four of the 15 grants slated for media arts; the others go to animation, non-traditional narrative and experimental media.
The foundation looks for unconventional non-fiction projects that deal with American subjects (more HBO-like than Discovery), as opposed to docs aimed primarily at international audiences. ‘We’re interested in people doing work that pushes the envelope of documentary -
whatever that might mean at the moment – and dealing with issues we are facing as a society,’ she says.
The value of each grant is around $5,000, although a few go as high as $15,000 to $20,000, depending on the project. In some cases, follow-up funding and/or non-monetary support is offered to artists whose projects stay within budget and on schedule.
To succeed, the grant applicant must survive a two-tiered application process. In the first round, applications are evaluated based on the artistic strength and vision of the proposed project, the professional capabilities of the applicant, and the feasibility of the initiative. Successful applicants are then invited to submit additional materials and work samples for the second round review. A peer panel of arts professionals reviews the proposals. This year’s grant applications will be available by the spring and are due by the fall.
In 1999, 1,800 artists from across the United States applied to Creative Capital for funding. Around 170 were from non-fiction producers.
In addition to offering financial assistance, Creative Capital stays engaged with projects by providing advisory support beyond the initial grant. Each grant winner works in partnership with foundation staff and a network of consultants to create flexible, individual project development plans. For filmmakers, that might include getting assistance in developing festival or distribution strategies, or having a board member make calls to potential broadcasters, like the Independent Film Channel, on behalf of a project.
In return, Creative Capital asks grantees to give back a portion of the profits they make from their work, to benefit others striving to attain similar success. The amount is a percentage based on how much Creative Capital contributed to the overall budget.
So far, Lerner is pleased with the progress of the fledgling foundation’s growth; it has attracted financial commitments of over $5 million from 26 individuals and foundations (including the Lucy and Isadore B. Adelman Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts) for its first five years of operation. Goals for the future are to make the program better known within the u.s. arts community and to raise an additional $35 million over the next 20 years.