Thursday, January 26, 2012

Putting the Fun in Funding

by Will Broussard and Christine Destrempes
When I describe Art for Water to new acquaintances, I sometimes struggle with how to define the work we do. Our participation-based, monumental installations are generated not just as art but also to foster community while building awareness around the global water crisis. Our work spans disciplines like hydrology, wealth inequality, conservation, poetry and artistic expression. Art for Water cannot be summarized with a quick word or two, and it is for this reason that our projects routinely face funding challenges from traditional foundations. Luckily, there are organizations that understand our plight and are working to support the projects of multidisciplinary artists. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an interesting and informative panel discussion in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The event was hosted by Artists in Context, an organization “designed to assemble artists and other creative thinkers across disciplines to conceptualize new ways of representing and acting upon the critical issues of our time.” The subject of the panel was Falling through the Cracks: Funding Integrative Socially-Engaged Practice,” a subject of great import for us here at Art for Water. Moderating the discussion was Lisa Gross, founder of the Boston Tree Party and Hybrid Vigor Projects, two Boston-based organizations founded on urban agriculture, cross-discipline collaboration, and public participation art projects. The panelists were diverse and impressive, and included Cuong Hoang, Director of Programs at Mott Philanthropic, Andrew Sempere, Trustee from The Awesome Foundation, and Nerissa Cooney and Alexander Hage, co-founders of Feast Mass. All organizations represented were founded in the greater Boston area.

Cuong offered a glimpse into the realm of traditional foundation funding. But he also is involved in an alternative, volunteer giving circle that funds projects in Boston’s Asian community. Andrew gave us some background on The Awesome Foundation as well as tips for applying. He also showed slides of some awesomely awesome projects they have funded. Alex and Nerissa explained the labor-intensive production of a Feast Mass event: Volunteers cook a homemade dinner with local ingredients for which guests pay on a sliding scale. Project information is posted on the walls and contestants wear paper crowns so that they stand out in the crowd. After dinner, contestants give a brief presentation about their projects and guests vote for their favorite. The winner walks away with cash!

I was struck by the amount of time and energy that is being invested by so many people to help artists and community organizers achieve their goals. The models for these alternative-funding sources are simple, flexible, and non-bureaucratic, which means they’re also fun. They may not be dealing with huge sums of money, but they make up for that in innovation and community building. The way in which they fund concepts is in itself a creative, public-participation project! This truly was an inspiring and energizing evening. Thanks to Artists in Context for hosting such an awesome event!

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