Article: Understanding Support for Individual Artists

John Carnwath

Fall 2014

Grantmakers in the Arts Reader

Making a Case for National Standards

From the introduction

For several years, Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) members have noted the lack of sector-wide information about support for individual artists. Many funders feel that direct support for artists is a crucial part of the arts funding ecology and one that is underresourced. In the past, however, it has been difficult to assess the extent to which artists are being supported by institutional funders. In fact, it has even been difficult to have a field-wide conversation about the different ways in which artists receive support. In part, this is due to the fact that there are so many different forms of support. But more importantly, the terms that are used to describe them are not uniformly defined, and it is not always clear what distinguishes one type of support from another. Are commissions a form of project grant, or are the two fundamentally different? Is a fellowship simply an unrestricted grant, or does the term imply something more than that? There is not even clear agreement about what should count as “support.”

To foster more fruitful conversations, GIA recently released A Proposed National Standard Taxonomy for Reporting Data on Support for Individual Artists. With ongoing participation of the GIA Individual Artists Support Committee, this taxonomy was constructed through an iterative process that unfolded over two years and involved scores of interviews with funders and arts service organizations, as well as focused discussions at the 2012 and 2013 GIA conferences. The term taxonomy (derived from the Greek taxis, meaning “arrangement”) refers to a system of classification, and in this particular case we are concerned with defining the ways in which foundations and other organizations support individual artists and mapping how these forms of support relate to one another.

Why does it matter whether the funds awarded through support programs are referred to as grants, stipends, fellowships, or awards? There are in fact many reasons why definitional clarity matters and why failure to agree on a common vocabulary impedes the advancement of the field.

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