2021 Grant Cycle Process and Reflections

Context

For over three decades, the MAP Fund has served contemporary performance makers. 

The goal of MAP’s Core Grant program is to equitably distribute cash grants and other strategic support to contemporary performance projects that meet the following criteria: new, original work by vocational artists and cultural practitioners that demonstrates a spirit of deep inquiry in form, content, or both, and that challenges inherited notions of social and cultural hierarchy. These criteria help MAP identify artists who tend to be largely underrepresented by traditional arts philanthropy, yet who are creating emerging models and fresh themes that inspire changes in the world. MAP’s early support of these artists—who in each case have innovated the form and functions of their mediums toward a more inclusive and just society—is emblematic of our commitment to artistic risk and experimentation in the name of greater cultural and social equity.

MAP’s approach to grantmaking and artist support is based on fundamental principles of agility and responsiveness towards the goal of increasing artist self-empowerment, with a focus on communities of color. We are determined to adapt quickly to the realities of the field, to investigate our own processes, and to respond to the feedback we receive from applicants, reviewers, and grantees. While MAP cannot single-handedly address all the conditions that challenge artists, our charge is to provide them with resources that help make long-term structural changes in their lives and careers. 

MAP’s commitment to democratization across all aspects of grant-making manifests in our ongoing iterating of our application process to increasingly simplify requirements, reduce applicant labor, and foreground issues of equity and the centrality of ideas over proof of viability. Since the 2017 grant cycle, MAP has incorporated Animating Democracy’s Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change in our review processes, using the 11 attributes as a tool for panelists and reviewers to understand, assess, and mitigate their own biases and preferences. Published in 2019, Diving into Racial Equity: The MAP Fund’s Exploration by arts worker Vanessa Whang studied MAP’s deep examination of one of its foundational priorities—racial equity in arts and culture grantmaking—and MAP’s ongoing efforts to change practices toward this goal.

In 2017 and 2018, in recognition of the increase in collaborative and genre-straddling works in the performance field, we replaced discipline-specific review panels (dance, music, theater) with a widely distributed review phase and one panel of 5-6 interdisciplinary artists who recommended the final list of grantees. In 2019, MAP removed on-site panels from our process entirely, implementing a peer cohort of 45 artists and arts workers who reviewed proposals at each step of the application process, including final recommendations for funding. This shift drastically changed the shape of the decision-making table and exponentially increased the multiplicity of viewpoints and experience in the selection process.

Through 2019, MAP supported an average of 40 projects each year. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we awarded $1,327,500 in grants to 171 project teams, distributing our pool of funds to more than four times our usual number of grantees. For the first time, these grants were completely unrestricted, in recognition of the challenges performing artists were facing. 

Additionally, in 2020, MAP joined a consortium of national grantmakers to create Artist Relief, an ambitious effort to support the country’s individual artists in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. Artist Relief provided rapid and unrestricted $5,000 relief grants to artists facing dire financial emergencies due to the impact of COVID-19. MAP helped build the lottery-based selection process for the Artist Relief grants, an experience that has inspired our thinking for MAP’s core grant making moving forward. 

What We Did in 2021

In the spring of 2020, we had already begun to see massive disruptions to the structures that artists used to make and share their work. We anticipated that by the fall most arts workers would not be in a position to manufacture a lengthy grant application that spoke with any level of detail about product-oriented live gatherings.

Therefore, we chose to reconfigure the program to minimize artist labor to the greatest degree possible by hosting a lottery-based selection process. We provided a brief entry form and suspended additional merit-based peer review for artists who had already demonstrated strong alignment with MAP’s priorities. Above all, we aimed to increase artists’ agency by awarding flexible funds to elevate research, practice, development, creation, and rest. 

We did not want to implicitly or explicitly push artists towards “productivity,” but rather, acknowledge that artmaking requires the resources to grieve the current magnitude of loss and, hopefully, to rejuvenate the endurance needed to create their work in the world. 

Future Grant Cycles

In the context of a global shutdown, domestic health emergency, financial devastation, and ongoing racist violence, unencumbered support for the initial exploratory stages of the creative process (as opposed to restricted funds focused on the resulting product) is crucial. Artists are forced to reimagine how they will work, what liveness is, and who their communities include. 

Rather than orienting towards “recovery” — which implies the re-establishment of pre-COVID-19 paradigms — MAP will continue to support artists who are offering extraordinary ideas not simply to position themselves within a creative marketplace, but for reasons of participating in their own communities’ vitality, asserting their sovereignty, and joining the multiplicity of voices that must be heard for any culture to be equitable and to thrive. 

We will further our efforts to democratize the selection process over a more widely distributed group of stakeholders, to minimize labor for artists, and to mitigate the requirement that artists repeatedly prove themselves to the same institution on the basis of the same body of work. We will also continue to structurally address subjectivity, bias, and risk aversion that is rooted in “viability” analysis. So often in grantmaking, viability is not tied to the strength of the ideas, but to the strength of the artist’s business model or fundraising plan. We remove that kind of assessment away from the application materials and the human aspects of the review process intentionally as one of the most profound barriers to resources for those who we seek to fund: arts workers who may have extraordinary social or cultural capital, but who lack access to financial resources because of historical and continuing inequities.

We are currently in the process of determining what shape the grant cycle will take in collaboration with our funding partners. At this time, we can affirm that we will not replicate 2021 in exactly the same way moving forward–for example, an open pathway for any artist to apply for support will be re-established. We expect to share more information in the fall of 2021.

If you would like to offer your perspective at any time, we have an anonymous form available on the website here.