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Charting the Future of Our Support for Artists, Culture Bearers & Creatives

Dan Blask, Program Manager

photo of an artwork made of numerous paper cranes "carrying" a log covered in woven tapestry via strings held by each crane
Multimedia art by Bayda Asbridge of Worcester, a 2023 Cultural Sector Recovery Grantee.

Mass Cultural Council believes that the work of artists, culture bearers, and creative individuals is essential to a healthy and vibrant society.

This grant cycle (Fiscal Year 2023), we paused our Artist Fellowships program to reevaluate our funding opportunities for artists and creatives while simultaneously running the one-time Cultural Sector Recovery Grants for Individuals. The reevaluation began as part of our Racial Equity Plan and is guided by the vision and values of our recently ratified three-year Strategic Plan.

The work will culminate in the development of a new grant program for artists and creatives. The goal is to launch this new program sometime during next fiscal year (FY24), which begins on July 1, 2023.

We expect some aspects of our decision-making will change with the new program. One likely change is a move away from the Artist Fellowships’ sole focus on strength of work or artistic excellence. We recognize that words like “excellence” and “merit” can be weighted – and sometimes unconsciously tied to Western European aesthetic traditions or biases. We envision a program that reflects the rich diversity of creative expression throughout the Commonwealth.

Many details are still under review, but here is our current thinking about the new program’s mission: to equitably advance creative expression throughout the Commonwealth with unrestricted grants to individuals who demonstrate creative vision and commitment to their artistic/cultural practice.

How do we plan to meet this mission?

Some of the broad concepts we are exploring include:

More grant recipients
We want to increase the number of individuals funded by our grants in a fiscal year. (Previously, the most artists reached by our Artist Fellowships in one year was 150.) Increasing the number of grants may mean a lower individual grant amount than previous Artist Fellowships awards.

Unrestricted grants
Rather than limiting the funding to specific projects or uses, we think artists and creatives can best choose how our funds should advance their work and lives.

Greater reach in the sector
We will continue to welcome artists in disciplines previously funded by Artist Fellowships. We also wish to extend that welcome to artists and creatives in all disciplines, categories, and types of work. That includes performers, designers, DJs, drag artists, and many more. We want everyone who resides in Massachusetts and practices as an artist, creative, or culture bearer to see themselves in our program.

Rethinking anonymous review
An anonymous panel review process was a centerpiece of the Artist Fellowships for many years. But removing an applicant’s identity from the process limits the potential to prioritize equity. We are exploring ways to balance a focus on creative work (rather than on past accolades) while integrating an applicant’s identity and narrative in the application process.

Increased access
We want to enhance access to our programs. That means brief, simple application forms. It also means, where possible, allowing applicants to express themselves through other media like video or audio, where before we only accepted written responses. We remain committed to accessible design practices and availability in multiple languages.

Equitable review
We incorporated equitable grant practices in this year’s Cultural Sector Recovery Grants. This included implementing funding priorities to reach historically underfunded applicants and geographic distribution to ensure geographic diversity. We learned a great deal and are eager to continue that work, as we design a review process for our new program.

Going forward

We are deeply proud of our past funding history with the Artist Fellowships. However, as we enter this new chapter in our work, we plan to sunset the Fellows Notes featuring news from past grantees. We hope to announce our redesigned funding program for artists, culture bearers, and creative individuals (program name TBD) in Fiscal Year ’24. Sign up for our Artist News e-newsletter to receive updates about our support for artists, or follow the Agency on social media @MassCultural (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram).

In the meantime, please share your perspective on the broad ideas shared above by completing this brief survey. Please submit your survey response by July 12, 2023.

Complete the Survey

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