I'm writing this after a long and thrilling day for Crusade for Art, and I have to admit, I'm pretty emotional. When I first thought about creating Crusade for Art as a non-profit organization (as opposed to just a stand-alone project, i.e. the tour) and offering a $10,000 grant, it seemed like a crazy idea. Which, of course, is why I went for it.
When I was driving around the country, talking to groups of photographers and getting my arts engagement groove on, I spent a lot of time trying to think of a way to turn the tide. Galleries couldn't be the only outlet for a photographer who wanted to sell work and grow a collector base - there are simply too many photographers, too much supply. But in a system where artists have been conditioned to rely on other people - gallerists, dealers, publishers, curators - to advocate for them and their work, the prevailing impulse among photographers seems to be to sit and wait.
The gallery path is too narrow. There are not enough galleries to show all of the really strong, salable work, not to mention the work that is not as commercially appealing. But just because a photograph may not end up on a gallery wall does not mean there aren't people who would connect to it and want to buy it. And the gallery path is also narrow in terms of reaching potential collectors. There are a lot of people out there who are not currently seeking an arts experience but would love art, if only they were given the right introduction to it.
If you don't limit yourself to how it's always been done, then the road is wide open. All you need is to be smart - Who is your target audience? Who is most likely to connect to your work? - and innovative - How can you reach these people? How can you create an opportunity for them to have a meaningful engagement with you and your art?
The problem is, most artists do not think beyond the creation process. They don't have the skills or the inspiration to figure out ways to advocate for themselves and their work and to create their own collectors. So that was my puzzle - how could I get a lot of photographers to do this? How could I motivate artists to come up with ideas to connect people to their work?
And then bam! The idea. Cash money.
More than just funding the winning project idea (which will be amazing! Have you seen the finalists' project descriptions??), the goal of offering a grant of this size was to motivate a large number of photographers to think about their work, their potential audience, and how to connect the two.
We got 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.” That is the point. Many of the early applications were photographers submitting artist statements, not a plan to engage people with photography. This grant really stumped people and made them think about creating demand for their work for possibly the first time - which is exactly what we’re trying to do. Ultimately the applications that were on-point started streaming in. Narrowing them down to ten was incredibly challenging but also very validating.
I think we are on to something here. And this is just the very beginning.