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Is tech a creative medium for artists?

NEA + Knight, Ford foundations report says yes

The National Endowment for the Arts announces the release of the report Tech as Art: Supporting Artists Who Use Technology as a Creative Medium, the result of a two-year field scan, an initiative of the Arts Endowment in collaboration with the John S. and James L.  Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

The field scan and report explore the multi-faceted practices of artists who engage with digital technologies in both the creative and functional aspects of their work. The report also looks at the training and exhibition infrastructure that tech-centered artists have developed to pursue their creative practices, and diagnoses a critical need for funding to advance the field. A key finding of the study is that even with the willingness of audiences to move to digital spaces for arts and cultural programming during the pandemic, many cultural organizations lack capacity and the resources to adequately support the growing needs of tech-centered artists and their audiences. At the same time, these artists have demonstrated their unique ability to respond creatively to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by engaging with audiences and responding to calls for greater equity and inclusion. “Tech-centered artists can be invaluable partners for leaders in the arts and non-arts sectors alike,” said National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “Not only are equity and inclusion increasingly embedded in their artistic practice, but they also explore ethical issues around technology, such as data privacy and artificial intelligence, presenting complex ideas through a creative and accessible lens.”

A virtual launch event celebrating the culmination of this work featured arts funders and artist/technologists discussing key findings of the report. Panelists for the virtual event were Refik Anadol, Amelia Winger Bearskin, Stephanie Dinkins, Ruby Lerner, Omari Rush, and Eleanor Savage with moderator Hrag Vartanian. The event will be archived and available on the Media Arts impact page.

In addition to featuring more than a hundred artists and organizations in the report, Tech as Art includes nine case studies offering a more in-depth look at leading tech-focused artists and practitioners. Case study artists are 3-Legged Dog, Refik Anadol, Design I/O, Stephanie Dinkins, Darcy Neal, Processing Foundation, Scatter/DepthKit, Lance Weiler, and Amelia Winger-Bearskin. Videos created from the case studies are in a YouTube playlist.  Finally, the recommendations in the report are expanded upon by ten commissioned essays. Key findings from the report include:
  • Code, computation, data, and tool-building are fundamental to tech-centered artists, enabling them to create works across artistic forms and contexts.
  • Because the field is so diverse and dynamic, more traditional arts organizations and funders often have trouble engaging with tech-centered artistic practicesSince these artists create projects within and between virtual and physical spaces, they require distinct approaches to presentation, public engagement, accessibility, and archiving.
  • Tech-centered artists have successfully established peer organizations, regional hubs, exhibition spaces, festivals, information networks, and academic departments across the United States. However, there are also significant resource gaps which inhibit the growth of artistic and professional development.
  • Career pathways for tech-centered artists are highly varied, though as a group these workers encounter many of the same obstacles as artists in general. Despite formal education, tech-centered artists describe themselves as largely self-taught and reliant on artist-founded organizations, community hubs, and online resources.
The report’s recommendations include:
  • Expanding technical expertise and capacity among cultural organizations working with tech-centered artists.
  • Reviewing programs and outreach plans from grant makers, arts service or presenting organizations, and traditional arts institutions to ensure that funding program guidelines and documentation requirements align with, and welcome, tech-focused artists and projects.
  • Lifting barriers to collaboration across arts and non-arts sectors to encourage relationships to exchange information, seed partnerships, and launch initiatives.
  • Embedding technology assets in the broader arts and cultural infrastructure to address the lack of funding for digital capacity-building; existing digital divides across geography, ethnicity, race, and gender; and inadequate access to high-speed internet.
  • Increasing project development, presentation, and exhibition opportunities.
  • Deepening public understanding of the value and impact of tech-focused artists by conducting further research and education that supports greater public recognition of artists’ creative approaches, innovations, and contributions.
In addition to publishing this report, the Arts Endowment has deepened its commitment to supporting activities at the intersection of arts and technology through the agency’s major funding program, Grants for Arts Projects. In the Media Arts discipline, organizations from any artistic discipline can apply for support of arts projects that use new media, creative code, and emergent forms. The Arts Endowment also provides technical assistance to prospective applicants and connects tech-centered artists with other grant makers, arts organizations, policymakers, educators, and tech companies.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more.

About the Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit www.kf.org

Jason Rapp

One Columbia to provide Columbia artist relief

$100,000 fund goes live today

Columbia area artists may apply starting today for a new potential source of relief. The Artists’ Emergency Fund was created to provide 40 emergency grants of $2,500 each to support professional artists in the Columbia area. By providing these funds, the partners hope to provide assistance for artists facing hardships caused by the loss of events, performances, and sales. The program serves the mission of the three partner organizations by supporting an ecosystem for professional artists to live, work and remain in and around Columbia. The funds provided by this program can be used to assist artists with any relevant professional needs including artist supplies and materials, rent or mortgage, health insurance, or another professional purpose. This fund was developed out of a partnership among the Knight Foundation, Central Carolina Community Foundation and One Columbia for Arts and Culture. The Knight Foundation has committed $100,000 to assist artists in the Columbia area in order to temper the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting emergency shutdowns. Go here to learn more and apply.

Jason Rapp

Group gets $50,000 grant to help Conway become an art district

From MyHorryNews.com Article by Kathy Ropp

Conway has a large number of talented artists and musicians who want to see the city emerge as an arts mecca, and now it looks as if they will have the money to make that happen. Conway Cultural Development Corporation President Dr. Dennis Stevens says the Knight Foundation has recommended that Conway get a $50,000 grant for the arts, and the Waccamaw Community Foundation has signed off on it. The only thing the area’s artists need now is the support of the Conway City Council, whose members did not discuss the issue in March after hearing from representatives of the S.C. Arts Commission, who explained the process of making Conway a cultural art district. One of the presenters, Joy Young, the SCAC’s arts coordinator for Horry and Georgetown counties, returned to Conway recently to meet with more than 35 artists and musicians in an informal setting to assess the arts possibilities in Conway and see what’s needed to move the city forward. Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy attended that meeting at Conway Glass where she offered encouragement to the group. The SCAC is in the nascent stage of creating a network of art districts throughout the state. Areas already carrying the label of cultural art district are Spartanburg, Rock Hill, Lancaster, Beaufort, the Congaree Vista area in Columbia and, the most recent city to join the group, Bluffton. Florence is working now to create a district in that city. “It’s not really a network like an art trail or anything like that,” Stevens said. “I think it’s more driven by the place and the resources that are in the place and enhancing the community and cataloguing resources. I think they have a specific vision that enables the place to enhance itself. “It’s less about the network of communities and more about the individual place putting forth its best assets.” Stevens says the agency defines the arts broadly so the term includes visual and performing arts, theatre and all kinds of music. Even a writer attended the recent gathering at Conway Glass. One idea Stevens likes is stepping up arts education in low-income areas, perhaps in the Whittemore Park or Racepath communities in Conway. This could be done with an artist-in-residence who might give art lessons, help youngsters secure orchestra instruments or, perhaps, help improve the looks of some of the U.S. 378 corridor, a project getting a lot of attention from Conway City Council recently. Becoming a cultural arts district will open the door for state grants, coordination with other cities and counties and advice from the SCAC. The Cultural Arts Development Corporation is already talking with consultants who can help the group get the process moving and guide its leadership in the direction Conway should go; however, the consultants won’t be signed until at least August when Stevens hopes everybody is on board and the Knight Foundation money is in-hand. If Conway City Council gives its blessing to the program, a board of stakeholders will be created to help guide the process. Supporters of the program say the arts and culture are economic engines that draw people to an area to shop, dine, buy gas and stay over night, and they make a city more livable. They point to Asheville, N.C., and Walterboro in this state to prove their point. Rusty Sox with the SCAC says the art districts program is relatively new, existing for only about 18 months now. He says developing the districts has given him interesting travel around South Carolina. The state’s mission is to create an environment where the arts thrive for all South Carolina citizens, he told Conway City Council back in March. The program hopes to provide quality arts education for youngsters in kindergarten through 12th grade, help artists develop their talents into sustainable careers and improve life for South Carolinians. He says the SCAC can help by offering the assistance of its staff, developing partnerships with other organizations, implementing professional development and training through conferences and meetings, and giving grants to individual artists, schools and arts programs. Some of their ideas include creating studios where people can watch artists work; opening retail shops, galleries, art centers, educational spaces and more. The program takes note of significant architecture and uses nontraditional settings, bank lobbies for instance, to offer art displays. Some cities also offer storytellers and performers. Through all of these activities the arts enthusiasts hope to celebrate and capitalize on an area’s local identification, or, in other words, the things that make each community unique. After the stakeholders are appointed, they will take public input, designate a cultural district and solidify a list of goals. Communities must be reviewed and recertified every five years to remain cultural art districts. Young and Sox recommend identifying a compact, walkable, easily-navigable area for an art district. They categorize it as a place where people can park and walk. Conway and its surrounding areas already have a good start on promoting the arts, according to area artists. Another issue that Stevens and Barbara Streeter with CREATE! Conway are pursuing is an office for arts groups. Streeter and other artists asked at a recent public hearing at Conway City Hall for space for art exhibits and performances in the old Conway Post Office/Horry County museum. Stevens points out that during the tenure of the late Mayor Greg Martin, he helped work on Conway’s comprehensive plan, which calls for a Waccamaw artisans center. He’d love to work out something with the Burroughs Company to see the center located in Conway’s riverfront district. Stevens says once the CCDC has its grant money he expects things to start happening quickly. By the fall of this year he hopes to hold some public meetings to discuss the needs of the arts and cultural community and to start things in motion to meet those needs. “I think everybody is engaged and excited about the possibility of arts and culture in Horry and Georgetown, but specifically what Conway can do to facilitate that,” he said. “There’s no central leadership now. We’re trying and we’re trying to do it in a new way.” Stevens says anyone who’s interested in becoming part of the process should talk with a member of city council because they’re the ones who will ultimately make the decision. “If they say no, I don’t know what comes next,” Stevens said.