Sean Elwood, Creative Capital

TITLE: Director, Programs and Initiatives

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

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Don't allow Elwood's history in musems and fine arts fool you into thinking he's one dimensional. He supports a number of varied and interesting artists at Creative Capital.

PROFILE: Besides being an occasional curator, collector, publisher, writer, and painter on his own time, Sean Elwood is first and foremost the current Director of Programs and Initiatives for Creative Capital, a title he assumed in 2010. He moved into this position from his former post as Director of Grants & Services, and before that, from his interntal posts of Acting Director of the MAP Fund and Grants Officer.

Elwood is also a member of the foundation's management team and advises some of Creative Capital's other divisions and partner programs (like the Multi-Arts Production (MAP) Fund he was temporarily director of), and the Arts Writer's Grant Program, a program administered in conjunction with the Warhol Foundation.

In a recent commentary about current art funding, Elwood said, "Recently there’s been a lot of talk about how artist-endowed foundations may become significant revenue streams for the cultural sphere. I agree... the Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, and other such foundations do good work and we need more like them."

But he goes on to explain, "But there needs to be a second tier of organizations to gather together funds from the estates of those thousands of artists (and art administrators, dealers, collectors and the art interested) who struggled and supported themselves through a creative life and who have built modest but real estates. These should be aggregated and managed to create community-fund-like foundations, dedicated to the support of the creative arts, administered in coordinated efforts to ultimately build a logical, sequential system of art support for all the creative disciplines."

This is exactly part of the work that Creative Capital is doing, and Elwood is primely positioned to see this vision through. In addition to the unique grant program Creative Capital offers, it also hosts an array of services that Elwood helps administer, like the Professional Development Program, which provides career tools for artists, and as their core curriculum workshops, which integrate strategic planning, communication, business management, fundraising, and marketing in helping artists promote their work.

A post by Elwood on the Creative Capital blog about the performance project PearlDamour, one of Creative Capital's grant recipients, gives a wonderful behind-the-scenes account of how that project went through the application process and shows the precise steps the grant making took from beginning to end. It's a hugely informative case study of how Creative Capital and Elwood approach what they do and even what happens to the project after the funds are distributed.

Elwood explained to IP recently about some of the characteristics that their grantees share: "They tend to be open, curious, smart, savvy, inventive, generous, committed to their creative practices and to sustaining their careers over the long term. Know that we demand a lot of you: time, engagement, attention, patience, generosity, readiness to accept the kinds of help we offer and a willingness to work with others. We look to support projects that reflect a nation of work by generative artists who represent diversities of all sorts (age, gender, geography, ethnicity, content, modes of expression, style and formal approaches etc.). We want to discover or re-discover artists at any point in their career who are capable of completing ambitious, strong, successful and impactful works of art (as defined by the artist), and who will accept our help in doing so."

He also went on to give a few tips to those that are thinking of applying:

  • "Know that we fund less than 2% of those who begin the application process. But we still think applying is important because: 1) We feel going through the application process is itself a beneficial exercise for artists; and 2) You have to be in it to win it. That is, you have to apply, sometimes over and over, if you are to be awarded a Creative Capital Grant.
  • Also read the guidelines carefully (we like to think we’re pretty clear in saying what we want from applicants).
  • Write clearly and succinctly.
  • Don’t wait until the deadline to submit."

And the theory behind their grantmaking?  He says:

  • "We pay attention to what the artists say they need.
  • We launch new policies, programs and initiatives for the Foundation based on how they will provide benefit to the artists we select.
  • We try to stop doing what doesn’t work and bolster those services that seem beneficial.
  • To the occasional dismay of the staff and the artists we support, we never stop evaluating and Iterating what and how we do what we do, or surveying the artists or others in the field to find out what they say they need."

Before joining Creative Capital in 2000, Elwood had a varied and fruitful career in the arts, which has helped inform his decisions and insight at Creative Capital. Just before he moved to Creative Capital, Elwood served as Curator & Collections Manager for the Seattle Arts Commission for a number of years. His professional experience also includes a stint as Director for Special Projects at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York, and managing the Visual Arts Residency Program at the Centrum Foundation. He was also founder of SEEDITIONS Art Publishing Company as well as co-owner of the Fuller/Elwood Gallery in Seattle.

Elwood currently serves on the board of Triple Canopy, and on advisory boards for Lower East Side Printshop, Watts House Project, and Dieu Donné Papermill. He also received a Max Beckmann Scholarship for Painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and holds a M.A. in Visual Arts from Hunter College.

All told, Elwood certainly has a solid background for his position as the main director of Creative Capital's Artist Services division. And his heart is most definitely in the right place, as he sees all disciplines and artists of all backgrounds and career levels as having merit. That's not to say he isn't stringent in what he's looking for through Creative Capital, but it's definitely a benefit to artists of all stripes to have someone with his outlook at that place. 

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