On Subjectivity

Artist Files has been live for about four days, and the biggest conversation so far is about why this grant is happening publicly if there’s no open call. As the curator, Kalia is choosing artists the way she would for an exhibition. She’s developing an idea, doing research, and calling on years of experience and relationships. All of this work is happening, just as it would in an exhibition, before your eyes.

This is causing a discomfort that is worth lingering on. 

I think Kalia nailed it in the comments of this post when she said that curating is a subjective business, and that Artist Files is interesting because it’s openly accepting the subjectivity that’s an inherent part of the funding process. We’re all adults here-we can admit that grants are terribly, terribly unfair. There are not enough of them, for one thing! The overwhelming majority of artists who need funding don’t get it, and nobody gets enough. It is perhaps less obvious that grants aren’t given freely. Funders have their own goals, their own definitions of impact and excellence. Grants are partnerships in which money is exchanged for a specific kind of meaning and impact. Grant-making, like curating, is also a subjective business. Just like a curator, a grant maker has a point of view, and is trying to make meaning by harnessing and contextualizing the creative acts of others.

Grant processes generally disguise this subjectivity, either with an open call or by keeping the decision-making process very opaque. But what happens if we let go of the administrative theater of the open call, or the mystery of the secret nomination? What happens to the entire community of people who want to be funded? What happens to the grant makers?

Artist Files is embracing and sharing the fact that all grants are subjective, first and foremost, because that knowledge is power for artists. I’m an artist and have spent a lot of time on the other side of this transaction. If I had known how grant-makers were making decisions, I would have written very different grants, and frankly, applied to far fewer things.

We are also embracing subjectivity in order to clearly commit to this meaning-making piece. We’re not funding contemporary art generally. We’re just funding social engagement, a kind of artistic practice that’s still being defined. Money has a way of concretizing these ephemeral ideas like quality, excellence, and meaning. As we make funding decisions, we need to share both the clarity we are striving toward and the path that is going to bring us there.

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