By Indiewire | Indiewire May 11, 1999 at 2:0AM
by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
Today (Tuesday) marks the official national launch of the Creative
Capital Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the funding of
non-traditional works in a variety of disciplines. Last Monday, the New
York Times ran a story claiming, "the new group will attempt to make up
for some of the individual grants the federal government ended in 1994"
-- and since then, the Creative Capital phones have been ringing off the
"Now I feel I have to go into the expectation management business," says
former AIVF head and the foundation's executive director, Ruby Lerner.
"There's always so much excitement, justifiably so, when there is any
kind of new initiative. . . . But having said that, we don't have a lot
of money." Continues Lerner, "People have said to me, 'You're going to
be the new NEA.' But we're not."
Whereas the NEA gave approximately $10 million directly to more than 750
individual artists, Creative Capital's first grants will be doled out
early next year to approximately 50-60 artists (of those, only about 15
will be dedicated to media projects) in amounts totaling up to $1
million. "If we're lucky," adds Lerner, "because we're going to stay
involved in projects, it'll be more like $600,000." Lerner explains,
"The reason we're only giving out that much is because we're going to
tell the artists that they can come back to us for artistic support and
also promotional support, so we have to keep some money in reserve to do
This is what sets Creative Capital apart from other funding
organizations, a point they insist on making clear. "You're not just
going to get your money and walk away," says media/performing artists
program director, Esther Robinson. "One of the main things that often
happens to work is that you run out of steam and money right when you
need to be marketing your movie." To compensate for that lack, Creative
Capital plans to assign marketing specialists and designers to promote
artists and expand the audience for their work.
Robinson rightfully adds, "That also means there will be some artists
for whom that kind of hands-on approach is going to be
counter-productive, because they have those resources or want to work
alone. We want to work with people who are interested in audience. For
filmmakers who don't care who sees their work, chances are we won't be a
very good match."
The foundation is also very specific as to the kind of work they will be
funding. Its media category, for example, includes experimental film
and video, animation, and non-traditional narrative and documentary. "We
wanted to keep an artistic throughline that deals with the pushing of
content and form," says Robinson, "stuff that really seizes you."
Robinson, who produced Doug Block's "Home Page" and is a founding member
of Wavelength Releasing, puts the foundation's role in the context of
an applicant: "If I had a non-traditional narrative that was very
different and wouldn't have an overtly commercial life, then Creative
Capital would be something that I'd approach, because as a foundation,
we'll be able to bring artists to institutions and individuals with a
certain amount of credibility."
Creative Capital doesn't see itself as some panacea, however, solving
the crisis of funding for the arts. Lerner concedes that the grants are
small and the competition high. Of the 15 chosen artists in the media
category, for example, 13 would receive $5,000 and only two would fall
in the $15-20,000 range.
In return for Creative Capital's financial and managerial support,
participating artists will give a portion of the proceeds generated by
their projects back to the foundation in order to help keep the funding
cycle continuing. Work will be selected by a review panel of working
artists. According to Lerner, they will seek applicants who have been
in the field with 5 years minimum professional experience. "But nothing
is 100% settled," she adds. "We just think that for a program like this,
it makes more sense to work with people who are not at the very
beginning of their professional lives."
Lerner wants Creative Capital "to be as transparent as possible," to
take some of the secrecy and closed door policy out of foundational
funding. As someone who's written a lot of grants, Lerner knows the
frustration of not knowing why a project was rejected. However, Lerner
says, "We have a small staff and we won't be able to do individual
consultations with everyone we've turned down." The great question for
Lerner remains, "How do you build an artist-friendly funding structure,
recognizing the fact that 99% of the time you're saying 'no'? I don't
know if it's possible to do that."
For Robinson, however, she's not worried, reminded of words spoken to
her by Archibald Gillies, president of the Warhol Foundation for the
Visual Arts and one of Creative Capital's organizers: "The worst case
scenario is you spend five years giving money to artists." Robinson
continues, "If that's the worst case scenario, then hot damn, is that
Applications for the first round of grants will be available in June for submission from July 1 - August 16.
[Information on Creative Capital will be available on its website which
is expected to launch today (Tuesday) at: http://www.creative-capital.org].
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