2019 Reflection on our 2016 Grant LAB Program
The 2016 Grant LAB funding program responded to input from 400+ artists of color with a common request for more equitable and accessible grant-making frameworks and practices. This experimental application was simplified and numerous methods of selection panels were tested.
Outcomes from Grant LAB and applicant surveys resulted in major modifications of applications and processes, new funding programs and peer coaching opportunities. Our offices rely on collected input that continues to inform our work through a racial equity lens. The majority of Grant LAB applicants and panelists were from underrepresented communities. Three Grant LAB awarded artists were interviewed and sketched by artist-writer Tessa Hulls for stories featured below.
As both an artist and an individual, Marilyn Montufar is drawn to borderlands. Growing up Mexican American in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles instilled in her a fascination with outskirts, with the places in which stark contrasts dissolve and boundaries are not cleanly defined.
Montufar’s training is in photography and her work often focuses on portraits and landscapes that challenge cultural stereotypes with an empathetic but unyielding softness. Last year, she traveled throughout Mexico taking photographs to both better understand her personal background and to highlight a different side to the stories being portrayed in the media. As someone who grew up within the space between cultures, her lens holds a powerful perspective that is simultaneously intimate and outcast. Her images are compassionate and incisive, quietly using the impact of their emotive connection to assert that neither borders nor identities are as clear cut as we might try to make them.
Her experience with photography began in after hours programs. “Growing up in a community like mine,” she explained in a phone interview, “there wasn’t a lot of access to the arts.” She studied photography at East Los Angeles Community College, where she met her mentor, Mei Valenzuela, and participated in a photography partnership with the Getty Museum. “It broadened the list of what options felt possible,” she told me, and she went on to get her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Montufar’s journey to Seattle began on a road trip, where she figured she would stay until she stopped liking it: she thought that would take three months, and she’s now been here for six years. She found herself immediately pulled to the stories at the city’s fringes. “I fell in love with Georgetown the minute I saw it,” she recounted over email. “I was instantly drawn to the south side of Seattle- the food in the international district, the arts coming out of Georgetown, the history in Pioneer Square.”
She is also inspired by the cross pollination of disciplines she has found in Seattle, where working at Pratt Fine Arts Center put her in close contact with artists who work in other mediums and “evolved and pushed [her practice] beyond traditional photography.”
Montufar’s growing interest in exploring the boundaries of genres is a natural extension of the way in which her work questions borders, and in addition to photography, her most recent solo show at 4Culture, Transcending Identity: Impressions of People, Community, and Landscapes, included two kiln glass pieces. The glass pieces referenced the ongoing story of women being were raped and murdered before having their mutilated bodies dumped in the desert near the border town of Juarez.
Montufar is quick to point out that while her work touches on and references political themes, it always begins with a moment of personal connection. She uses that first spark of intimacy to explore much larger, complex themes. “I put my own values behind the work,” she explained, “but feeling the connection is paramount.”
Connection is a vital thread in all elements of Montufar’s practice, and she has worked extensively as a teaching artist and educator. She has partnered with the Gage Academy with its youth programming, and received a teaching fellowship from the Vermont Studio center. She also connections through collaboration, and draws inspiration in partnering with like-minded individuals. She recently worked with Enio Hernandez, who has been a creative peer since they were fifteen years old, to curate “Latinidad in Focus: Sin Fronteras” at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, CA.
As someone from a community where people often did not have the resources to pursue art, Montufar was thrilled to find a grant geared towards demographics that are underrepresented in the arts. “Being an artist is a long journey for everyone,” she told me, “but in the community I grew up in, there are just so many roadblocks. So I feel very appreciative any honored to have received an Art Lab grant. It feels good to be acknowledged and have my experiences be acknowledged.”
Lynn DeBeal has lived many lives. In addition to her creative practice as a visual artist and musician, she’s worked as an industrial glass welder, suicide intervention and prevention counselor, group facilitator, educator, and specialized glass blower for laboratory apparatus. The breadth of DeBeal’s experience is the byproduct of her deep curiosity about the world and the people who inhabit it, and she brings a spirit of inquisitive generosity to everything that she touches.
“I really enjoy people,” she explained in a phone interview. “I’m open with people until they give me a reason not to be—which has gotten me in trouble, but is a delight more often than not.” Lynn loves the challenge of trying to capture a fleeting expression or ineffable moment in her work, and she loves drawing people. Her subjects cover a wide range of cultural and ethnic diversity, depicting backgrounds from all over the world.
Lynn traces her multicultural lens back to her childhood, where she grew up on European military bases. Her father was drafted and despite being a pacifist, he re-enlisted after finishing his term of duty because, as DeBeal explained, “there were no jobs for people of color.” DeBeal’s parents made sure they weren’t “Americans who just stayed on base,” and the experience of being a Black, Native American family in Europe in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s taught Lynn that she was a global citizen. She devoured the cultural opportunities set in front of her, and she cites viewing Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam and Eve” and looking up at the Sistine Chapel as formative experiences that set her on the trajectory of pursuing art.
Seeing the intricate details of glass work in Venice brought DeBeal to her first career as a glass welder in the semiconductor industry—but that job came to affect her life in negative ways, as she acquired severe lung disease as a result of the chemicals she was exposed to in her work. DeBeal would eventually have multiple surgeries for her condition, and since 2006, she has required a full-time oxygen tank that will remain a part of her for the rest of her life.
DeBeal’s lung condition also meant losing her favorite artistic medium of dry pastels. Her lungs couldn’t handle the dust they released, but she was undeterred and used this tragic constraint to begin exploring digital mediums. She began recombining digital images of her work into colorful mandalas, intricate compositions that took her drawings and gave them new life through repetition. Like her mandalas, DeBeal sees things from all perspectives, noticing patterns and highlighting them to call attention to details a viewer might not see on their own.
DeBeal’s life has held a great deal of adversity, but she has responded to all of it with a perseverance that has never lost its kindness; her travails have not hardened her, and she still faces the world with a sense of open wonder. But for years, in the aftermath of surgeries that left her with physical and cognitive limitations and brought with them experiences of poverty and betrayal,DeBeal struggled with depression.
Art helped DeBeal find her way back to herself, and she credits the organization Path With Art as being an enormous part of rediscovering her own strength. In one of her classes, she created a pop up book on Christopher Columbus that refocused the narrative from a Native American perspective. “I wanted it to say, ‘Hey, we’re still here. We survived.’”
When DeBeal heard about the ArtistsUP Grant LAB Program, she was excited to find an opportunity that felt geared towards her. “I’d been looking for grants for quite a while,” she explained, “but they all wanted details—wanted referrals from educators and galleries, and I felt like I never had a shot. But this grant just asked you to say why you love to do art, what got you into it, and what you would do with the money. Boom, boom, boom. It was exactly what I needed.”
When DeBeal found out she received funding, she literally did not believe it. “It took them a couple days to convince me that I’d actually got the money,” she laughed, before going on to say that being awarded this grant made her feel seen and supported in a way that she would never have thought possible.
Receiving grant funding has allowed DeBeal the space to more fully explore her creative ideas, and she is currently very involved in teaching. She loves the energy and optimism of working with youth, and cites a mural project with students in Lake City as a particular highlight because “It’s wonderful for my job to be something I used to get in trouble for as a kid.” In her personal practice, she is in the process of converting her bedroom into a studio space so she can work on a larger scale.
The struggles that DeBeal has faced means that she takes nothing for granted, and she is grateful to be able to keep making work. “With my lungs, ten years ago they told me I was dying.” She paused and laughed softly. “Well I didn’t die, I’m still here.”
When Miriam Zmiewski-Angelova attended a Sun Dance gathering, her community gave her a special name: they called her Bluebird because she collects seeds and spreads them wherever she goes. Zmiewski-Angelova brims with dynamic motion and she feels deeply pulled to her ancestors— but as a mixed-race indigenous person of Choctaw, Cherokee, Sauk-Fox, African American, and Ashkenazi heritage, she has a lot of ground to cover. “I find myself feeling that I belong in many places,” she laughed in a phone interview, “but also don’t belong in any place in particular.”
“For myself and others,” she explained, “I am a connector.” The theme of forging ties runs through both Zmiewski-Angelova’s creative practice and her professional work, where she currently serves as the Program Director of the Early Learning Center at Daybreak Star Cultural Center. Her artmaking is centered in community-based collaborations that explore legacy and roots, and she crafts cultural garments that simultaneously serve as vessels of power and conduits for the transmission of stories.
In 2015, Zmiewski-Angelova was invited into a Tlingit dance community, where her experience in sewing led to natural collaborations with tribal community members. She initially wove a cedar headband for a Tlingit woman in Anchorage, and from there helped in the creation of 11 robes for the dancers in her group. “It always starts with a moment of connection,” she shares. “I see other people and want to create something that acknowledges their heritage and shares their stories.”
For one of her pieces, Zmiewski-Angelova described having a dream in which she saw her friend dressed in a resplendent dress. “I knew I had to make it,” she told me. She crafted a garment that drew from elements of her friend’s Hopi, Ethiopian and Mexican heritage. Zmiewski-Angelova knew that she had channeled the story she wanted to tell when her friend shared that when she wore the dress, “I just felt so powerful, I felt like I was wearing all of my ancestors.”
Zmiewski-Angelova’s approach to creating has always been people-focused, and her first exposure to art was in middle school, where she learned about drawing, painting, and textile and fashion design from a group of volunteer teachers from the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia University. From this foundation, she began working in other mediums and she learned at an early age that her art practice was something that she wanted to integrate into other aspects of her life.
When Zmiewski-Angelova first heard about the Artists UP Grant Lab program, she was hesitant to apply because she wasn’t a full time artist. “I’m not solely dedicated to art,” she explained. “It’s very important to me and I do it whenever I can, but I’m always trying to juggle so many other things.” Finding a grant that emphasized narrative over credentials felt like a comfortable fit with Zmiewski-Angelova’s drive to tell stories, and she applied to fund a project inspired by the parallels in weaving techniques and materials between her Indigenous communities and Maori culture.
As described in her application, Zmiewski-Angelova’s project sought to “learn from Maori families and educators about the merging of their traditional ways and current day strategies for preserving culture, language, stories and traditional crafts/artistry.” Her grant allowed her to create an exchange between herself and Maori communities in Aotearoa, New Zealand that served to to “support other Indigenous communities and communities of color interested in partnering and sharing cultural learning and traditions that will serve as a vehicle for children to have adults who are strong and secure in their knowledge of their heritage.”
Zmiewski-Angelova’s work is centered around a sense of accountability—to her own background, to the communities to which she belongs, and to her role as the mother of a multi-cultural Native child. Everything she does rests in learning new ways to better explore how culture is respectfully blended, and she is earnest and clear in how she wants to channel her voice. “I want to use my journey to help others find their connection and empowerment,” she shared. “I want to pay it forward”
Thank you to each of the featured artists and Tessa Hulls for her art and these interviews.
ARTISTS UP Grant LAB awards support vision and inspiration for 18 Washington artists
Eighteen artists from Washington State were awarded funds from Grant LAB, an experimental program designed to remove barriers for historically under-represented artists and increase racial equity in grant making programs. Inspired by qualitative research with artists, Grant LAB aligned the grant selection process with how and why artists work and create. Each artist will receive $3,000 to support their artistic vision. Additionally, for artists and administrators interested in our process, we are pleased to offer a report about our exploration: Learning from Grant LAB.
“By engaging artists as allies and dismantling barriers, the Grant LAB is advocating for an inclusive future in the arts,” says Marilyn Montufar, artist and photographer. “I am honored to be a recipient of the Grant LAB, a grant that advocates for change and greater equity in the arts.”
Grant LAB is an experimental program created to test grant making ideas, approaches and practices for greater and equitable access to opportunities. Applicants were evaluated on one of three different criteria; potential or demonstrated skill, innovation/experimentation, and community engagement.
This grant puts into action the goals of ARTISTS UP, from 2012-2016, a collaborative effort by 4Culture, the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and Artist Trust to improve and expand capacity and networks for under-supported artists in Seattle, King County and Washington State. The Grant LAB funds artists working in all disciplines.
“The application process felt like I was actually being given a chance” says Kamari Bright, a writer, filmmaker and musician. “Although credentials are important, they don’t dictate the level of passion or capacity for impact my work will have.”
Grant LAB FUNDED ARTISTS:
Kamari Bright, John Bunkley, Danielle Christian, Alex Crozier, Lynn DeBeal, Rome Esmaili, Kiana Harris, Sarah Moreno León, Emma Levitt, Xavier Lopez, Sarah Maria Medina, Marilyn Montufar, Tamiko Nimura, Sandra Pressley, Gabriel Teodros, David Tucker, Gordon Wood, and Miriam Zmiewski-Angelova.
Each of the three agencies, and Artists Up as is own entity, promoted the Grant LAB opportunity through email and social media. The Artists Ambassadors were asked to reach out to their contacts and also were requested to nominate fellow artists, particularly if the artist may not elect to seek the opportunity on their own. Each of the nominated artist were then contacted with a special invitation to apply. Workshops were held in Seattle and Kent, and a webinar, with more than 500 views, was provided. 4Culture hosted the on-line application and provided technical support.
Individual artists were deemed eligible to apply by meeting the following eligibility requirements:
- Individual artist residing in Seattle, King County, or Washington State
- Must not have received more than $1,600 from any one agency (the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, 4Culture, and Artist Trust) during 2014-2016.
- Must not have student status
- Applicants must be 18 years or older
Each applicant was asked to select one of the three Choice Criteria to serve as a general framework for their narrative responses. The Choice Criteria are:
- Potential or Demonstrated Skill
- Community Engagement
All applications were evaluated using the following criteria:
Does the applicant:
- Plainly articulate the training and/or creative experiences that have helped them develop their art?
- Describe their most recent artistic/cultural presentation that they accomplished in a compelling way?
- Convincingly express what continues to inspire their work as an artist/cultural worker?
- Clearly outline how they plan to reach their creative goals in the next three years?
- How well do the applicant’s responses to the narrative questions or work samples respond to the Choice Criteria they selected?
Following the September 28, 2016 deadline, applications were assigned to one of three panel review groups, at random.
In each panel group, applications were evaluated using a Choice Criteria, but funds were not allocated by these categories. Of the three Choice Criteria, applications were submitted under Innovation/Experimentation (34 Applicants), Potential or Demonstrated Skill (103 Applicants), Community Engagement (43 Applicants), and 5 applicants did not indicate a Choice Criteria.
Artists were asked to self-identify as an individual and as an artists. These were intentionally open-ended, and artists responded with information, including their race(s), sexual orientation, gender, creative disciplines etc. However, because we abide by State law (RCW 49.60.400) this information was not provided to the selection panelists. It will be used to assist us in better understanding how artists identify themselves personally and artistically.
Each of the three panel groups agreed to common panel practices. Additionally, to further experimentation, the Artist Up partners utilized several test practices when facilitating the panel group (e.g. private scoring, pre-scoring, blind review etc.).
- Natasha Alphonse –Seattle
- Juventino Aranda – Walla Walla
- Ivan Arteaga – Seattle
- Silong Chhun –Tacoma
- Kiana Davis –Renton
- Ari Glass –Seattle
- Chad Goller-Soujourner – Seattle
- Kamla Kakaria – Tukwila
- Srivani Jade – Kirkland
- Wilson Mendieta – Seattle
- Ruben Rodriguez Perez – Seattle
- Rudy Roushdi – Seattle
- Melissa Woodward – Shoreline
Please contact us if you’d like more information about the Grant LAB experiment.
The Grant LAB is an experiment of Artists Up [a collaborative effort between the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, 4Culture, and Artist Trust], offering $3,000 awards to Washington State artists working in all disciplines, to enhance their creative process.
We seek to support artists who have received less than $1,600 from any one of the collaborative partners in the past 2 years [2014-2016]. Artists of color are strongly encouraged to apply.
Deadline: September 28, 2016 – 5pm Pacific
The Grant LAB is experimenting with grantmaking ideas and practices for greater access and equity to benefit ALL communities in Seattle, King County and Washington State. This support aims to enhance artist’s creative process. Artists of color are strongly encouraged to apply.
Awarded artists in all disciplines and cultural forms must offer an opportunity to share in-progress or finished work with the community. This can include an exhibit, installation, performance, reading, screening or collaborative presentation.
Workshops: Applicants are encouraged to attend a workshop or listen to a webinar for learn about the application, review or contracting.
Webinar: Accessible on-line
Seattle: 6:00-7:30 PM — Monday, September 12, 2016 — Seattle Public Library, Douglass-Truth Branch
Kent: Noon-1 PM — Monday, September 19, 2016 — King County Library in Kent
APPLY: Grant LAB Guidelines 2016
Artists Up is a collaborative effort by three funding agencies [Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, 4Culture and Artist Trust] that was created to improve and expand capacity and networks for under-supported artists in Seattle, King County and Washington State.
If you have questions or need more information, please contact us!
Photo by: Hugo Ludeña