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AMERICAN CRAFT MAGAZINE, "Letter from the Editor: Money Talk"

May 22, 2009

May 22, 2009 Testimonial banquets are a clichéd form: the rubber-chicken circuit. They’re also full of happy talk that has to be approached with some measure of skepticism. Given those stereotypes, perhaps I can be forgiven for first having thought I’d pass on the Creative Capital lunch, and more so because this granting organization specializes in performing arts, film/video, innovative literature and emerging fields as well as visual arts, under which heading craft presumably fits. But how relevant would it be? Creative Capital’s director of external affairs, Sophie Henderson, immediately refuted my assumption that craft would be absent. She listed Cat Mazza of Troy, New York, funded for her video Knit for Defense in 2008; Susie Brandt and Kristine Woods of Baltimore, funded for Rag and Bone, which involves making ropewalks of post-consumer textile waste; and (okay, this one’s a stretch) three Seattle artists who work collaboratively, Ben Beres, Zac Culler and John Sutton, funded for creatively repurposing the elements of an abandoned convenience store to make an interior park. Creative Capital’s executive director, Ruby Lerner, instantly offered another name when the question was put to her: Xenobia Bailey, known for her flamboyant knitting, is a grantee. So, as you’ve guessed by now, I attended the Creative Capital lunch. It was held at the Savoy, a cozy SoHo spot where many art conversations take place over delicious and healthy food, so no rubber chicken (I chose the fish, anyway). And it was a love fest. Five past grantees—including Cory Arcangel in emerging fields and Sanford Biggers in visual arts—told stories filled with laughter and warmth, and also with astonishment at the supportive structure Creative Capital offers. The playwright Lisa Kron recounted her pleasure at being awarded a grant that allowed her to produce a play in workshop—and then getting a call from Creative Capital offering her more money! That’s the way it works: this year the organization made initial grants of $10,000 to 41 projects, each of which becomes eligible for additional funds of up to $50,000 over a multiyear period. And it offers “skills-building assistance” in such matters as fund-raising, networking, marketing and strategic planning. Kron declared that Creative Capital “doesn’t try to neaten up an artist’s process but rather values the chaos and has found real ways to help artist channel that creative energy.” This year the organization celebrates its 10th anniversary. It was conceived following the “culture wars” of the 90s, when the National Endowment for the Arts discontinued grants for individual artists, and it follows venture capital concepts. Most surprising is the idea that successful grantees will eventually pay back their funding so that it can be used for others. That began to happen in 2004, and Kron is among the paid-up artists. One other thing about that lunch: one of the patrons of Creative Capital is the Andy Warhol Foundation, and its president, Joel Wachs, was there to hand a check to Lerner for a 10-year matching grant. The nice, normal-looking check was passed around the room, so each of us, for a moment, held $15,000,000 in our hands. Think big. --Janet Koplos

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