Seed Grants for Alumnx Bear Fruit

Anyone involved in the arts knows that building or maintaining a professional practice is an expensive undertaking. This has only been complicated by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, in which exhibitions and performances have been cancelled and jobs lost. In recent years, the CalArts alumnx community has rallied to support fellow CalArtians in concrete ways through grants, which has increased following the current health crisis.

In 2017, the CalArts Alumnx Council decided that in addition to advocating for their fellow alumnx, they would provide direct financial support for their peers. Thus, the Alumnx Council Seed Grants program was born, now starting its fourth year. Originally $250 grants awarded in fall and spring to 10 alumni and collaborative teams for their creative projects, the grants now total $500 each. Last year, additional support from donors helped to increase the number of awards to 14.

“Among the many ways we thought we could help students and alumni, one was seed grants,” said John D’Amico (Critical Studies MA 10, Theater BFA 84), a principal project manager for UCLA Capital Programs and councilmember for the city of West Hollywood who serves on the Alumnx Council.

“Not only do they provide some dollars, but also, if someone gets a grant from CalArts, they can use that as an example of project support when applying for grants to other organizations,” providing validation of the project. “It may not be a large amount of money, but it’s a good jumping off point and it can also help someone complete a project.”

Alumnx Council Seed Grants have supported a wide variety of innovative projects, including a collaboration between Jody Zellen (Art MFA 89) and Brian Moss (Art MFA 95) to create What’s on Los Angeles, a website and mobile app offering a comprehensive weekly listing of local art exhibitions in Los Angeles, and Books for Babes, a 2017 literacy initiative and collaboration between Edda Kelly (Film/Video MFA 14), Ariel Hart (Film/Video MFA 10), and Vashti Harrison (Film/Video MFA 14) aimed at providing feminist children’s books to at-need communities, including teenage moms, women’s shelters, and others in low-income areas.

Members of the Alumnx Council review applications twice a year. Grants may be applied toward expenses, including production and equipment costs, and projects should be open to and shareable with the alumnx community. The grants are funded by the Office of Alumnx and Family Engagement via the CalArts Fund, the primary vehicle by which CalArts alumnx support the Institute. More information is available on the CalArts Alumnx webpage.

“While everyone on the Council has different reviewing standards, in the proposals, I look for new ways of thinking that enhance or change or expand the work that someone is trying to make,” D’Amico explained. “I also look for projects that are engaged in community and in the community of alumni.

“Conceptually, this is very important to do,” said D’Amico. “It’s very hard to have an art practice, and knowing that CalArts is there and available to alumni makes a big difference. We are a community of artists. This is one way of proving it’s happening, and if you want to support that, you can make an investment that goes directly to alumni.”

Graphic Design Alumnx Grants

In the last academic year, two new CalArts grants were introduced, the Graphic Design Alumnx Grants and the Black Artists Fund. Graphic design grants in the amount of $500 each were awarded to six CalArts alumnx last spring and grants of $200 were awarded to 45 Black artists who were CalArts students last year.

“The Graphic Design grants started with the pandemic,” said Roman Jaster (Art BFA 07), an alum and visiting faculty in the Graphic Design Program. Several faculty members in Graphic Design, including Jaster, wanted to help graphic design alumnx who were facing economic hardships because of COVID-19. They decided to use revenue from CalArts graphic design classes on Coursera, the massive open online course provider, to fund grants. Applications were evaluated by Jaster and Stuart Smith (Art MFA 02), director of Creative Services and visiting faculty in Graphic Design at CalArts.

“For some people, the grants made a big difference and for others a smaller difference,” said Jaster. “But it’s an important gesture. It shows that the Graphic Design Program wants to support its alumni, and I’m proud of that. We looked for interesting projects that were well-communicated and viable, too. And also whether the person needed the money.”

Among projects awarded last year were a collaboration between Andrew Hogge (Art BFA 01), Daniel DeSure (Film/Video 04), Tim Koh (Art BFA 01), and Christina Huang (Art MFA 19) to design a traveling exhibition and book marking the 10-year retrospective of music/art collective ESP Institute, and funding screen-printing, photography, and ceramics equipment so that Mansi Shah (Art BFA 08) can open up her studio as a resource for the CalArts art/design community members or other alumni who may have lost studio space.

Black Artists Fund

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The thurs.night curatorial collaboration with the Black Arts Collective over the last few weeks was created to serve as a place to rest, a form of unison, a moment of joy in a climate of pain and uncertainty. The current activism around Black life and survival stems from centuries of systemic racism and violence against Black people. We acknowledge that disproportionate privilege has been granted to the majority of our CalArts community. This privilege manifests in many ways – including within the artistic environment. The CalArts community has a disproportionately low number of Black Artists – 4%. The Artistic community has similar failings, in 2019, Black Artists made up just 1.2% of the works in a study of 18 major US museums. We want to use this time to uplift Black artistry and amplify Black voices.

A post shared by The Black Arts Collective (@thecollectivecalarts) on

The Black Artists Fund was initiated last spring after the pandemic forced CalArts to switch to remote instruction. The Fund was a collaboration between the Office of Alumnx and Family Engagement, the Provost’s Office, the Black Arts Collective, and thurs.night, the online showcase that featured experimental work created by CalArts students and members of the alumnx community from late May through early July. Applicants were asked to provide basic information and to answer the question, “What do you love about being a Black artist?”

Acting student Adzua Amoa (Theater MFA 21), co-director of the Collective and fellow student Jordyn Ross (Theater BFA 22) helped conceive the Fund and said that most of the recipients used the support to help pay for rent, books, equipment, or art supplies. And while she said that the money was certainly helpful, asking Black students on campus to articulate what they love about being Black artists was empowering. “The response was overwhelming in a magnificent way,” she said. “To read what people wrote about their Blackness was truly inspiring.”

by Michael Rogers

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