Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cheering on the artists

I left work a little early today, stopped by the Buskirk-Chumley box office to pick up a ticket for Carrie Newcomer's CD release concert next month, realized I had a little extra time, and wandered into the relatively new Blu Boy Chocolate Café and Cakery. Oh holy cow, that place is good! It's a tiny little hole in the wall with only about four tables for eating there, but they make all their own chocolate and serve very good locally-roasted coffee. They had various cookies, cupcakes, tarts, chocolates, persimmon pudding, and good stuff like that. I had the most amazing chocolate cookie (it was like the chocolate cookie that all other chocolate cookies wish they could be!) and a cup of very good coffee, sat down at a table and scribbled in my journal for a bit. When I got up to leave I realized the woman at the table behind me was also writing, and on the table in front of her (next to her chocolate cookie and cup of coffee) was a copy of The Practice of Poetry. I guess chocolate and coffee and poetry and hanging out in a little cafe on a rainy day just go together really well, huh? :)

Then I went over to the John Waldron Arts Center for a workshop about this coming year's Indiana Arts Commission Individual Artist Grant program. I was one of two current grantees on the agenda to share our experiences and advice. There was a good turnout for the workshop, including one person I knew well enough to go say hi to and a couple of other faces that looked familiar. I basically gave a little five-minute pep talk -- talked about going up to Indianapolis to listen to the review panel, and some of the things they said, and what a great learning experience it was; talked about how important it is to present yourself professionally in your application, and how the panels DO notice if your writing is sloppy and full of typographical errors. I wrapped up by saying that the process of putting together the application should be a great learning experience, and especially if it's your first time doing this, just applying for the grant is a big step in your artistic career. It gives you the opportunity to step back and look at what you've done so far and what you'd like to do, and what you need in order to get you from here to there; it gives you the opportunity to look at your art as a part of a larger artistic community; and, maybe most importantly, it makes you stand up as an advocate for your art, to say things like "I write these poems and they are good enough that somebody should give me money so that I can do more of it." That's hard, for some of us, maybe for most of us -- making, out loud, a clear statement of belief in your own work. Just doing that, going through the process of doing that, can be an incredibly worthwhile experience whether or not you actually end up getting the grant. And, I said, once you get your application in, give yourself some credit for that. Go out and get a cupcake, and celebrate, and congratulate yourself.

Afterwards I chatted with a writer who's starting to work on her application, and made some suggestions for her. And a couple of other people told me that what I'd said had been helpful for them to hear, which felt really good. (Another thing I said was that the "public benefit" part of the project -- because it's funded by taxpayer money, you have to show that the citizens of Indiana can benefit somehow from your project -- could be fulfilled by something as simple as blogging about the process. Hi. One person said she really liked that idea.)

I hope that what I had to say was helpful and encouraging. The whole process, because it's a state government thing, is filled with bureaucracy and paperwork and hoops to jump through -- and it can be awfully overwhelming and intimidating. I hope I gave at least one person enough encouragement to get through the process and get something good out of it. If I did, then I'm really glad I made the effort. Anyhow, if nothing else, it's always kind of fun to meet a few other artists/writers and suchlike, and remember how many of us there are out there! And it's nice to be reminded that a year ago I was sitting there in that workshop, wondering whether I'd be able to get it together to get my application in -- which I did, and I feel really good about having been successful with it, and grateful to have been given the vote of confidence in my work that this funding represents.

Grants are good. There ought to be more of them, darn it.

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