On October 13th our Operations Director, Ashley Miglini, attended the Grantmakers in the Arts conference down in Houston, TX. Circus Now was invited to attend by Kim Cook, of the Arts Council of New Orleans. Remember when we announced that they were the first in the US to offer a grant in the category of circus arts?? She is an ally that we are honored to be connected with in many ways.

Kim put together and moderated a panel entitled ‘Resources at the Roots of Culture’. The panelists included Monique Martin, Director of Family Programming, Arts & Cultural Programs, City Parks Foundation; Mauricio Palma, Director, Initiatives, Silicon Valley Community Foundation; and Ashley, representing Circus Now.

There were about 15-20 people who attended and were very engaged in our discussions. We first posed the question to the room of whether or not those in the grant-making world felt as though there was a disconnect in genuine and effective connection between the arts that exist at the roots of culture and those who wish to fund it. Everyone agreed. The conversations evolved around many specific topics, but all with the similar idea that there are barriers to those offering grants and those who need grants. We dove in…

For some, it was a matter of hiring translators to help in the process of grant applications. For others it was trial and error tactics that included lots of creative efforts, one on one meetings, brown bag lunches, etc. so that they could understand how to best assist those seeking grants. Maybe applicants needed a skill set that they didn’t already have, like presentation or communication skills to effectively fulfill the grant requirements. Maybe they were discouraged that they didn’t feel as though their group or contributions were represented in the specific types of grants that are available.

When circus came into the discussion, we talked about a few topics. One was the fact that circus arts is only just recently being recognized as needing it’s own category in the US. The group agreed that it is a powerful art form that needs funding. We explored the idea that circus, at least initially, existed in a more nomadic lifestyle, but modern circus brings with it a vast and expansive culture. Since many of the attendees were interested in how to engage with the artists at the roots of culture, we were able to talk to them about one of Circus Now’s biggest missions: to connect and give a voice to circus communities around the US. With a national visibility for circus arts, we can make funding opportunities accessible both as an Organization and as a connector for those seeking smaller local grants, which everyone agreed are especially crucial in keeping the arts alive.

We also spent a lot of time discussing an issue that everyone felt crossed into a general arts realm: when you put an artist into a different environment it affects everything. It can be great for the artist to be separated from their roots, but often it affects their art. We also explored the differences between art for art’s sake and art for profit, and the notion that even one high-profile artist sets a new mark to which other artists in their same category aspire, and the ways that changes artistic production. We also discussed how sometimes the art simply doesn’t translate outside of the original context. How do artists and grant makers work together to know what will work? Sometimes money doesn’t translate into an engaged audience…

The conversation satisfyingly came to an end around the question of what happens to the community where the artist was ‘plucked’ from? How does that affect the community that helped shape and nurture the artist? In a room full of diverse grant makers and organizations, everyone agreed that arts funding exists on all levels exactly for those reasons. Big, small, niche, mainstream. As long as we can uphold the importance of the connectedness between groups, art and artists can remain supported in all the right ways as they evolve.

After our panel, we headed to lunch where several people spoke and entertained us. Steven Tepper, dean of Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts was one. He gave a keynote talk that left us with quite a profound direction for all of us to consider as artists, organizations and funders.

“We must focus on:

  • Authentic relationships, not transactions
  • Slowing down not speeding up
  • Conversations, not marketing and sales
  • Doing less, not doing more
  • Open source our institutions”

We echo his thoughts and ask for you guys to continue sharing your voice with us; keeping Circus Now representative of the community it exists for. We are listening and we are focused on creating more opportunities, like our webinars and focus groups, for exactly this kind of engagement to happen.

For those who want a recap of the GiA conference on a larger level, check out the blogs here.

Circus Now is a volunteer-run, member-supported non-profit organization. Our membership drive is going on now! Please consider supporting us by becoming a member or donating.