$3.2 million awarded to artists from the Jerome Foundation

Published 6:50 am Saturday, March 23, 2019

By Marianne Combs

MPR News/90.1 FM

The St. Paul-based Jerome Foundation announced the winners of a $3.2 million grant program for artists Monday.

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The Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship program is a two-year grant aimed at artists who have established their practice, but have yet to get wide recognition for their work.

Sixty artists across a variety of disciplines will each receive $20,000 per year. About half of them are Minnesotans.

Jerome Foundation President Ben Cameron said the new grant was created in response to a recent survey of artists.

Many expressed frustration at the relentless grant application process and “of how exhausting it was to get a single year grant and hardly get started and you had to start thinking about next year,” Cameron said.

The foundation also heard from artists who complained that grants or commissions often didn’t cover the actual costs of a project.

With that in mind, the Jerome foundation added another component to the fellowship.

“There’s another $10,000 that artists can direct to a nonprofit organization of their choice to further their work with that organization,” said Eleanor Savage, the foundation’s program manager.

Savage said artists can use that funding to bring in a designer they want to work with, or hire a filmmaker to document their work, for example.That amounts to a total commitment of $50,000 per artist.

When choreographer Deneane Richburg learned she had been selected, she said, “I was driving at the time and I actually had to pull over and shed a few tears and just had a moment.”

Richburg choreographs dances grounded in African-American history both for the stage and for the ice rink. Her latest piece explores black social dances. But she’s also working to pay off her student loans.

“And so I’ve been really hustling, doing little side jobs here and there to try and make a dent in my student loan debt,” Richburg said. “And the side jobs take me away from being able to be on the ice and to have the emotional and mental time to really think about the work.”

Composer Dameun Strange is another grantee for the new Jerome fellowship. He said some of the funds will go to pay for day care for his toddler so he can focus on composing. He also hopes to use his grant to fund a trip to Senegal to do research for his next opera. Strange is particularly excited about the additional $10,000 he can use for artistic collaborations.

“Usually it happens the other way around — the money is given to an organization and they seek out artists to work with. So I like that Jerome is giving agency to the artists to decide who they would like to work with — I think that’s a big difference.”

Cameron said up until now the Jerome Foundation’s grants have been weighted more heavily in favor of arts organizations.

“This really reflects a re-prioritization within our budget to essentially divide our budget on a 50-50 basis between organizations getting money and artists more directly getting money,” he said.

The change has consequences for arts organizations. Earlier this week Zenon Dance Company announced it was closing, in part due to the loss of funding from Jerome.

Cameron said while the foundation is pulling back on its support of arts organizations, he points out most of Minnesota’s major arts institutions were started decades ago by visionary individual artists.

“In a comparable moment of change and uncertainty and looking at the future about how the arts need to be different, we had every confidence that artists will begin to lead us into that new chapter of behavior,” Cameron said.

In this first round of grants, 81 percent of the recipients identify as people of color or indigenous, a result Cameron says is thrilling.

He added that while the funding won’t solve artists’ financial struggles, as a whole the grants represent a significant investment in Minnesota’s future.