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Getting to Know You: AEP Artists’ and Orgs’ Needs and Priorities

June 28, 2024

One of the foundational principles of CRNY is that we value artists as whole humans; our focus is on the people and the process, not the artistic product. Our work with the Artist Employment Program participants was designed to be relational. We created an application process that included a round of Zoom interviews, so we could get to know the candidates and assess one of the primary criteria for selection: the strength and integrity of the collaboration.  

We also intentionally chose not to require that program participants report back on their progress and collaboration to CRNY in any formal, written capacity, and instead we’ve held two Zoom-based check-ins per year with each artist and at least one organizational representation from all collaborations. This choice was driven by our desire to relieve participants of the burden of writing laborious reports. However, live check-ins meant we had more opportunities for dynamic conversation; we could answer questions and trouble-shoot issues in real time and gain direct insight into the artists’ and organizations’ needs. The relational nature of our work allowed us to build trust and get to know the program participants, which in turn yielded a rich and nuanced picture of their successes and struggles. This post documents that picture through a collection of takeaways based on our many conversations. We hope this helps arts service organizations, arts councils, philanthropy, and many others better support artists and organizations within our vibrant NY State arts and cultural ecosystem. 

Below are the top issues that were raised, along with the ways in which we’ve seen artists and organizations take advantage of the aligned opportunities we have offered. 

Professional Development for Artists  

  • Professional development was of interest to most artists; several cited the fact that the stable income could help provide time to “sharpen the saw” for their artistic practice and make a career in the arts.  
  • One major area of focus for artists was around financial and legal counseling, what many called the “business side” of art, from pricing work to managing taxes to incorporating as a 501c3 or LLC to protecting/managing intellectual property.   
  • Another area of focus was documentation and raising visibility of their work, getting help developing portfolios, social media presence, websites, digital tools, and how to engage press.  
  • Fundraising and grant writing was also top of mind for many of the artists we spoke to; they expressed an interest in these skills in order to continue to pursue funding after the end of the grant period.  
  • A lot of artists mentioned interest in discipline-specific professional development, from being able to work with mentors in the field, to taking workshops/classes, to attending professional conferences, to pursuing a graduate degree.   
  • Many artists also noted the desire for a peer learning community with others in the grant program.  

Professional Development/Capacity Building for Organizations  

  • Professional development was also a key interest for organizational leaders, as well as capacity building for their organizations. 
  • Most organizations identified a need for capacity building in fundraising and grant writing.  
  • Several non-arts organizations were interested in learning how to better integrate arts into their mission-based work.  
  • Many organizations identified needs around addressing technology knowledge gaps, from software training to website development.  
  • Many organizations also wanted support in figuring out how to better document and promote their work, from media training to social media presence to photography and filming of their work.  
  • Several organizations were interested in how to make their work and programs more accessible to audiences and staff with disabilities.  
  • Many organizations also wanted support in organizational structure and governance, e.g., HR policies, board management, legal services, and nonprofit management.  
  • Some organizations were interested in alternative models for governance and structure, such as creating collectives and co-ops.  

Networking and Cohort Participation  

  • There was significant interest in joining cohorts or clusters of some kind. Relatedly, it was important to the artists that these groups be optional and not rigidly structured/scheduled.   
  • In addition to connecting and networking, several people raised the idea of a way to share/promote events and work.  
  • A majority of the participants expressed interest in cohorts/clusters that were centered on geographic location — both organizational representatives and artists really wanted to connect with others in their region.   
  • About a third of participants mentioned interest in discipline-specific cohorts or wanting to connect with people from other disciplines (and having discipline-specific groups to help facilitate this).  
  • Many of the organizational representatives expressed interest in an “Admin/HR Corner” and an “EDs group” to connect around administrative issues related to the grant but also more broadly to find solidarity around issues they are encountering in the community- and mission-driven nonprofit world.  
  • Many participants also noted being interested in connecting with others who were working in and with specific communities, from identity-based groups like Haudenosaunee artists, to groups with shared audiences, such as those working with people impacted by the criminal justice system, to those who were focused on advocacy and organizing work.   
  • A handful of artists also specifically noted a desire to connect with others who are navigating similar personal circumstances — for example, joining a cohort of artists who are also parents or caregivers.  

These findings influenced some of the support systems we offered during the Artist Employment Program, such as fundraising workshops, the creation of a dedicated social network platform with our partners at Tribeworks, in-person regional gatherings, and online monthly “hangs” where participants could share questions, insights, and highlights from their collaborations. We also provided some offboarding/transition support based on these findings, including grant workshops and 1:1 coaching sessions with NYFA.