As Alaska Goes, So Goes The Nation? Not Quite, But Artists Should Still Take Note

If you're an artist living in Alaska beset by cabin fever, you may want to check out the Rasmuson Foundation's Artist Residency Program, which places four Alaska-based artists in residencies art centers in the Lower 48

If, however, you're a homebody, you'll want to check out the foundation's Individual Artists Awards (IAA) program, which provides grants to Alaska artists to support the "time, reflection, immersion or experimentation beneficial to the development of their artistry."

And what if you're an artist based anywhere but Alaska, with no intention of ever setting foot in Alaska? Well, you may want to keep reading anyway, because changes to the Rasmuson Foundation's IAA program speaks to an emerging trend in arts philanthropy that should interest artists regardless of their location.

First, however, a quick overview of the IAA program itself. 

Support comes in three forms. First, $7,500 Project Awards for emerging, mid-career, and mature artists in all disciplines for specific, short-term projects. Approximately 25 Project Awards are granted annually. Second, $18,000 Fellowship awards for mid-career or mature artists to "focus their energy and attention for a one-year period on developing their creative work." Approximately 10 fellowships are awarded each year.

And last but not least, a single $40,000 Distinguished Artist award for a mature artist of recognized stature with a history of creative excellence and accomplishment in the arts. 

Which brings me to recently implemented changes to the program. You can check them out here. When you do, you'll see that many of the changes are administrative in nature. Yet keep reading and you may be intrigued (like I was) by the following sentence: "Starting in 2017, IAA recipients will have the option of participating in a flexible, six-week course with New York-based Creative Capital that focuses on building artist business skills."

Indeed, I was intrigued, but I wasn't shocked. The Rasmuson Foundation is but the latest funder telling artists they need to hone their business skills—and I expect more to follow.

I explored this trend in greater detail while recently looking at Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists, which provides business training and funding to artists through online learning resources, business tools, networking opportunities, and "accelerator grants" that provide funding capital to extend artists' careers.

The leading lights of art philanthropy concur wholeheartedly. Speaking at an Art Basel discussion on the state of arts-related venture philanthropy, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors President and CEO Melissa Berman said that artists need to effectively leverage "capital and financial instruments" if art is supposed to serve a "cross-over social purpose."

Of course, artists have been getting ripped off since the Renaissance. What explains the recent surge in funder support around this area?

Here's one explanation: The dual ascendancy of arts-related venture philanthropy, in which donors want to see a quantifiable relative return on investment, and creative placemaking, which demands artists to engage with all types of relevant stakeholders, including banks, lending officers, and zoning planners to serve a "cross-over social purpose."

These challenges are further magnified in a geographically remote place like Alaska, which is why the Rasumson Foundation is also offering IAA recipients access to in-person gatherings, webinars, conference calls and "other educational opportunities designed to take into account the variable technological challenges" of living in an area known as the Last Frontier.

And so developments in Alaska are a kind of harbinger for artists in the Lower 48. If donors weren't pouring over performance metrics or if serious money wasn't flowing to fund creative placemaking efforts, artists—Alaska-based or otherwise—could be forgiven for happily toiling away in blissful solitude. But that's not what's happening.