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When Being Multi-Faceted Means Being Un-Funded

March 13, 2007

Over green tea and slices of Texan sheet cake, a choreographer friend of mine talked about the difficulties of obtaining funding for performance projects when the work in question doesn't fit neatly into any of the funders' usual categories for parceling out money. According to my friend, if you're a dance company that simply puts on movement to music on stage in front of a paying audience, then it seems your work is easier to fund than work that is dance-based but also involves, say, fire-juggling, motion capture technology, kinetic sculpture, and narrative theatre. Such is my friend's work. This hybrid form of art is very popular out here on the west coast, where artists of different disciplines interact freely, often bound by a mutual interest in experimenting with new technologies.

As we discussed the subject of how best to apply for grants when you don't know whether to check the "dance," "theatre," or "circus arts" box on the application form, we started to think about how the funders look at these things. One of the things that probably puts panels off funding multidisciplinary work is that they have difficulty visualizing it in the written descriptions that applicants provide. My friend's applications are very intellectual -- full of references to science, technology and the reading material that went into developing her vision. Maybe the key to getting funders to stay tuned and prevent them from throwing up their arms and saying, "I'm confused. How exactly is she planning on putting computer-generated characters on stage?" is to simplify the vision in writing. Begin with a key idea, talk about the single main impulse behind it and then describe how it will be treated according to one discipline. For example, if movement is the predominant vocabulary in the piece, stick to discussing that in the application rather than bamboozling the funder with information about the interplay of seven different art forms in the piece.

This approach seem a bit calculating -- some might even say you're lying about the work if you present it to grant givers in such a one-dimensional way -- but if doing so helps them understand the core ideas behind the work, that can only be to the advantage of both sides, I think.

Of course, all of the above is conjecture. I'm not a funder. But I have spoken to many artists -- some of which work in a very multidisciplinary way -- about this issue. One of the main things that sets Bay Area culture apart from other parts of the country and the world is its strength in cross-genre work. We should find ways to nurture it, not impede its progress.

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