Minneapolis' Intermedia Arts Provides Financial Support to Spoken Word Poets. So Why Am I Depressed?

Ok, it's trivia time.

How many grants exist for spoken-word poets nationwide?

Time's up.

The answer, at least according to Intermedia Arts, is one. That's right. One.

The grant in question is Intermedia Arts' VERVE Grants for Spoken Word Poets, which provides grants of up to $4,000 to four to six emerging Minnesota spoken-word poets who are interested in artistic advancement and leadership in their communities. Through financial assistance, professional encouragement, and recognition within a culturally and socio-economically diverse group of literary artists, this program strengthens and supports Minnesota's literary community.

You can check out the winners here. In the meantime, the whole trivia contest got me thinking. Could there really only be one grant that exists for spoken-word poets?

For an answer, some semantic hair-splitting is in order. Of course, there are many grants out there for poets, but in most cases, the poetry is presented in a written form. To test this theory, I went to Poets and Writers magazine, which has an extensive online database for writing contests, grants, and awards. There is no shortage of grants for poetry in the general sense; however, when I typed in "spoken word" in the search field, there were no results. Hmmm.

Furthermore, a cursory web search found that while certain organizations receive grant money for spoken-word poetry, it's often for programming, rather than actually cutting checks to individual poets.

So there's certainly some truth to Intermedia Arts' assertion, which leads me to my next question: Why do so few foundations and funders support spoken-word poets?

The answer to this question is far more philosophical and existential. For brevity's sake, I'll spare you. Instead, let's quickly focus on the VERVE grant and why it should be on every Minnesota-based, spoken-word poet's radar.

In addition to the grant award, recipients will also participate in a cohort program that provides community, mentorship, guidance, workshops, and resources throughout the program. Meanwhile, Intermedia Arts defines an "emerging artist" as someone whose work "demonstrates a sustained level of accomplishment and commitment to the art form, but who has not yet received widespread recognition or acknowledgement as an established creator from fellow writers and/or other arts professionals."

The program runs from March 2015 to December 2015, and applications are currently closed.

Taken in total, the award represents a classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news? There's a funder out there supporting the art of spoken-word poetry. The bad news? There's (presumably) just a single funder out there supporting the art of spoken-word poetry. And it's only open to Minnesota residents.

What's up with that?