A dozen university students and I wedged into three couches. It was about as comfortable as squeezing more than two into a dorm bed — why are all dorm beds singles? — but the conversation was good, and afterwards a handful of them bought me a beer (making it totally worth it).
The reason for our game of mashed potato: I was in the lounge at my university newspaper, The Fulcrum, speaking with a dozen talented sweaty young writers (Someone was sweaty. Was it me?) about the kinds of journalism they could do after graduation. I registered a bit of despair: these remarkably driven twentysomethings felt that their prospects after university were bleak.
(Although this isn’t the subject of my column — their prospects aren’t at all bleak. Of the cohort I worked at the Fulcrum with we’ve placed people at the Washington Post, the CBC, the Royal Geographical Society and this fine publication.)
Over beer afterwards, the question turned to literary writers, and what hope do they have of finding work — even part time work. On the subject of finding work in journalism, I had been able to offer some sunshine; but when it came to finding work in the arts, I was at a loss (happily, these energetic minds were more interested in the doing than in the being paid for end of working in the cultural sector).
Later, I told Amanda Earl, a poet and publisher friend, this story and also another bit of news, namely that the City of Ottawa had finally made good on its promise to increase funding to the arts and that the purse would be bigger by $2.5 million by the time those just starting had finished university, with $1.5 million coming right away.
Earl said she was pleased with city hall’s decision, but she thought that it was silly that the only people who are eligible for city grants were established artists, which isn’t exactly true. Technically, there is a category of grant you can apply to for “emerging artists”.
To city hall, “emerging artist” means — minimum — that the artist has “dedicated a minimum of two years to a professional artistic practice, after completing basic training or an apprenticeship. He or she has produced a reasonable body of work to date, and has had a fair degree of professional public exposure.” Fantastic. That doesn’t sound like it actually helps young artists at all.
In order to receive funding for an arts organization, that organization must have been around for at least two years, according to the city’s website. I’m not surprised that the city’s system punishes invention and novelty. This is a city that loves the status quo in the worst capital-L Liberal way. The Canada Council for the Arts has similar strictures which require you to sink tens of thousands of dollars into a project before the project becomes grant-eligible. I should know; I’ve got friends who’ve done it.
Meanwhile, poet Zachariah Wells claims that a Canada Council requirement that you produce two books before becoming eligible for writing grants is harmful for another reason: authors rush to produce their first books, resulting in a flood of uninteresting, half-baked missives.
Okay, here’s the rub: when the municipal funding envelope got bigger this year, it eased the passing-a-camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle crunch that goes on every year when deciding between applications. And the envelope is set to get bigger every year for three more years (at least it’s supposed to — we’ll see).
For people who are already extremely qualified for these grants, the extra cash doesn’t mean a heck of a lot. After all, the size of the grants hasn’t grown, at least it hasn’t yet. In other words, if they keep the grants at roughly the same size, then young and emerging artists -and marginalized (read: queer) artists — will disproportionately benefit from the infusion of cash.
Queer writers, filmmakers, painters, photographers, and other artists will get an even bigger slice of the pie if we can shake the shame and insecurity many in our community feel and apply. Apply en masse. There are a lot of queer artist groups and collectives that are qualified to apply, from La Petite Mort (who has never applied, the owner told me in January) to Agitate: Queer Women of Color.
And for those solitary emerging artists not closely associated with an organization, the city does offer special project funding doesn’t require that you have as long a history. For young gays, it may be the best place to hang their hats.
I’m not saying young artists need to apply immediately — you’ve got most of a year before your application is due — but stew on it. Start thinking about what kind of project you’d like to work on and how the city can help you.
In the meantime, I thought I might point out that there are some fantastic resources out there for people who are looking for help giving their creative projects practical legs. The good folks over at the Cultural Human Resources Council (culturalhrc.ca) have robust collection of advice about how to get into film, publishing, or the music industry. Through research, they’ve found that one of the biggest gaps in the education of young artists is how to handle money — and that includes how to apply for grants. That’s why they have an extended guide called The Art Of Managing Your Career, available online.