Artist Employment Program: Selection Process and Learning
Today, Creatives Rebuild New York announced a dynamic group of 98 collaborations involving 300 artists employed by community-based organizations, municipalities, and tribal governments across New York State. We’re thrilled by the artistic work, community building, and mutuality that these collaborations will create and inspire—and we look forward to following along as these artists and organizations are afforded the opportunity to cultivate collective power within and as part of their local communities.
A LARGE APPLICANT POOL
Artist Employment Program (AEP) recipients were chosen from an initial pool of 2,741 applications, in which artists and organizations jointly applied. We attribute this high response to our open call for applications; to the incredible work of our Artist Outreach Corps; and to our Help Desk run by Good Call NYC, which operationalized application assistance strategies. Applications were available in eleven languages and we provided application assistance and translation/interpretation services in multiple languages. Additionally, alongside several organizational partners, we hosted over a dozen Information Sessions during our six-week application window. These efforts were all designed to lower participation barriers for applicants.
Aside from our outreach, this large application pool speaks to the scarcity of employment opportunities available for New York State artists. It also speaks to the lack of support for organizations who wish to employ artists as part of their core workforce. We’re hopeful that these AEP partnerships help illustrate the power and potential of these types of collaborations, especially as communities build back from the devastating impact of COVID-19.
PEER REVIEW PROCESS
We hired a team of 20 external peer reviewers to read and assess applications. This group of external reviewers identified as 80% Black, Indigenous, or People of Color; 10% people with Disabilities; 40% based outside of New York City and 15% rural, representing 15 counties across the State; 20% men, 75% women, and 5% nonbinary. To honor and account for the large number of proposals from Indigenous artists and communities around the state, 3 of the 20 external peer reviewers (15%) were Indigenous. In addition to reviewing and interviewing a diverse range of applications in both stages of the selection process, these reviewers convened a dedicated panel to discuss and provide feedback on Indigenous applications after all second-round interviews were completed. As our applicants hailed from across New York State and represented diverse identities and lived experiences, we strove to select reviewers who shared affinity with our applicants.
Every eligible and complete application was read by multiple people, including external peer reviewers and CRNY staff. Reviewers scored applications according to a detailed rubric that addressed the strengths and integrity of the collaboration; alignment of the proposed collaboration with CRNY values; capacity of the organization to support artists; and impact on the organization’s financial capacity. These rubric categories aligned with the criteria articulated within the Artist Employment Program guidelines. Those applications recommended to move forward were then reviewed by CRNY staff to assess distribution across geography, artistic discipline, demographics served, organizational size, and number of collaborators.
After extensive discussion and review, 167 collaborations advanced to the second stage of the application process, which involved Zoom interviews with all participating artists, at least one organizational representative, one peer reviewer, and one CRNY staff member. Reviewers scored the interviews via criteria established in the program guidelines: the strength and integrity of the collaboration, the community impact, the capacity of the organization to support artists, and the collaboration’s vision and budget. CRNY staff created a preliminary list of finalists based on reviewer scores and distribution priorities. All reviewers convened on Zoom for a day-long panel meeting to further discuss and refine the list of proposed grantees. CRNY staff then finalized the list of proposals recommended for funding. Ultimately, we selected a collection of collaborations from across New York State, prioritizing geographic distribution, diversity of artistic discipline, and a range of organizational sizes and types. We exclusively chose organizations and artists working with and alongside Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQIAP+, Deaf/Disabled, criminal legal system-involved, low income, and rural communities. Due to the volume of applications and the limits of CRNY’s funding, many incredible organizations and artists doing important and powerful work were not selected to move forward.
The application and review processes were energizing and inspiring. We were encouraged by the rich and diverse ways artists and community-based organizations are already working together within and for their communities—and are excited to imagine how this work might be scaled for greater impact with additional funding and support. We learned about the myriad roles artists play in building back and strengthening their communities—and organizations that are eager to both build on prior experiences and try new modes of working with artists and local communities.
Several themes emerged within the AEP joint applications—themes that reflect the current moment: from collaborations that address anti-Asian hate, to proposals that leverage art as a way to heal from trauma, to initiatives that aim to reclaim narratives of marginalized communities. These themes speak to how artists’ labor is essential not only to economic recovery, but also to strengthen our common humanity.
We likewise learned about the great need to remove language and access barriers from the grantmaking process. Thankfully, we had experts Kevin Gotkin, a disability justice organizer, artist, and advocate; Andraéa LaVant of LaVant Consulting Inc.; and Irene Gotera of Linguistic Justice to guide us along the way. We will continue to engage with and expand accessibility and disability justice as we work with all AEP recipients over the course of the next two years.
We look forward to learning about the Artist Employment Program’s impact and the models it uncovers to support artists and their labor. We hope to understand how artists are and want to be working, what support artists need to do their work, and how organizations and artists can work together toward deeper community impact. We hope you’ll follow along as we continue to explore these questions as part of CRNY’s impact and narrative change work.
Learn more about the 98 AEP collaborations at https://www.creativesrebuildny.org/participants/.