RACC project grants head for the outskirts of art

RACC's $660,000 in project grants finds artists in an inventive mood

I think of the Precipice Fund, PICA’s way of rewarding alternative ideas about making and showing art, as a great supplement for the Regional Arts & Culture Council’s project grants. Precipice needs RACC to answer the question “alternative to what?”, after all.

RACC has just announced $661,543 in project grants to 60 arts groups and 88 artists, and a quick run-through the list of recipients and a capsule of their projects leads me to a re-consideration. Sure, the arts group projects are pretty straight-forward. Conduit, for example, received a grant to support its successful Dance+ program, and Disjecta found RACC support for its Portland2014 Biennial of Contemporary Art, just to name a couple of deserving events (that locate and exhibit exciting contemporary art) with good track records.

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, here in 'Song of the Dodo,'  was funded for its version of Chekhov's 'Three Sisters.'/Gary Norman

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, here in ‘Song of the Dodo,’ was funded for its version of Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters.’/Gary Norman

But artists are artists, and as I scrolled down, I found projects that might have felt right at home at Precipice, too. So, Gabriel Liston’s project is a Guide to the Lafe Pence Ditch, “an exhibit of paintings, drawings, and text based on research into and along an old canal on the side of the Tualatin Ridge overlooking NW Portland,” which sounds truly fabulous. And Susan E. Peck was funded to “to produce, rehearse, and conduct a festival concert performance of the full-length choral work “Missa Gaia/Earth Mass,” written by members of the Paul Winter Consort, in partnership with a local environmental group like Friends of Columbia Gorge or Portland Audubon Society.” Amen!

Anyway, have a look through the list of projects and plan your 2014 accordingly. Art here is moving inexorably toward the creative edge of art practices, and we’re following right behind.

4 Responses.

  1. Jack Gabel says:

    Barry, why does Precipice need RACC to answer the question “alternative to what?”

    Certainly you know RACC project grants are awarded through a peer review process. RACC officers only oversee the panel peer review process. They don’t judge the Project Grant proposals. Precipice isn’t open about its process. It’s in house and guidelines are vague – some would say ‘arty’, others… something else.

    Better questions: Which is more political? Which is more demotic? Which better serves artists and their audiences? Which better serves the art?

    No easy answers for questions themselves not easy.

    What does ‘political’ mean in the arts?
    People tend to think ‘social justice, anti war, environmental’. Actually it’s usual venal, i.e., ‘nepotism’.

    What does ‘demotic’ mean in the arts?
    People tend to equate it with ‘democratic, fair, level playing field’. Actually it’s usually ‘common denominator’, i.e., pop oriented.

    What does it mean to ‘better serve us’?
    People tend to think art lovers should get what they want, but is it our job as artists to give them what they want, or what we think they need? It’s been said: Americans don’t need art, they only need celebrities. It’s also been said: Americans need art more than ever, they just don’t know it.

    What does it mean to ‘better serve the art?’
    People tend to think: grow audiences. Actually it’s virtuosity that serves the art. The art is timeless, only the most outstanding contributes to its legacy . Unfortunately “…the creative edge of art practices…” far outpaces virtuosic execution. Very little remains. More unfortunate: few insiders or peers seem to know or care, ergo: back to square 1 – politics prevail.

    • Barry Johnson says:

      My understanding: The Warhol Foundation via Precipice wanted to figure out how to fund artist projects and organizations that might not meet the requirements of most granting agencies (in our case RACC or the major foundations).

      I don’t think “peer-reviewed” necessarily means “without politics.” As it happens, I found the RACC project and Precipice grant lists both pretty interesting. Of course, I have no idea what “better” ideas were neglected or how the individual panels played out.

      RACC has been at this business for decades and its process reflects both those decades and the best practices of government arts agencies. This is a core competence that I often take for granted but appreciate deeply. I think we’ll have to see how Precipice plays out over the years. For now, its rules say that applications will judged by “an external panel of three to four local, regional, and national artists and arts professionals from the visual art field,” and those rules are pretty clear about what they are looking for.

      It sounds as though you have serious doubts about Precipice, though, which I’d love to hear.

      • Jack Gabel says:

        I looked into Precipice – even set up a Cafe account – Cafe runs the submission interface for a number of funders, presenters, galleries, competitions, etc.- why not I thought, I author for myself and close affiliates about 2-dozen proposals a year – what’s one more?

        I let it go when I ran into this: Emphasis on Visual Art

        “Precipice Fund awards grants to projects rooted in or strongly related to visual art. Works in performance or media are eligible if visual art is a core component of the finished project. We are open to innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking in the field and supportive of diverse approaches to visual art practice. If you have questions about the eligibility of your project, please contact us to discuss prior to submitting an application.”

        Curiously the awardees include a number of projects for which this seems questionable: “…visual art is a core component…” Of course one will have to engage the works in situ to confirm to what degree it is, or isn’t, and further, to learn if “…the creative edge of art practices…” outpaces virtuosic execution, but that could likely be very subjective. In certain corners of the art world it virtually always is – in others rarely.

        Probably very few Precipice awardees share my opinion about coupling artistic legacy to virtuosity – arguably a ‘hot topic’ in this territory… brings to mind a quote from Twyla Tharp’s 1993 autobiography, PUSH COMES TO SHOVE. She recounts her split in the mid-1960s with the New York modern dance avant-garde, led by the Judson Church dancers whose manifesto dictated no virtuosity, no magic, no eccentricity, no moving or being moved. “All those nos,” Tharp writes, “would become my yeses.” You may recall her last visit to Portland (ca. 2003) and the media interview she gave – can’t recall with whom and what the question was, but her answer is unforgettable, “I’m not afraid of virtuosity!”

        This begs the question: Who is afraid of virtuosity? Next time you encounter art which strikes you as being something virtually anybody could do, the important question should be this: How does the universally achievable aspect of this piece inform it? If nothing significant emerges, the next questions might as well be: Why was this done and how was it funded? Brings us back to square one.

    • Greg Ewer says:

      Fascinating points you bring up Jack. Thanks.

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