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    ArtsMemphis offers individual Arts Accelerator grants to propel artists' careers

    Lesley Young


    Imagine if the CEOs of large companies were asked to show up for work every day, run a business, work overtime, and put heart and soul into the job just to get great exposure.

    Imagine an NBA player working at a coffee shop to support his passion for hustling at every practice and winning championships.
    These are scenarios that apply to most working artists, particularly those who live and work in Memphis.
    Thanks to some of those artists who spoke up and an arts organization that was willing to listen and do something about it, that dynamic is starting to shift.
    In 2013, ArtsMemphis launched its first individual artist grant: the Arts Accelerator grant, which offers $3,000 each to five artists living and working in Shelby County to use as they need.
    “We want to keep artists in our community,” said Lauren Boyer, ArtsMemphis’ new media and marketing manager. “We want to give them a line of support and show them that Memphis values them.”
    The grants, which were funded by friends in the community, are offered to artists who are at a critical juncture in their careers and can hopefully use the money to propel their careers forward. Last year, out of 70 applicants, the winners chosen were Mary Jo Karimnia, Ben Butler, Susan Maakestad, Brandon Marshall and Terri Phillips.
    Each artist submits an application with a one- to two-page explanation of how the grant money will help his or her career along with three images of his or her work.
    The Artist Advisory Council, which includes chairwoman Maysey Craddock, Melissa Dunn, Dianne Mall, Lester Merriweather, Greely Myatt and Joel Parsons, whittles down the applications to about two dozen finalists and invites an outside juror to help choose the winners.
    “It’s good to have an outside perspective,” Boyer said. “When you have local professional artists talking about other local artists, it’s great to have some objectivity.”
    Last year, the council invited University of Mississippi Museum director Robert Saarnio, while this year’s guest was Adrienne Outlaw, founder and director of Nashville’s art lab Seed Space.
    ArtsMemphis announced this year’s winners in November; they include Stephanie Cosby, Adam Farmer, Jonathan Payne, Hamlett Dobbins and Beth Edwards.
    Cosby proposed buying photography equipment for a project that had been lying dormant for a year.
    “I reached a point where I needed to experiment with a projector and Photoshop, and I didn’t have it, and I couldn’t afford it,” said Cosby, 39, of Memphis. “It’s great to experience people having faith in what I’m doing. I’m grateful that they are so trustful in what I’m doing. I’m excited.”
    Payne hopes to improve his studio and launch a website showcasing his work.
    “Right now, I have no way to pin work on the wall and see what I’m working on and engage with it,” said Payne, 23, of Midtown. “It’s such a positive reinforcement and motivator to continue doing what I’m doing. Seeing Memphis invest in artists living in the city is a very beautiful thing to be a part of.”
    Farmer will use his grant to continue running a home gallery out of his own pocket while maintaining his professional painting practice.
    Dobbins will present a small-print-run-edition book of recent works, and Edwards plans to live and work in New York for several months with hopes of getting more exposure and finding an additional gallery home.
    The idea to break out of supporting just arts organizations and offering support to actual artists came about when Craddock, who had participated in ArtsMemphis’ annual Art-A-Factor art auction benefit, was asked by the organization about her experience and where they could improve.
    “I told them the idea of art auctions are undercutting the value of the work of the artists and the artistic community, which includes galleries as well,” Craddock said. Craddock’s suggestions only amplified what those at ArtsMemphis were already considering, and they asked her to come back along with several other artists for a sort of roundtable to discuss what more the organization could do for artists.
    “It was very candid, which was great,” Boyer said. “They told us we weren’t doing anything meaningful to support artists. It was what we expected. I mean, we knew.”
    “We had had a lot of conversations with many different people from the mayor to individual artists and were trying to respond to this conversation with support for the artists of this city,” said ArtsMemphis president and COO Elizabeth Rouse.
    Metropolitan Bank has joined the cause as the presenting sponsor, and ArtsMemphis plans to grow the program with more funds and therefore more grants as well as offering other programs, including grant writing and marketing workshops, and including other art forms.
    “I really commend ArtsMemphis for being open to what we had to say and for responding to it,” Craddock said. “This is helping to create connections between artists and the community, and it has given us a voice and a forum to pay attention to what the artistic community needs.”
    Said Boyer: “We have all these wonderful universities and programs of learning, and this is a way to retain the talent in our city once they graduate.”
    Other supporters of the Arts Accelerator grant include the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation, Hyde Family Foundations, Dianne and Myron Mall, and other individuals.
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