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5 Myths about the Creative Workforce Fellowship

Artists define the Creative Workforce Fellowship – through all aspects: the Fellowship year, the applications, the feedback... That last one is probably the toughest piece of the program for us on staff, but also the most interesting. We get some heated responses in the anonymous survey. We also hear directly from those who are not too shy to call us up.  I’ve been on the receiving end of many of these incredibly insightful conversations. The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) has revised the program every year based on these conversations…minus the curse words (totally kidding) and submits a new proposal for a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC). Along with the feedback, I’ve heard some less objective comments from the field over the years. I want to take a quick moment to address a few of the concerns that have popped up many more times than once. 

1. It’s a lottery.

If you treat this application the same as you do buying a lottery ticket, you’re probably right. There is probably an equal chance of receiving a Fellowship as winning the lottery in that case.

I have met every artist who has received a Creative Workforce Fellowship and many more who were strong contenders in the panel review. They are (or were) all very different. What they have in common is that they’ve spent a lot of time on the application—as well as their craft. They have worked in perfecting their craft, honing their ideas and talking (or writing) about their work with people at all levels of familiarity and expertise. Their passion bleeds through the entire application. They talk about their work, as well as what what their work does (or hope it does) for the audience who experiences it. The panel takes all of this into consideration and scores every application against the same scoring criteria. How your application speaks to the panel and relates to the criteria is up to you.

2. It’s all about community service, and [insert type of art here] artists can’t see how they fit in.

What is your definition of community service? If it is generally the idea of making the world a better place and improving the lives of others, then yes, I believe every artist provides a community service.

Any time people experience your work, you offer up—to sound grotesquely cliché—your gift. Whether it has moved them, grossed them out or they just passed it by unamused, people are affected by seeing a perspective that is different from their own.

Plenty of other noticeable benefits derive from the work of artists. CPAC has defined these public benefits by articulating what we know artists do. We’ve provided this concrete language as a means for people outside the field to better understand the benefits you provide. As a grant derived through public funds, it is absolutely necessary that we define why that money is going to artists, and why everyone benefits from that work. Artists are trained professionals who are here to offer vision. No one can escape a vision (I’m not talking literal here. I understand we can close our eyes and have varying physical capacities). The important thing is that those selected for a Fellowship are among those who have shared their vision most effectively within the boundaries of the application. 

3. It’s all about excellence and the “usual suspects,” lesser-known artists don’t have a chance.

“Every artist was first an amateur,” said Ralph Emerson. The Fellowship scoring criteria is stated plainly in the guidelines for every applicant and for the panelists. No one sees any names other than the few of us on staff. In fact, if a name is included in the application’s work samples or narrative, it is immediately disqualified. If someone who is well known locally receives a Fellowship, it is because they’ve earned it through quality work and a well-written application. Even so, I challenge you to look through the list of Fellows and tell me honestly that you knew every single artist prior to them receiving the award. My point being we have worked with plenty of extremely talented artists, both who are at the beginning of their career, as well as artists who have spent years evolving their art form. 

4. The panelists… aren’t qualified… don’t know my discipline… 

A LOT of work goes into choosing a panel that can effectively review every application submitted. We send a survey (feel free to send to artists you admire from out of state https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MC56PKN). The results are whittled down to a few. CPAC conducts an online search and review of each artist before they are interviewed over the phone.  A request to serve as a panelist is developed after all of the above items have been reviewed and approved.

Also important, is that the Fellowship uses a peer, crosscut panel. These are artists who work along side you in the field from across the country. I always recommend you write your application the way you would want to read it if you were a panelist. What questions would you have? Where would you focus your attention? Is it boring?

We ask panelists outside of your discipline, but with related expertise, to review your application too. It allows the program flexibility to award Fellowships based on merit, rather than a discipline quota. We also remove the highest and lowest scores before we take the average to prevent a panelist from trying to skew the outcome.

5. I’ve applied before and the program just isn’t for me.

That may be, and we appreciate everything you do. No program is for every person imaginable.However, since this program is publicly funded, CPAC in collaboration with CAC have developed a program that allows the broadest range of artists to be competitive. Every adult resident of Cuyahoga County (not including full-time students) is potentially eligible to apply for the $15,000 grant. As with all competitions, it is up to you to make your case for why your application warrants a higher score than the artist next to you. Talk to us before you count yourself out; if you don’t apply, you definitely won’t have the chance to receive a Fellowship.

Bonus: What is the deal with CPAC and CAC on this program?

Good question. We get a lot of questions about what the difference is between CPAC and CAC. For a broader answer, visit our FAQs and CAC’s website. Regarding the Fellowship, CPAC developed a grant application to receive special funding from CAC for the Fellowship program with the results of the evaluation we conducted last year. CAC is providing the public funding for all the awards and administrative costs save overhead (lights, rent, etc.). CPAC serves as the administrator for the program, which means we design the application, take in all submissions, identify the panel, conduct reporting with the Fellows, and all kinds of other details. 

We check in with one another to bounce ideas and clarify questions. I want to send a big shout out to Jake Sinatra at CAC who has reliably met with me every month to talk shop and help each other out. This program is only a portion of either organization’s work, but it’s a program we all feel deeply passionate about. With each application round, we learn. With every artist we meet, we grow. 

If you have questions about the program, let me know or post them in the comments. I would really enjoy the chance to hear more about you.

Categories: accessibility, Artists, creativity, Cuyahoga, funding, public

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