In a city that verbally supports the idea of a creative economy and financially backs entrepreneurial undertakings, I find it problematic that the City of San Antonio does not provide direct funding opportunities for individual artists.
While formal training and education isn’t a requirement for working artists, compensation is.
In late January, nine individual artists from San Antonio received grants to support their artistic work from the National Association for Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) and the Artist Foundation of San Antonio.
Grantees’ awards went straight to their bank accounts rather than being funneled through another organization – a coveted and rare experience for individual artists in San Antonio, who lack a direct line to creativity through sustainability.
The City’s Department of Arts & Culture does not directly fund individual artists. Instead, it expects individual artists to vie for one of 10 slots granted by either NALAC and/or the Artist Foundation, the only two organizations who receive funding through the department’s Artist Re-Granting Program.
The City may argue that the Artist Re-Granting program, which falls under the recently approved Cul-TÚ-Art plan, addresses the need to support individual artists. I would argue that it limits individual artists’ access to funding, especially since only two organizations currently receive that funding. The Re-Granting program is important and should remain, but the City should support individual artists as self-reliant startups by allowing them to directly apply for City grants. It’s a relatively small investment that would go a long way toward furthering the vitality of San Antonio’s local arts scene.
When I reference “individual artists,” I do so as a working artist, not as an arts-hobbyist. I have spent chingos of years – more than 20 – in the field, both as an organizational artist, working within nonprofit arts organizations, and as an independent artist, working on contractual projects.
While arts-hobbyists provide the heart and animo to our arts community, both as makers and supporters, working artists must learn to balance making art and making a living. I currently have four part-time jobs – three separate teaching gigs and one audience development gig. I’m lucky that they are in my field.
Last year, I was awarded a NALAC Fund for the Arts grant for Ruby Reds, Big Birds y Burras, a play I wrote, directed, and acted in at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. I leveraged these funds to pay local actors, designers, and musicians and to create a touring version of my one-woman show, Tejana Trilogy.
The grant enabled me to live fully in my art for two months. Que luxurious to spend full days in the theater, especially since individual artist grant opportunities – in San Antonio and elsewhere – are few and far between.
Where are the individual artist opportunities for theater and performance artists, zine-makers, and writers of any other genre besides poetry and interdisciplinary artists? The City’s Public Art San Antonio opportunities do not apply to them.
I came out of my “grad school hibernation” in May 2017 with two master’s degrees, ready to apply for the City’s stART Place funding, which is now defunct. I dug deeper and still did not find opportunities for individual artists to apply for City funding.
Why did the City quit the stART Place Program? It seemed like an inclusive opportunity for a diverse slate of art proposals. Just as I was about to apply, I found it had disappeared.
The City’s Cultural Events & Exhibits division also sounds visual artist-centered. I have seen poetry and other cross-disciplinary events hosted by this division, but the vetting process is a mystery to me. I am a fan of all our past and current City-appointed Poet Laureates, but this opportunity is limited to recognizing one poet every two years.
I am grateful to have artistic homes in San Antonio that support my work – Jump-Start Performance Co. and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center to name two. They, in turn, are grateful when I secure my own funding to produce work in their spaces.
Individual artists are underserved and underrepresented in the City’s current menu of cultural arts funding programs. The City currently funds about 50 arts organizations, but it can make an even greater impact by providing funding opportunities directly to individual artists. San Antonio should take a page out of Detroit’s book and create a “chief storyteller” position open to writers of various genres. As another example, Dallas has three grant program opportunities for individual artists.
Orale, City arts leaders – let’s do this.