The Artist Foundation of San Antonio poster.

For most artists, steady cash-flow can lighten the burden of worry and thus spawn creativity. Ten years ago Patricia Pratchett and Bettie Ward, who were members of the city’s cultural arts board, took an instant liking to one another and got to talking about San Antonio’s art world. Ward, an artist herself, and Pratchett, a lover of the arts, concluded San Antonio didn’t have an organization that celebrated the individual artist. Together, they launched the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, a grassroots organization that awards $5,000 grants to about ten artists a year.

“I think the principal thing (the foundation) has given artists is the opportunity to create something that is their own,” Pratchett said. “A lot of artists belong to institutions and they are told what to do.”

The foundation is calling on artists to apply online at www.artistfound.org or write to info@artistfound.org for more information. The deadline to apply is Sunday, Nov. 8 at midnight. The foundation is hosting application workshops on Oct. 14 and Nov. 3 from 6-8 p.m. at Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex.

Margaret Mitchell, 2010 Robert L.B. Tobin Award for Costume Design. Photo courtesy Artist Foundation.
Margaret Mitchell, 2010 Robert L.B. Tobin Award for Costume Design. Photo courtesy Artist Foundation.

In October 2004, before Pratchett and Ward established the foundation, they held a fundraising party titled “Hairball,” where people came dressed in wigs. To their surprise, the event raised $20,000, and Pratchett and Ward parked the money in the San Antonio Area Foundation until they established the Artist Foundation.

Each year the foundation hires a team of judges from across the globe to select local artists from art mediums including visual, performing, literary, media, multidisciplinary, set design and costume design. Artists submit a project proposal and those selected are given one year to complete their project, including two progress report submissions. The foundation gives artists $2,500 at the onset of the project, $2,000 at the half-year mark, and the remaining $500 at the year’s end.

“We felt passionately that there needed to be an avenue that addressed the nurturing of the individual artists,” Pratchett said.

Originally, the foundation hired local judges, but four years ago Elizabeth Ciarfeo, one of the individuals who works tirelessly for the Artist Foundation, moved the judging to an online platform.

“When we put everything online, we could (select judges from) anywhere in the world,” Ciarfeo said. “We wanted to raise the bar.”

Selecting judges from outside San Antonio put a stop to the “insular effect” of the process, and instead created a ripple effect for applying artists. Judges from around the world now had an inside look at San Antonio’s art scene, and the individual artists who make the art culture tick.

“We’re kind of an incubator,” Ciarfeo said.

"Highway 1" by Sara J. Frantz, 2012 Graham Weston Award for Visual Arts. Photo courtesy Artist Foundation.
“Highway 1” by Sara J. Frantz, 2012 Graham Weston Award for Visual Arts. Photo courtesy Artist Foundation.

Several of the grant recipients have since held exhibitions in California and other states. Although Ciarfeo cannot always provide a direct tie between the foundation and the artist’s future prosperity, she said in many cases the judges were linked to the artist’s success.

“This is proof that you can make a living from being an artist and you can do it in this city,” Ciarfeo said.

Including this year’s funds, the foundation has awarded $627,000 to 112 San Antonio artists.

“The key to the Artist Foundation’s success has been to keep its operation lean and laser-focused on its mission,” stated Bruce Bugg in a press release, the Tobin Endowment chairman and founder of the Tobin Grand Prize for Artistic Excellence, a $7,500 grant that is awarded to one of the selected artists.

For Pratchett, the foundation gives artists the creative space to produce work for themselves, independent of the dictations from others.

“It’s a dream if you will,” she said.

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....