We’re thrilled with the 36 new live performance works selected for MAP support this year — these projects will receive a total of $1.1 million in direct support for development and premiere. Risa Shoup (Fourth Arts Block) served as an adjudicator on this year’s dance panel, reviewing project applications in the final stage of MAP’s application process. Lauren Slone and I asked Risa to reflect on her experience and share what she observed during the process.
Kim Savarino: What did you expect, and what surprised you about the panel process?
Risa Shoup: I certainly expected to be in a room with people who are socially engaged and informed, to be in a room with people who are informed about MAP, funding, and philanthropy in general — all of those expectations were exceeded. The thing that surprised me the most was the demographic makeup of the panel. There was a great degree of history and overlapping perspectives present in the room, and that spectrum of relationships and familiarity made it easy for us all to speak freely with each other. We instantly respected one another and didn’t have to convince each other of our credibility — we could really share ideas, and I learned a lot from those people. MAP did an incredible job of putting together a room that was diverse in so many forms.
Kim: What themes or ideas stood out as “timely” among the proposed projects?
Risa: There was a great attention to form and a lot of place-based work present in the applications. Artists were really trying to define engagement for themselves, which I loved to see. Many of the projects were led by people of color and/or artists who are gender nonconforming, and there was a plurality in the age of the applicants — I appreciated this. It was nice to be reminded that, as an artist applying for this grant, your proposed project can still be in early developmental stages. That was a healthy discussion in the room that MAP pushed and that I liked being able to think about. Artists don’t need to know everything at the start, and that kind of questioning needs to be supported just as much as a project that’s fully developed.
Kim: What do you believe the final list of grantees communicates to the field of live performance?
Risa: There’s no way to ignore the fact that we selected one project led by someone who identifies as male, or that ten out of the thirteen projects are led by people of color. That’s disruption. It communicates that we do not care about maintaining status quo and that we value the perspectives of people of color and gender nonconforming people. I was so happy to see us select projects with a wide variety of budget sizes, because this means we value access to dance at a wide variety of venues and locations across the country. The list says we’re not interested in deciding what dance “is,” because we elected to fund so many different types of dance. We are looking for projects with an urgency behind them. I saw that very clearly in all the projects on the final list and that really guided the decision making process in the room.
Lauren Slone: What stands out to you as urgent work in this present moment?
Risa: Three answers:
1. We need to stop defining what we think social engagement is and we need to have artists define it for us in relation to their work. When that conversation doesn’t happen, you get projects that tokenize, fetishize, parachute in, etc.: all things that are so destructive to communities. Engagement is inherent in dance. You have to engage with people to do the art.
2. We need to continue to develop language with which to talk about bodies in movement, queer bodies, bodies of color, and non-traditional bodies. However that language is defined, it must be elevated — somehow — by philanthropy.
3. We need opportunities to explore, for both artists and for organizations. It’s really hard to fail, and that sucks because so much of the creative process is about failing and what you learn from making mistakes. There’s a notion of white perfectionism present in the concept of “professionalism” that is very racist and exclusive, and also present in that is how we’ve stopped failing and leaving room for failure. I see that as a problem. It’s great that MAP supports projects at the moment of inception, because that means these artists can experiment. If our sole focus as a field is on financial sustainability, it’s hard to experiment. We need to consider financial sustainability, health, and security, but we’ve skewed too far toward focusing on maintaining consistent revenue streams.
Lauren: Could you speak to the idea of gatekeeping in arts philanthropy generally, and if you felt that the collective process MAP uses undermines any of that power dynamic?
Risa: Those of us who are white exist in a privilege generating machine. To some degree, that means we’re going to keep getting privileges that other people are not getting. So what we get to do is pass them on, because we don’t have to worry about them not coming back to us. Everyone has a baseline access to privilege. For some people, it’s minuscule to zero, and for others, it’s infinite. I have a lot of privilege and, when you have a lot, you can rest comfortably with knowing that your knowledge, your life experience, your relationships, your collective power, only grow as you share your privilege with others and take yourself out of it. You’ll never not have the moment to use your voice, and you can abdicate most of those moments. You have to share and step back. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.
Kim: Any final thoughts or questions you’d like to share?
Risa: I’m impressed with the degree of care with which MAP approaches everything, but I’m not surprised by that because of my experiences with MAP. This care enriches the process, and I think we get a better group of applicants in terms of quality of the application and how they’re answering MAP’s questions and stated goals. I deepened my understanding of the field and learned a lot through this experience, and that was very valuable.