“I didn’t think I had any shot at it,” says Steve Hughes, a 2010 Kresge Art Fellow, publisher and writer of Stupor, a zine that compiles pieces of conversation overheard from strangers in bars into a literary examination of human nature with its guard down. “Some friends urged me to do it, and I thought, ‘What the hell; I’ll give it a try and see.’”
Given the extensive cuts to the already-limited budgets of humanities organizations, this dialogue of self-doubt is familiar for artists in a super-competitive market.
Despite this tenuous atmosphere, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for 12 literary and 12 performing artists. From now through Feb.1, 2012, the Kresge Arts Fellowship application period is open. Each artist selected will receive $25,000 to use in whichever way benefits his or her practice, whether it be covering the cost of supplies, food, travel, = whatever. There are no restrictions on how the money is to be used.
The fellowship alternates the genres of art it supports every year. Painters, sculptors, and photographers will have to wait until 2012 when the application opens again for visual artists.
In its three years, Kresge Arts in Detroit has given approximately $1.2 million to local artists through its fellowship program and $150,000 to renowned Detroit artists who have been community leaders and innovators through its Eminent Artist Award. Better yet, Megan Frye, Coordinator for Kresge Arts in Detroit, says that in 2010, when Kresge first offered literary and performing arts fellowships, only 170 artists applied to the literary fellowship and about 200 to the performing arts fellowship. Although she estimates that the program will receive more applications in its second year, the application pool is still relatively small compared to other fellowships like the notoriously competitive Fulbright fellowships.
To qualify for the fellowship, applicants may not be working toward a degree-granting program, must have been residents of metro Detroit (Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties) for at least two years, and must live there throughout the duration of their fellowship.
“I think it’s definitely injected cash into the community,” says Hughes. “There are a lot of poor artists living here. It helped me pay off some bills. It made things better for me.”
Kresge’s intention is to bolster the flourishing arts community in Detroit and fund artists who will continue to participate in it and help it grow long after — as well as retain the artists who might otherwise flee to other parts of the country.
“It is keeping artists in town,” Hughes continues. “I do think it’s invigorating the community in some way.”
The fellowship also affords the opportunity for artists to work in cooperation with others in different disciplines and genres. For 2010 fellows, that meant participating in Art X Detroit, a five-day multidisciplinary exhibition that took place in April 2011 and showcased Kresge talent. The next Art X is tentatively scheduled in the spring of 2013, and will feature the work of 2011 and 2012 fellows.
Collaboration for Hughes, however, has not been limited to Kresge artists. He is currently working with renowned sculptor, performance artist, and filmmaker Matthew Barney, and Hughes credits much of his success, as well as his ability to meet and network with prominent artists, to the award and the recognition that came with it.
The fellowship “suddenly validated my work in a way I hadn’t thought it would,” says Hughes. “It validated the idea of making a zine and calling what I’m doing literary art. Other people took it more seriously. It opened up doors and opportunities for me. I would’ve never gotten there without the award. Creatively, it’s been great.”
For potential applicants, Hughes encourages building a strong portfolio that represents the range of one’s work. Applicants will also be asked to write two statements. The first, the artist’s statement, should provide judges a context in which to place the art, as well as the artists’ explanation or analysis of his or her own work. The second, a narrative statement, should describe what the artist’s goal or vision is for the trajectory of his or her work if the fellowship is received.
But according to Hughes, the most important aspect of the process is the tangible work the applicant shows to judges.
“I think that mostly what they’re looking at is your portfolio,” says Hughes. “Work on that. Really polish your portfolio up. Your writing sample should be sweet—as good as it can be.”
Information sessions for prospective applicants will run in November and December. Performing artists can visit the College for Creative Studies on Tuesday, Nov. 15 from 6-8 p.m., literary artists can attend their session on Saturday, Nov. 19 from 3:30-5:30 p.m., and both disciplines can attend the final session on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 2-4 p.m.
Apply to the Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellowship online at kresge.collegeforcreativestudies.edu, where additional information about the program is also available.
Winners will be announced in the summer of 2012.