Jennifer Schwartz and the Crusade Engagement Grant by Aline Smithson March 20, 2014

With the April 1st deadline on the horizon, I thought it was time to check in with Jennifer Schwartz to find out more about The Crusade Engagement Grant. It’s a unique approach to grant giving and inspires photographers to consider taking the reigns of their own trajectory and inspires out-of-the-box thinking.

As Jennifer states, “Prodigious effort is going into programs and initiatives that create supply – opportunities to educate artists and help them create and exhibit work – which is resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of fine art photographers and huge volumes of their art. Little support focuses on creating a demand for this art. Demand is not keeping up with supply, and if not corrected, will create a huge imbalance where there is an abundance of art but no audience for it. Crusade for Art is dedicated to cultivating demand for art.”

The Crusade Engagement Grant looks really exciting. How did the idea come about?

Crusade for Art is about creating demand for art, specifically fine art photography. Last year I drove around the country in a VW bus for the Crusade for Collecting Tour – a crazy idea I had to build new audiences for photography. I gave talks in almost all of the ten cities I visited, and after I would finish, several people would always come up to me and say that no one else was talking about how to connect people to their art. Now I don’t know if this is true, but it was true enough. And how could this be? We talk so much about making the art, but what about building collectors and connecting to audiences? Isn’t that a huge reason we make art in the first place?

As I was driving around the country (slowly, since driving above 50mph was not recommended for this particularly temperamental vehicle), I thought about how to get a lot of photographers thinking about cultivating demand for art. It’s a tough nut to crack, but I thought if we could get our creative force – our artists – behind this problem, we may have a decent chance at creating real systemic change that would benefit the entire arts ecology. More art lovers, more art collectors, more thriving artists, more stable galleries, more supported museums. . . a win for everyone.

So how to get a large volume of photographers to brainstorm? Offer them a lot of money. It seemed simple enough, and hopefully it will work. We are looking for projects that focus on creating demand for photography and provide a concrete plan to create one-to-one connections between the photographer, the viewer, and the audience. So start thinking people! Ten thousand dollars is a nice chunk of change for being creative and doing something to make the art world a more viable place for everyone.

Are you going to share the winning idea with the world?

We will absolutely share the winning idea. The Crusade Engagement Grant will be awarded to an individual photographer or group of photographers with the most innovative plan for increasing their audience and collector base. The unrestricted grant is created both to generate and highlight these innovations, and to underwrite the execution of the best idea. The top ideas may inspire other artists to create their own. I have gotten a lot of feedback like this: “It’s just a very different type of “application” and project focus, which as artists, we don’t always think about.”

Which is the point. Many of the applications so far have been photographers submitting artist statements, not a project idea or plan to engage people with their work. It seems to be stumping people and making them think about creating demand for their work for possibly the first time – which is exactly what we’re trying to do.

You, yourself, have been hard at work finding new ways to connect with an audience over the years–your programs Crusade for Collecting and The Ten were innovations on connecting with a bigger audience. Can you share your experience with that?

I am passionate about finding audiences for photography, and that interest started when I opened Jennifer Schwartz Gallery five years ago (the gallery closed at the end of 2013, so I could run the non-profit full time). I hung photographs on the wall, opened the doors, and then said to myself, “Where is everyone?” And the people who did come, weren’t necessarily the people I wanted. I needed buyers, and I needed to figure out how to find them. I thought a lot about who exactly I was trying to attract to the gallery and how to get them there. I began developing programs like Walk Away With ArtArtFeastArt Circle, and others to get new people in Atlanta excited about photography, and specifically the photographers I was showing. Eventually, I wanted to engage new audiences beyond Atlanta, which is what prompted the Crusade for Collecting Tour and The Ten project.

What propelled you to close your gallery doors and become a not-for-profit entity?

The ideas, successes, and experiences of Jennifer Schwartz Gallery, The Ten, and the Crusade for Collecting Tour have informed the mission and direction of Crusade for Art. Ultimately, I felt I could make a larger impact by focusing full-time on the non-profit. I have been able to take the parts of the gallery I most enjoyed – promoting and developing the careers of photographers and creating programs to cultivate collectors – and establish an organization whose mission is dedicated to those very things.

I can only imagine what else you have up your sleeve…anything you’d care to share?

We just published a book, Crusade For Your Art: Best Practices for Fine Art Photographers, an accessible guide to help photographers navigate and demystify the fine art photography world. It’s an exciting resource, with contributions from more than 25 industry leaders. All of the proceeds go to Crusade for Art, so you can get some knowledge and help fund our programming!

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