These artist fellows are getting $75K to explore: "Art can't be completely co-opted into capitalism" - Generocity Philly

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Jul. 12, 2016 8:15 am

These artist fellows are getting $75K to explore: “Art can’t be completely co-opted into capitalism”

Newly minted Pew Center for Arts & Heritage fellows Jennifer Kidwell, Tiona McClodden and Heidi Saman explain the role philanthropy plays in funding American art.

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(Photo by Flickr user Incase, used under a Creative Commons license)

Philanthropy is increasingly responsible for feeding the starving artists in America. In Philadelphia, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is exploring its role with a batch of new fellows.

Last month, the Center served up $10 million to 53 local artists and cultural organizations, including 12 newly-minted fellows who each received $75,000 grants. While some organizations received up to $300,000 in project grants, the fellowship grants are particularly notable if only because they can turn an artist’s passion project into a career.

You know, a career that pays. Because making art sure doesn’t.

“You don’t make a lot of money in theater,” said new fellow Jennifer Kidwell, a theater artist whose work employs humor, history and music to explore notions of race. “This is financial sovereignty. I can put money away for retirement. How do you save money when you don’t make enough to get by?” 

Kidwell, whose dry wit lends to her affability, will be traveling to New Orleans to start working on a collaborative piece about the “plantation to prison pipeline.” It beats doing a “McDonald‘s shoot to make ends meet,” she said. Visual artist and fellow Pew fellow Tiona McClodden agrees.

McClodden, a multi-talented North Philadelphia resident who uses film and visual art to communicate ideas about race and social change, said that in her 14 years as a working artist, she’s never been afforded a consistent studio practice.

McClodden, a self-described “former hardcore activist” who began leaning more heavily on art as a vehicle for social change after burning out from boots-on-the-ground advocacy, will need the kind of stability a physical space provides as she moves forward.

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“Some of the ideas I want to work out will require that space,” said McClodden. “I’ll be able to situate and look at myself within a studio practice.” 

The $75,000 will also allow McClodden time to push for the monetization of some of her narrative works. That’s a struggle filmmaker and journalist Heidi Saman is familiar with.

Saman, whose critically acclaimed feature film Namour will show at BlackStar Film Festival on August 7 this year in Philadelphia, is a bit different from the rest of the Pew fellows. The Egyptian-American and Los Angeles native has a full time job here in Philadelphia as an associate producer for NPR’s Fresh Air.

But making a feature film ain’t exactly cheap.

“Most first time filmmakers don’t make a second film,” said Saman. “This grant is very much a step forward in making sure I’m not one of those filmmakers.” 

Saman will pause to collect her thoughts with purpose: philanthropy is necessary for an artist’s survival in America, she said.

“It’s a fight,” she said. “In this country, it’s very hard to be a working and living artist. Art can’t be completely co-opted into capitalism.” 

Saman said this grant is one of the more “reputable” honors she’s received in her career, and she’s not alone.

“This is a big deal,” McClodden said. “I’ve lived in Philly for 10 years, and I hope to produce more work here because it’s a city that can be a sustainable city for artist.”

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