Matthew Conboy won the first Crusade Engagement Grant for his program idea, Start With Art. Matthew used the $10,000 grant award to fund the first year of the program (2015), and he has been able to keep the program going (and growing!) since. He's had some great press and exciting funding news lately, and we asked him to tell us more. 

As the inaugural recipient of the Crusade Engagement Grant, I feel like I’ve run the gamut in terms of developing a project and then funding it. The program I founded, Start with Art: Pittsburgh, was something that I created specifically for the Engagement Grant although I did have the idea bouncing around my head for a couple of years. My proposal was to create the youngest art collectors in the world by giving a photographic print to every baby born at one hospital in Pittsburgh. That one hospital quickly turned into three hospitals that still only cover 20% of the babies born in Pittsburgh each year. Even so, little did I know how quickly I could spend the entire grant award and how much time funding an art project could entail.

In 2015, the program’s first year, I was lucky enough to receive some additional funding from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council that paid for a poet to create written descriptions of each print for the benefit of people with visual impairments. Even so, the cost of graphic design, developing a website (thank you Jennifer!), artist honoraria, and ink and paper all added up to more than the $10,000 award from Crusade for Art. Fortunately, a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on the Arts that I received that September ensured I could finish the year in the black.

December's Start With Art photo,  Rising, Gathering  by  Danny Bracken

December's Start With Art photo, Rising, Gathering by Danny Bracken

At the end of 2015, I decided to only apply to one foundation in Pittsburgh that I thought would be my primary funder for 2016. Unfortunately, putting all of my eggs in one basket definitely did not work out in my favor and my grant application was turned down by the foundation. At the same time, I was also participating in New Sun Rising’s Arts MODE, a six-month fellowship for artists and arts organizations seeking to build business plans and create proposals for funders. By the end of this fellowship, I was able to put together a complete Common Grant application that is used by almost all of the foundations in Western Pennsylvania. At this time, I began thinking about who I would approach for funding and talk with in order to receive those grants. In addition to monetary support, I also began looking at in-kind support from vendors that I was already using. Amazingly, on the same day that I received a proclamation from Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto for the 5,000th baby art collector, Epson sent me one of their newest printers, a P800 inkjet printer. Not only was it an upgrade to the printer I had been using for Start with Art, it helped me save more than 20% on ink.

At the end of the summer, New Sun Rising helped me partner with a local whiskey distillery to use their space for a fundraiser, which helped me recoup some costs. In total, though, I spent more than $10,000 from my own funds on the project. I knew that I couldn’t continue to fund this project on my own, so I made a concerted effort beginning in August to meet with the program officers for several large foundations in Pittsburgh.

At the end of August, I was invited at the last moment to participate in an art studio dinner series where all of the diners get to go home with a signed print from one of three artists. Although the artists for this series all come from Radiant Hall studio, the organizer, (Ryan Lammie, who was also Start with Art’s December 2015 artist) included me since I had written several recommendation letters to foundations when he was applying for his own funding. When it was my turn to introduce my work, I made sure to mention Start with Art and how important it was to me as an artist and educator. Before the end of dinner, one of the guests approached me and told me that he was a director of a local foundation (The Opportunity Fund) and, even though the deadline had already passed, wanted me to submit a letter of interest. Within one week, I was then asked to submit a full grant application to his foundation.

January's Start With Art photo,  Mt. Washington Landscape  by  Jake Reinhart

January's Start With Art photo, Mt. Washington Landscape by Jake Reinhart

At the same time, I was also preparing a letter of interest and grant application for The Heinz Endowments. I have no doubt that if I had not contacted their program officer, I would not have been invited to submit a full application to them. Because of the unique nature of Start with Art—twelve artists curated by me each year—I had to edit my application to fit their criteria. Where I would normally have submitted images of previous artists’ and months’ prints, the program officer made it clear that the grant committee would want to see examples of my own work so that they could see my curatorial eye. He also helped me change the wording of my proposal so that instead of simply giving these prints as gifts, these babies would actually be hosting almost 275 simultaneous exhibitions of that month’s artist. It wouldn’t have been the way I described this project, but I also realized that this program officer would be acting as my advocate, so I took all of his advice to heart.

Fortunately for me (and Pittsburgh’s babies), both The Opportunity Fund and The Heinz Endowments decided to fully fund Start with Art for 2017. Even better is that Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania gave me two grants for professional development and the Pennsylvania Commission on the Arts gave me a grant for the second year in a row. Start with Art, and its funding, has turned into a full-time job for me, and I couldn’t be happier. Receiving these grants has given me enough breathing room so that I can finally start thinking about expansion—something that two communities in Wisconsin and Maryland have already expressed interest in.

Even more exciting is the slate of artists and photographers I curated. We will have one Pulitzer Prize winner, one museum director, three emerging artists of the year in Pittsburgh, and finally, our second photographer whose work is being sent to the Moon.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Start with Art didn’t exist until I locked myself in my office for a long weekend back in 2014 to work on the Crusade Engagement Grant. Giving photographic prints to newborn babies may have seemed far fetched at the time, but now, after two years, I can’t wait to introduce art and photography to as many babies and families as I can.

July's Start With Art photograph,  The Growing Season: July  (Excerpt) by  Jessica Server

July's Start With Art photograph, The Growing Season: July (Excerpt) by Jessica Server