Activating our desire to support the inherent dignity, humanity, and worthiness of artists, MAP Fund created Scaffolding for Practicing Artists (SPA). The program takes an artist-centered approach that honors the sacredness of process in the often product-driven creative sectors — nonprofit and for-profit alike. Practicing artists encounter few professional spaces that are free of judgment and competition, and to which they can bring their full selves.
SPA’s goals are to increase artists’ feelings of agency in their artistic work/careers and to build a deeper sense of community and belonging. We pursue these goals by providing artists with two kinds of support:
1. Coaching: one-on-one with an experienced advisor over a period of 12 months (up to 7 sessions)
2. Gathering: a two-day facilitated experience wherein SPA artists coach each other
Since its 2012 launch, co-designed by MAP staff and consultant David Sheingold, SPA has engaged more than 200 artists. In 2019, MAP commissioned an assessment of the program. The report indicates that participation in the program has a strong, positive impact on the lives and work of artists. It also includes many valuable takeaways for MAP staff, which continue to inform program improvements.
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The following values animate all of SPA’s work.
Curiosity: Deep listening and posing thoughtful questions are at the heart of our approach. We believe that artists often know how to move through quandaries and toward opportunities, but are socialized to doubt their knowledge and instincts. Through shared inquiry, we unpack assumptions and identify paths forward.
Humility: While SPA coaches bring expertise to the table, they do not presume to have all of the answers to questions that may emerge in a coaching relationship, hence the importance of curiosity. When possible, we point artists toward existing field resources and networks of support.
Intuition: In life, in art, in creative practice, we are required to step into the unknown. SPA embraces that truth and leans into the importance of the many kinds of knowledge that help us navigate the world.
Compassion: Presence. Sincere lovingkindness. Open mindedness and heartfulness. Belief in the inherent worthiness and dignity of every being.
Shared responsibility: Artists, coaches, and MAP staff are engaged in the shared endeavor of creating the SPA experience. While our structures are flexible, we create explicit agreements to help “protect the playground.”
Ease: Life is stressful enough. We want the containers of the program to cultivate peace, and as such our protocols and practices are crafted with ease in mind. We want just enough structure that we can relax into our practices.
Analysis of structural oppression: We understand the work of artists in the context of intersecting systems of oppression. It’s not random that being an artist is challenging — particularly if you are a person of color, a trans artist, living in a rural place, or moving through the world with other identities or experiences that are marginalized and exploited. Dominant systems are designed this way.
The coaching process provides artists with a unique opportunity to have an ongoing, advising relationship with an experienced practitioner who is familiar with the arts and culture ecosystem. Rather than a predetermined curriculum, the coaching process begins with each artists’ goals and desires for their creative practice. From there, artists work with their coach to find a flow, pacing, and purpose for the one-on-one coaching engagement. SPA coaches have worked with artists on everything from approaches to touring new works to cultivating institutional partnerships to building sustainable creative careers. Coaching relationships unfold in the course of a year, with up to seven sessions. Each session can last from 45 – 90 minutes, depending on the artist’s preference and in agreement with their coach.
Once participating artists have completed a majority of their coaching sessions, they are invited to attend a gathering of peers. These meetings are an opportunity for artists to offer to each other the same deep listening, thoughtful questioning, and compassionate shared problem-solving that they experienced with their coach. Over two days, artists bring to the group their questions, quandaries, and opportunities and are guided through a lightly facilitated process to support each other. These gatherings take place online or in-person and are facilitated by SPA coaches. In addition to clarity on how to move forward in response to their questions, artists leave the gatherings with an expanded cross-disciplinary network of peers who can be advocates, confidants, collaborators, and co-conspirators.
To date, we only offer SPA in combination with direct financial support because we understand that monetary resources can help create the sense of spaciousness that allows artists to optimally benefit from coaching and gathering. This breathing room enables the dreaming, visioning, reflection, long-term planning, and strategic thinking that we believe will help sustain artists’ practices for years to come.
Currently, we offer SPA participation to a subset of MAP grantees and — through a partnership with the Jerome Foundation — to Jerome Hill Artist Fellows. Thanks to our funding partners, we provide SPA at no cost to participants. (In fact, we offer a stipend to artists when they attend a gathering.)
We continue to look for new partners that will enable us to provide this program to more artists. We are happy to consider ways to bring SPA to existing artist cohorts, as well as help think through new programs for artist support and development. Please contact Ron Ragin, SPA Director, for more information.
This program is supported in part by the Jerome Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.