Saturday, April 11, 2015

On the Grants Gateway and the State of the Arts

Just  completed  our  2016 NYSCA  application and  it was nothing  short  of  harrowing. The  exhilration  of  getting  the  website  to  accept  our  application  three minutes before  the  deadline  was  considerable. It  felt  like  winning  the  world  series  or  a Tony. Grants Gateway  accepted our  application!!!

During  this  process  this  year  our  company  had  not  heeded the  the  dire  warnings   coming from  the  NYSCA office  that  this  was  going  to  be  difficult. We  were  coping  with  being  evicted  from  our  space  and  looking  for a new  one. Trying  to  take on  some  new  opportunities  but  not  lose  sight of  our  primary  mission.

In  the  midst of  this  there  comes THE DEADLINE.

The  DEADLINE  is  the  time  when all  grant  materials  must  be received  by.

It's  8:00pm on opening  night of  the  first  performance.

DEADLINES  for  government grants  are  sacrosanct. For  most  grants  in  general.
They  must  be adhered to and  observed,  they must  be  met or you  are  flung  to  the  roadside.

What  has  set  the  NYSCA  folks  apart  from  the  DCA  over  the  years  in my  experience  was  that  they actually  took a  curatorial interest  in  who  they  were  funding. Someone  came  to  see  your  work. In  fact  two  people  had  to  come  to see  your  work.
You  had   to have  site  visits . It  felt  like  someone  cared  if  you  were  doing  something  that  was  actually  of  artistic  merit  or  not. It  was  part  of  the  competitive process.

When we  can at  The  Drilling  Company we  try  to  throw  deadlines to  the  roadside. We  try whenever  possible  to let  quality in  the  door  even it  appears  to  be a latecomer  because  in  the  end , no one  really  gives a quarter  about  whether  we  are  on  time - they  care  about  whether  we  have  anything  interesting  to  say.

Ironically the  folks who set  up  Grant  systems  have  different  priorities.

So while NYSCA in  the  past  was  set  apart  by  it's  adherence  to   the  primacy  of  quality in  the  art it  is  less so now. It  is  now  more in line  with our   digital age.

Now  we are in the dawn of the  age  of  Grants  Gateway.

Grants  Gateway  is  software, which  has been  sold  to  the  state  of  Ne York  to  "streamline" their  grant making  process. There   is  nothing   stream-like about   Grants  Gateway  other  that   the  feeling  that  you  are  drowning  while  you  are trying  to  deal  with  it.
To be  fair, the  makes r of  the  software, Agate Software  , have  employed  the  
most  friendly  and  congenial  assistants   at  the  helpdesk line. They  respond  promptly and  efficiently  to  every question, no  question  is  too stupid - they are  great in  every  way.

What  would  be  greater  is  if  the  makers of  the  software  actually gave a  darn about  the  users of  the  software.But  it is  clear , if  you  are  using  the   software  to make  an application - that  no one
who designed  this  software  got  a  bit  of input  from  people  who  actually  write grants  with  it .

The  absence  of  all sensitivity  could  best  be  described  as  the  result  of  having  a  plumber  design a  theatre . There is nothing  wrong  with  plumbers  they  simply  should  not  be  designing   theatre .The  list  of  complaints  is  so  tremendously  long  one  should  probably start with the  biggest  problem and  the  largest  problem  by  far  is  the  lack of  any  clear explanation  of  how   you  were  expected  to  fill out  many  required  sites  when  applying  for a  grant.

The  result  as I endeavored  to  submit  the   grant  was  that  constantly  new "required"  windows  popped up  even  as I had  finally inputted  all necessary  information   for  our  request. Why  couldn't  these  windows  have been  clearly  set  aside so  one  could  see  them?

For  those  employed  by not-for -profit  institutions  with  regular   salaries , this  may  not  have  been a  problem,  but I  know for  those of  us  who  are  technically volunteers  as  the  state  would  define   it , it  was  overwhelmingly  discouraging.

The  software  is a  result  of   some  thinking  we  need  stricter   oversight  of  how  our  public  funds  are  being  spent.  This  strict  over sight  is   completely  out  of  balance with  the  fiscal  desire  of  Wall Street  to  have  less restrictions and  regulations.  Most  not  -for  -profit  organizations  are  carefully  schooled  to  run  more  like  businesses. Ironically, the  very  forces  exhorting  them  to  run  like  businesses  are  placing  the  very  restrictions  and regulations  on  the  application for  funds  that  the  businesses are  begging  to be  free  from  via  the Republican Party

Grants  Gateway is  the future  Big Brother  of  Arts  Funding and  I  cannot  imagine  it   fashionable  to  call attention  to  the  fact  that  there  are  many  expectations  of  the  process  which  can  only  be  discovered  through trial  and  error, I suppose  after  three  or four  years  of applications
we  will have  curtailed  our  programming  to   fit  the  needs of  the  new  application.

What's  missing  is  the  human element  and anyone   who is  on  the  human end  feels quite  helpless  when I  speak  with  them. Everyone  has  a sense  of  surrender. There  is a  sense  that  nothing  can  be  done  to  stop  this   crushing  machine  that   allows  very  little  space   for  the  erratic  artists  and   desires  the  creation  of  tidy  responsible  artist families  and  leaders.

It is an odd  development  for a  field  that  is  filled   with  individuals  desperately  hanging  on ,  determined  yet   pragmatic.

After  recently losing  our space  we  said   goodbye to  several  core artists  in  our  company  both  literally and figuratively - perhaps  a coincidence  with  losing  the  space.  It  was  definitely a  result  of  my  own inability  to reassure  them  that  everything  would  be  allright. The  tide  would  turn. The  work  would  be  recognized. You  will be  taken  seriously. You  matter. Doing it  well matters as much as  doing  it  on  time . More  so. Less so. Less so.