How Is the Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Breathing Life Into Arts Writing?

Followers of the Warhol Foundation know that they often go where others fear to tread.

The Warhol Foundation is a mainstream arts funder that gives money to relatively experimental groups like Southern Exposure, a San Francisco-based arts nonprofit that, among other things, completely ignores traditional concepts like, say, selling artwork or building a sustainable engagement model. Southern Exposure funds work that accomplishes "something in a given moment that is really necessary," according to program director Courtney Fink. Why not?

The Warhol Foundation has also been instrumental in keeping the dying forms of arts writing and art criticism alive. Along with Creative Capital, the foundation runs the Arts Writers Grant Program, which supports writers whose work addresses contemporary visual art through project-based grants, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, issued directly to twenty individual authors a year. This year's program awarded a total of $600,000.

Writers who meet the program's eligibility requirements can apply in the following categories: articles, blogs, books, new and alternative media, and short-form writing.

The answer to the following question may be intuitively obvious, but we'll ask it anyway: Why is it important to fund criticism and general writing of the visual arts? For the foundation and Creative Capital, the program was founded "in recognition of both the financially precarious situation of arts writers and their indispensable contribution to a vital artistic culture."

It's hard to argue with the first part of that answer. No parent ever told their child, "Son, if you want to get rich, become a visual arts critic." But what about these writers' "indispensable contribution to a vital artistic culture?" For an answer to this question, we take a closer look at two of the 20 recipients from this year's round of funding.

Film writers Rachael Rakes and Leo Goldsmith scored a grant for their upcoming book, "Distant Present: The Radical Art and Ideas of Peter Watkins." Watkins, a English film and television director, was a pioneer of the docudrama. In fact — full disclosure, the name didn't ring a bell — a little Googling revealed an article from Harvard Film Archive claiming that, "There is a strong case to be made that Peter Watkins is the most neglected major filmmaker at work today."

And there you have it. Reflecting the Warhol Foundation's tendency to go where others are unwilling to tread, Rakes and Goldsmith felt compelled to pay homage to an artist who has been criminally undervalued during this lifetime. In other words, they presented a story that simply had to be told.

If that isn't an "indispensable contribution" to culture, we don't know what is.