In the parable of the talents, Jesus is clear that he does not want us to be wasteful with what little we have. Instead, the servant with the least amount of resources learns that he who is faithful with small things will be given more.
As we confront issues of funding for artists in the twentieth century church, we have to ask whether our funding systems are simply handouts, or if they innovatively encourage creativity that is both redemptive and generative.
By redemptive, we mean that, at the intersection of a theology of beauty and the church’s broader theological narrative, we find the opportunity to support art that is “on earth, as it is in heaven”—projects that are re-humanizing, full of resurrection, etc.
By generative, we mean art that is not a dead-end. Art that moves towards becoming self-sustaining, “pays it forward” by being life-giving to another person or work of art, or paves the way for future creativity, broadening the horizons of what arts practitioners consider possible. Most often, generative initiatives may come through projects (or even business plans) that confront systematic challenges within the creative realm, which require the “big bucks.”
Take the example of micro-grant programs like SOUP, the Detroit-based version of the national movement towards artists funding other artists. Area artists gather monthly to eat together, each participant contributes a small amount for admission, and attendees propose creative projects. At the end of the meal, the crowd votes on which proposal to fund with that evening’s income.
Suppose that we re-worked the church’s current grant-like model of funding from Angel investment groups towards a combination of micro- and macro- initiatives. Democratic, grassroots dinners like SOUP only maintain their integrity if they remain small. (A 1,000+ SOUP night would be a conference, not a dinner.) So, let artists go on funding other artists until the end of a term when the completed projects funded by that year’s microgrants are entered into a larger competition for funding. The projects which proved to be most successful, generative, redemptive, would receive a much larger grant so as to expand their scope. (Those who have been given little will be given more.)
Such a model would be revolutionary on a number of levels. 1) It engages artists in the decision about what to value instead of leaving our artists at the mercy of the art market. 2) It starts with a small responsibility, a small amount and entrusts those who are faithful with that amount with more. 3) It would be a systemic approach to funding (and growing) arts projects.
Rather than haphazardly giving grants to individual artists for single projects, the model develops groups of artists and pipelines of projects, paying innovation forward, and being truly generative.
Maureen Lovett, Director of the New City Arts Initiative
Natalie Race, Editor of The Curator
The authors thank Maggie Guggenheimer, Kate Daughdrill, and the International Arts Movement whose insights have influenced the thoughts behind this post.