Ruby Lerner, Creative Capital

TITLE: President & Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Film/video, performing arts, literature, and visual arts

CONTACT: ruby@creative-capital.org, (212) 598-9900

IP TAKE: Are you an artist, writer, filmmaker, or performer looking for an all-inclusive, multi-year supporting grant program? Lerner's organization may be the way to go.

PROFILE: Ruby Lerner is the President and founding Executive Director of Creative Capital, one of the most unique and dynamic grantmaking institutions in the arts. In 1999 she began the organization on a mission to "reinvent cultural philanthropy to support innovative artists pursuing adventurous projects in all disciplines."

She did this by applying the principles of venture capital to their arts funding model and choosing to invest for the long term by forming ongoing relationships with the projects Creative Capital supports. The results have been a resounding and groundbreaking success.

Prior to her work at Creative Capital, Lerner served for a time as the Executive Director of the Association of Independent Film and Videomakers (AIVF) and as publisher of the much regarded Independent Film and Video Monthly. Lerner has also worked regionally in both the performing arts and independent media fields and has served as the Executive Director of Alternate ROOTS, a coalition of Southeastern performing artists, and at IMAGE Film/Video Center, both based in Atlanta. In the late 70s, she was Audience Development Director at the Manhattan Theatre Club, one of New York's foremost nonprofit theaters.

Lerner is a North Carolina native and did work in the state's visiting artist program for a while following her graduate work in theater at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. During her nearly thirty years in the arts, Lerner has written and lectured extensively on arts issues, served on many boards, steering committees and grantmaking panels, and has consulted with hundreds of arts organizations on audience development and related areas of arts management. She's been the recipient of numerous awards over the years, including the Catalyst Award from the National Association of Artists Organizations, a Creative Leadership Award from the Alliance of Artists Communities, and an Artist Advocate Award from the Alliance of New York State Arts Organizations. Lerner is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, the Goucher College Committee of Visitors, and the University of NC at Chapel Hill Innovation Circle.

Lerner has steered Creative Capital into an incredibly distinguished position in the field of grantmaking in the arts. Creative Capital is one of the few organizations of its size that provides such a high degree of support to its grantees at so many levels and stages of each project.

She explains their approach: "You may think of Creative Capital as an organization that gives grants to artists, but that’s only one part of the picture. We do award grants for artists’ projects, and we are thrilled to be able to provide artists with financial support! On the other hand, money alone doesn’t guarantee success. We’ve learned the importance of services and resources for artists, such as professional advice, contacts, networking and coaching."

Creative Capital provides support for projects in five areas: Emerging Fields, Film/Video, Literature, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts. They do this on a rolling basis each year in order to give them room to support and nurture each project, which is what distinguishes Creative Capital in many ways.

Lerner elaborates, "Creative Capital’s approach pairs funding with advisory services and other non-monetary support for our grantees, including consultations with our Artist Services staff, access to our network of arts consultants, Artist Retreats, phone-in clinics and promotional activities. We see ourselves as a 'permanent laboratory,' continually experimenting with our programs and services to find what works best."

This all-encompassing approach, along with the ability to adapt and change along the way is what has kept Creative Capital on the forefront of the constantly evolving arts scene for over a decade. As Lerner explained in an interview, "One of the things I’m the proudest of is that we move really quickly. We try things and if they don’t work, we discard them really quickly. I bet there are a thousand things we’ve done that I don’t remember anymore because we quickly replaced them with something that did. I think it’s very important to stay open to changing things as rapidly as possible if they’re not working well."

Some of the key pieces of advice she gives to prospective grantees include:

  • "Ours is not a grant for everyone. It demands a high level of engagement from our awardees.
  • We have a very competitive, layered and demanding selection process. Still, you should apply and try not to be discouraged if you don’t get a grant – many of our awardees have applied multiple times.
  • How you write about your project is important. Refrain from using art “jargon” or hyperbole.
  • Pay special attention to our question about how you think your proposed project will be catalytic for you. Our evaluators and panelists carefully consider whether or not now is the optimum moment for someone to receive this award.
  • Your work samples are very important. Be sure to connect the project you are proposing with what you are showing of your previous work.
  • Share your proposal with friends or family to make sure you are making a clear and strong case for yourself."

Lerner also recently laid out Creative Capital's grantmaking process on the website's blog. It's an informative glimpse at how they go about selecting their grantees that you can read here. She also explained to IP that their support includes an "ever-evolving" four-part approach for the art and artists they select:

  • Support for the Project: "We provide support for a specific project, including money, meetings and mentorship."
  • Support for the Artists: "We help awardees define success for themselves and provide the skills, tools and information necessary to achieve those goals and to sustain a successful creative practice long term."
  • Support for our Community of Artists: "We build a supportive team around each individual project and help our awardees become a community of support for each other by facilitating environments and events, which allow them to interact with one another and with professionals in a variety of fields who are in positions to provide opportunities."
  • Engage the Public: "We promote the awardees and their projects on our website, through enewsletters, and eblasts around project premieres, with extensive support via social media."

Lerner's contribution to the world of grantmaking in the arts cannot be understated and the list of artists, writers, filmmakers, and performers Creative Capital has helped is a standing testament to that.

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