Wednesday, May 2, 2007


“What do we do for artists besides not give them money?”

This question-with-a-twist was voiced at a recent staff meeting as we were discussing the inputs we had received during our strategic planning forums in January.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of administering the Vermont Arts Council is the perception that “we don’t do enough” for the arts field. There is some truth to this perception in that, as Warren Kimble once famously pointed out in a board meeting, “what kind of business model is it that you think is successful by encouraging people to apply for support and then turn around and enrage nine out of every ten applicants?!”

Point well-made, point well-taken.

It is not, by any normal standard, a recipe for success: alienate 90% of your customers, and then expect them to appreciate the “valuable support” you offer to them. Yes, this is a dilemma and we are squarely on its horns. It is the challenge of running a competitive grant application program.

It is the challenge of not having enough money to award the full amount of worthy applicants’ requests (assuming a peer panel can agree on what “worthy” actually means!). It is the challenge of working in a state where our elected leaders’ (in both major parties, mind you) level of commitment to the arts sector is between one-eighth and one-tenth of their level of commitment to the rest of state government. Yes, you read right. Since 1991, state government has grown 81.6%. The Council’s appropriation has grown just 11.6% (the one-eighth factor). Since 2003, the General Fund appropriation has grown 32.8% while the Council’s General Fund appropriation has grown only 3.4% (the one-tenth factor).

All of which are reasonable explanations for why we don’t have enough money to support every individual or organization that our panels feel deserve support.

But the question remains, what do we do when we aren’t giving you (or your organizations) money?

For one thing, we are vastly improving our online tools that we believe will help you market and promote your work—regardless of whether you’re an artist or an organization. The Arts Directory and its related Arts Calendar, with its new itinerary planning tool, is something that anyone and everyone with an event should be taking advantage of. It not only is the only statewide resource of its size and scope, it also is tapped by literally every member of the broadcast and print media for their own calendars.

We also offer workshops open to everyone (often at minimal or even no cost) to help them with such career building techniques in grant-writing, making your work accessible to audiences with a variety of disabilities, marketing and promotion, portfolio building, and so on.

The truth is there will probably never be enough money to satisfy the demand that artists and organizations place on us. So it’s not so much about giving away money (giving someone a fish) as it is about helping people to get their own money (teaching someone to fish) that we are turning to more and more often.

If you have suggestions for what additional “fishing” techniques we should be exploring, please contact me.

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