No Activist is an Island: Tracking the Evolution of a Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art

The increasingly popular "artist as activist" model of artist funding is rather fluid. Since we first started tracking this trend approximately two years ago, we've noted some subtle, but nonetheless important changes in how foundations perceive the "artist as activist," and how they allocate funding.

For example, as recently noted,Robert Rauschenberg Foundation's Artist as Activist program, which cast a wide net in terms of the topics artists could explore, consolidated its focus on America's mass incarceration epidemic.

Meanwhile, Creative Capital announced the winners of its 2016 grant cycle, recognizing "artist-activists" who are engaging some of the "most significant and hotly debated issues of our time." We found it intriguing that the press release for the previous year's winners didn't include the word "activist" at all.

Which bring us to a Blade of Grass (ABOG), which provides resources to artists who demonstrate artistic excellence and "serve as innovative conduits for social change." Back in 2014, we looked at recent grant winners, and now comes word that the foundation is accepting applications for $20,000 fellowships that promote art as a catalyst for social change. 

So we couldn't help but wonder: Has the fellowship changed in any significant way since 2014?

The short answer is "not significantly." But there are a few talking points that are nonetheless worth passing along. For starters, the grantmaker funds projects in which "co-creation with non-artists is part of the process." A Blade of Grass also values process over product—"relationship building and problem solving are key goals" of funded projects.

In short, no activist is an island. The grantmaker is looking for artists who collaborate with the larger community—non-artists, politicians, social workers, you name it. And so the fellowship also includes the following:

  • A two-day orientation that explores ABOG’s documentation and field research models, and includes workshops on strategies for community engagement.
  • A two-day midyear retreat with other fellows to share progress and challenges.
  • Field research by an outside evaluator. ABOG wants to "understand how the projects we support impact communities, and capture and share innovative ideas and successful models for future use.

This "it takes a village" approach isn't lost on other promoters of "artist as activist" grants. The Rauschenberg Artist as Activist program brings together fellows on their residency campus in Captiva, Florida, providing a venue for the artists to exchange strategies and connect to leadership in the fields of art and justice, expanding their network of allies and partners.

Initial letters of interest for ABOG's Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art are due September 19, 2016. Click here to apply.