Denver's RedLine Nets a Big Warhol Grant. How is This A Problem?

It was about two years ago when I first enjoyed live television on an airplane. Needless to say, it made the cross-country flight from San Francisco to New York a bit more tolerable.

But then something funny happened. Every subsequent flight without live television was a letdown. I had become accustomed to a certain kind of experience and anything less, justified or not, was a disappointment.

It speaks to human nature as well as to the inherent risks faced by businesses—or, for today's purposes, arts nonprofits that improve a program or an experience.

Take the case of RedLine, a Denver-based arts center and gallery. Eight to ten artists are chosen to participate in its two-year Artists-in-Residence program on an annual basis. (For more information, click here).

It's a fantastic program with only one hitch. Since its 2008 inception, RedLine has been unable to provide fully subsidized studio space for participating artists. Sure, a partially funded residency isn't the end of the world, but organizations naturally want to provide artists with the best experience possible. Enabling them to enjoy a residency program without paying a dime speaks to this goal.

RedLine finally received their much-needed help in the form of a $100,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation. The grant allows RedLine to provide subsidized studio space for career–oriented artists for the first time in its history. The grant is effective for all artists who will be accepted into the program as of September 1, 2014, as well as the current or second-year artists at RedLine.

Then we came across this line in RedLine's press release and our thoughts immediately turned to on-air, cross-country television: "This grant signals a new era in RedLine’s Artist in Residence program in that it will set the stage and expectation for artists to receive free studio space in the future." [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the bar has been raised. RedLine residents can henceforth expect what is equivalent to watching CSI: Miami while cruising over Iowa at 30,000 feet. That's great news for artists, and a good problem for RedLine to have. On one hand, it can finally offer subsidized residencies. On the other hand, where will the money come from once the Warhol Foundation's $100,000 runs out? How can RedLine maintain this level of funding, especially if artists now come to expect it?

We have no doubt that RedLine has a plan in place to fill the gaps once the money dries up. But the grant underscores the fact that by setting ambitious expectations, nonprofits run the risk of boxing themselves in. Nonetheless, it's a risk worth taking.

I, on the other hand, feel like I have just cause for sending a complaint to United Airlines. On my last cross-country sojourn, the Wi-Fi was so slow I couldn't even download the new Hobbit movie.

It felt like the flight would never end.