The Independence Problem

On June 16th, the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia announced the list of 2014 grant awardees, and subsequently, Peter Crimmins of WHYY wrote/broadcast a piece about the reorganization of Pew grant application categories and the struggles of independent artists in the current funding climate.

What I am not going to do here is complain about the reorganization of Pew. I frankly do not have the insight to make any sort of comment about the restructuring. What I can say is that from examining the list of funded projects by Pew in 2014, is that there is a certain enthusiasm for creativity within history organizations. How exciting!

But what about independent artists? Crimmins reported that Charlotte Ford, Performer of the Year by Philadelphia magazine in 2012 and recent winner of the $10,000 Otto Haas award for Emerging Theater Artists, was retiring from work as a theater artist because she could no longer win funding from Pew. With an extremely challenging funding climate at the national level, Ford cited Pew as her only hope for funding. With that hope gone, she decided to shift her career focus.

Scary. Scary for independent artists everywhere. But what I wonder, if historical organizations are receiving funding from Pew for largely original creative work, that independent artists focused on history might meet better success working with them. What is it about history-oriented creative projects that are appealing to Pew right now? Is it the state of Philadelphia, the still-looming arms of a postindustrial economic climate, a city still recovering from deep racial boundaries in the midst of rapid change, that begs for something illuminating and risky in the archives, or on the stage? Well, I do not know. But I certainly am thinking about it.

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