Seeding the scene

By Lawrence Cosentino

Arts Council introduces artist grant program

If you’re a visual, performing or literary artist, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing might have a pretty little engraving of Grover Cleveland for you.

In its first-time-ever grant program for individual artists, the Council has announced it will award grants of $1,000 each to an undetermined number of area artists.

The application deadline is Jan. 30, 2009.

Whether the grants come in the form of $1,000 bills (sorry, Grover), the Council hopes the money will seed the Lansing art scene in several ways: developing artists professionally and making art more accessible to the public.

To that end, all the recipients have to do something publicly with the work funded by the grant.

A visual artist, for example, couldn’t use the money to make a collage and then just hang it in the garage. Similarly, a writer working on a set of poems or a history should include a public reading or lecture in the grant proposal.

Leslie Donaldson, executive director of the Arts Council, hopes the public component of the grants will not only serve an educational function, but also dovetail with the oft-invoked synergy between the arts and economic development. “If an artist is doing an exhibition in an alternative space, for example, we hope people will go somewhere to eat before or after going to the show,” Donaldson said.

The Council will hold a workshop Jan. 12 (see box) that will walk applicants through the process; attendance is not required.

Performing artists and literary types will be expected to have “extensive background and knowledge” of their fields, Donaldson said.
Applicants also must be members of the Arts Council.

The applications will be peer-reviewed. Visual artists will evaluate visual artists, and so on. “It’s fair to be judged by someone with knowledge of your field, and it also gives a certain amount of prestige to being a recipient,” Donaldson said

Donaldson said the awards will be “based on the merits of the individual’s work,” as well as what they propose to do publicly with the work.

In January, the Council will meet to finalize a second grant program, intended to foster collaborations between arts groups. Donaldson said to expect an announcement “in the next two months.”

How many grants will be available? About $40,000 per year through the individual program and the yet-to-be-announced group program combined, Donaldson said. The money will come from proceeds of the August 2008 sale of the Center for the Arts building to the city of Lansing for $940,000.

The Council first decided to convert its building into cash three years ago, when the board asked 120 arts and cultural groups in the area what was needed most. The Council offers a range of services to artists, including consultations, referrals, promotion and a handy networking platform, for $25 yearly membership dues.

No surprise: They all said “money.”

When the arts groups were asked whether they have any use for the Center for the Arts, they overwhelmingly said, “No.”

“That was one of the lowest priorities for them,” Donaldson said.

On Aug. 26, the Council sold the building, still the home of BoarsHead Theater, to the city of Lansing.

The city still plans to move BoarsHead into a new performing arts center and use the Center for the Arts property for development — parking, most likely — but nobody knows how soon those dominoes will fall.

Meanwhile, Donaldson isn’t working out of a bus stop. The Arts Council is leasing space in the Center for the Arts while it looks for a new home.

The grant program appears to be a win-win proposition, except for one cloudy lining. When a select few artists get together to dole out a limited number of cash grants to their peers, will hurt feelings and political infighting follow?

“I never thought about that,” Donaldson said.
Donaldson said her experience working with the East Lansing Arts Festival and East Lansing’s Scene Metrospace, where artists routinely compete for space, was overwhelmingly positive.

“The artists’ community here is really supportive of one another,” Donaldson said. “Now they’ll get excited about supporting one another in new ways.”