From Two to Three Year Cycles: Changes in the MSAC Individual Artist Award Program

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The Maryland State Arts Council recently released the names of the 2014 Individual Artist Awardees and, scanning the list, I was a bit confused. There were awards for Choreography, World Music Composition, Classical Music Solo Performance, Poetry, and several other music-related awards. Then I saw what I was looking for – Visual Arts: Sculpture.

I am not trying to be media-exclusive, but as a visual artist, I can’t help but look for familiar categories and options that I might qualify for. What I found curious about this year’s awards was no option for 2-D Visual Artists to participate: no photography, no works on paper, and no painting. In the past, I had always found a way to apply for a MSAC Grant every year, so I was puzzled that I could not have applied this past year.

Deeper digging revealed that the MSAC Individual Artist Awards are now divided amongst eighteen disciplines and three competition groups and awarded triannually. Initially, this made me sad for selfish reasons because there are so few unrestricted grants in Maryland for Individual Artists. In contrast, Baltimore City recently launched the Creative Baltimore Fund “for artists,” but the fine print reveals they are actually intended for accredited non-profits or individual artists working with accredited non-profits. There is a huge difference between a direct and top-down approach to artist funding and this directness makes MSAC’s grants even more significant. I wondered if the grants had been cut or scaled back, in addition to their recent division into three granting cycles instead of two.

After speaking with Pamela Dunne, Program Director for Community Arts Development, Arts and Entertainment Districts, and Individual Artists Awards, my fears were alleviated. Although some changes have occurred in this program, most of the best aspects of it have remained the same. To outline the changes to the program, Pamela Dunne answered a series of questions. Our conversation is as follows.

Cara Ober: When did the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist granting cycles change to divide categories over three years from two previously?

Pamela Dunne: The three-year cycle was established in FY 2011. As you probably know, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation administers the MSAC IAA Program. At that time, Pennsylvania and New Jersey (Fellowships also administered by MAAF) were moving to a three-year cycle. As it turned out, Pennsylvania, due to a decrease in state funding, discontinued its Fellowship program and to this day, no longer awards individual artist grants. Maryland and New Jersey are currently on a similar three-year cycle.

CO: How were categories selected to spread out over a 3 year period?

PD: There were several concerns that went into the category divisions. I remember at the time, we spread the categories out so that no artistic discipline would be “off” for more than two years. A couple of the disciplines were revisited sooner.

We looked at the categories offered by the other states (at that time PA was still in the mix) administered by MAAF. We are fortunate to have an artistically and geographically diverse pool of expert jurors that are recommended by MAAF. By sharing jurors we are able to keep administrative costs at a manageable level. We also wanted the numbers of applicants in each year to be approximately the same (also helpful to administration). This seemed to occur naturally when we the other two issues were addressed.

CO: Has the total amount of money award changed? If so from how much to how much?

PD: The total amount of dollars allocated to the IAA Program is $250,000 each year and has been so since the two-year cycle. What this means is that the pool of artists, during a two-year cycle, had a $500,000 allocation available across all disciplines. With the three-year cycle, we now have $750,000 across all disciplines. We have been able to increase the number of awards across all disciplines, by moving to the three-year cycle.

CO: Where does the funding come from for these awards?

PD: The funding is part of the Maryland State appropriation to MSAC.

CO: Has the amount changed that individual artists take home?

PD: The amounts are the same, $1,000, $3,000, $6,000. The awards are highly competitive.

CO: Why are painting and works on paper offered at the same year? Most 2D artists like myself work in both media and this choice between the two can be difficult for a majority of applicants. What is the logic behind the way these categories are determined and spaced out over the years?

PD: Many artists work in more than one discipline offered in a single year. For example, choreography and solo dance were offered last year as well as classical music, composition and solo performance. We ask artists to choose the work they feel is their strongest and submit in that category.

CO: These Individual Artist Awards are HUGELY important to artists here in Baltimore and I want you to know that we appreciate all your hard work on this project.

PD: It’s my pleasure. Please contact me if you have any further questions.


A shout out to the MSAC Visual Arts Sculpture Winners in 2014: Benjamin Bellas, Benjamin Andrew, Corinne Rae Beardsley, Dave Eassa, David Page, Emily C-D, Heather Harvey, J.J. McCracken, Jann Rosen-Queralt, Jennifer Coster (a Bmoreart contributor), Jimmy Miracle, John Bohl, Jose Ruiz, Keith Bentley, Linsdsay Elise Qualey Pichaske, Lisa Dillin, Melissa Webb, Olivia, Ryan Syrell, Sean Bennett, Sebastian Martorana, Stephen Hendee, and Steven Jones.

You can see the entire list of winners at the MSAC Website and also check out the new Maryland Artist Registry, which looks a lot like the well-designed, user friendly Baker Artist Awards site.

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