This week, we provided our Grant Writer, Katie, the opportunity to share some insight about her position at TMA.
I have not been a Tucsonan terribly long—I moved here from the cold white north of Montana in September, and began the job as the Tucson Museum of Art grants manager less than 12 hours after driving over the state line. I worked and interned for many museums, historical societies, and other nonprofit cultural organizations back home, so believe me when I say that without any bias whatsoever out of all of them what TMA does in our community is by the far the most impressive. It’s pretty gratifying to know that the grants I write help make that happen.
When I tell people I’m a grants manager, I am always asked what exactly that means. The easiest answer is that it is my full-time job to research, write, and report on and grant applications for money to support the Museum and its programs and exhibitions. I like to say that grants are an upside-down way of raising funds. Instead of TMA asking for donations, potential donors tell us that they have money they want to invest for the good of the public. All the Museum has to do is tell them effectively why we deserve it. It is not as simple as it looks. First, it takes a special set of interdisciplinary skills to write applications that will receive awards. Second, there are always exceptions, conditions, and restrictions on who and what grantmakers will fund, and I have to make a valid case for why we deserve funding among so many other wonderful candidates.
But, let me tell you the hardest (and weirdest) part of my job – What all the answers I give and narratives I write boil down to is the fact that I have to convince funders of the worth of art. It’s a funny task, isn’t it? In the grant world, the buzzword for this is “outcome.” What are the expected outcomes of this project?, grantmakers always want to know. It is an easy question to answer if you are writing a grant for a social, medical, educational, or scientific nonprofit. You can measure how many individuals you will provide with vaccinations, measure how many acres of rainforest you can save, or how many at-risk children you may be able to send to college. In the arts, though, it is a difficult question to answer. How do you give concrete evidence for the worth of something whose very essence is anything but concrete? There are plenty of studies that try to explain art in these terms, studies that correlate art education to increased graduation rates, academic and career success, and overall emotional well-being, but we know that there is more to art than just these statistics.
The answer I always want to give to people who ask this question is Ars Gratia Artis, art is its own reward. It makes us human and provokes us to feel and think in our own unique ways, and to me that is the only outcome that is needed. I know meaning is there, and that the worth of a piece is there, even though I may not “get” all of it. It will mean something to someone somewhere, and that is what makes it art.
What is your answer the question of why art is important? What is it about a particular work that makes you look, and keep looking? What is the reward of art for you?