In Depth: The Critical Fierceness GrantJuly 20, 2009
* Latham and Mel
The Critical Fierceness Grant is a twice-yearly microgrant awarded to a queer artist, funded by the money Chances Dances makes through its dance parties. Tonight, the 2nd winner of the Critical Fierceness Grant will be announced at their oldest haunt, Subterranean. I’m so happy that the organizers have been able to make good on their promise and nurture the artistic queers in Chicago with this opportunity and I’ll be profiling the winner this week, so stay tuned for that. Before that exciting announcement, I’ve got an interview with 2 reps from Chances, Latham Zearfoss and Mel Racho. They graciously answered some questions I sent them about the grant, Chicago and its invaluable queers. Here are some quotes, (Mel is in BLUE and Latham is in GREEN, just cuz) read the full interviews after the jump.
…we still wanted to provide a venue for queer expression, formerly manifested in our themes, contests and channeled through our amazing former host Miss Teena Angst. Simultaneously we received an increase in the percentage of bar sales from the Subterranean, so suddenly we had this conundrum of how to spend the money now that we’d called it quits on theme nights (not a finite thing, just a general shift), while also re-negotiating Chances’ role as a creative outlet for the community. The Critical Fierceness Grant answered all of these problems while being an exciting endeavor for all of us…
…the Crit Fierceness works is perhaps what makes it stand out from other micro-grants that I am aware of (also sit on the city’s CAAP media panel), is the level of trust and connection we have with the artist and their work. The grant application process is comprehensive and finalists go through an outside board for review. Yet, at the day’s end, it is really cash money for the queer artist: here is money, get your work done, we believe in you and the project. This kind of faith is rare in most things that involve money – and, let’s face it increasingly rare in this world…
#. what happened or what wasn’t happening in chicago that led you to do this?
MEL: This one is kinda hard to say as the grant had finished one cycle prior to my involvement with it. However, everyone who was/is part of the Chances Dances crew past/present I count as friends and I had been in dialogue with Latham and crew, and was aware of the grant’s purpose. In a nutshell, it broke down as follows in terms of CD history: since 2005, CD had been throwing these crazy queer art parties that were becoming more and more successful. Older parties, if you remember from the Big Horse – and, briefly, at the top portion of the Subterranean, were these themed and theatrical to-dos where, essentially, the all the queermos of the land could come and dance, drink, hook up and also enjoy an atmosphere that punctuated and, perhaps, elevated by the theatrics of the night. I’m gonna credit the incomparable Ben de la Creme when he was hosting but there were other key players and other key nights that made CD bangin’ and, overall, a social and fiscal success. I go into this preamble to set up the context of the grant’s beginnings. Basically girl, CD started to make money and, in the early years, that money was largely funnelled into the theatrics of the party. When Ben and a few other key people left town, and the then organizers decided to move the whole party downstairs, and became host- and, largely, theme-less, the organizers felt that there was potential to be had in filling the gap left. CD was still making money and was still committed to the community; the grant came about as a way to funnel some of this fiscal success into an underfunded cross-section of our community: lgbtiq artists. In a sense, this is CD’s way of both paying homage to our roots as being started by broke, queermo artists and also facilitate visibility/dialogue in and beyond our community through funding our creative brothers and sisters.
For me the decision to create a micro-grant sprung from the need to more fully realize Chances’ mission of being a conduit for community-building. After the theatrics of our initial parties transitioned into a straightforward dance party, I felt at a loss for how to continue providing a much-needed venue for creative expression. We knew that continuing to do themed parties was untenable for a number of reasons: creative fatigue, waning responses from our crowd, etc. But we still wanted to provide a venue for queer expression, formerly manifested in our themes, contests and channeled through our amazing former host Miss Teena Angst. Simultaneously we received an increase in the percentage of bar sales from the Subterranean, so suddenly we had this conundrum of how to spend the money now that we’d called it quits on theme nights (not a finite thing, just a general shift),
while also re-negotiating Chances’ role as a creative outlet for the community. The Critical Fierceness Grant answered all of these problems while being an exciting endeavor for all of us.
^. has there been any follow up with last year’s winner? where are they now?
Just received an update from Rebecca Kling, the winner of last cycle’s $500 grant. (The grant is distributed twice annually) Her project, Ares and Aphrodite, is a long-form stage performance of funny and enlightening monologues and soliloquies largely based around her transition from male to female, and her identity as a trans-woman.
On July 27, Rebecca King will be performing a short piece at About Face’s The Homo Show at The Subterranean, which should be a blast. On August 21, Rebecca King will be performing about 15 minutes of work-in-progress stuff at a Summer Salon at The Piven Theatre. I don’t think we have a set time yet, but it should be neat. She’s also on Links Hall’s calendar for December 11-13
Last year, and continuing on to this year, the grant was split into two – one big-daddy 500 dollar amount and a smaller 300 dollar award. The winners, Rebecca Grady and Rebecca Kling, respectively, have been working toward the completion of there projects. We are in dialogue through email with the Rebeccas and will work to promote once their work is at exhibition stage. Really, though, how the Crit Fierceness works is perhaps what makes it stand out from other micro-grants that I am aware of (also sit on the city’s CAAP media panel), is the level of trust and connection we have with the artist and their work. The grant application process is comprehensive and finalists go through an outside board for review. Yet, at the day’s end, it is really cash money for the queer artist: here is money, get your work done, we believe in you and the project. This kind of faith is rare in most things that involve money – and, let’s face it increasingly rare in this world – but I am proud to be able to be part of something that offers that to the community.
@. what kinds of things do people want to create in chicago vs. other places? did you notice any trends or chunking? did you notice anything different about the kinds of proposals you got from this year vs. last year? (demographics, subject matter, medium etc)
Since I wasn’t on last year’s panel, can’t say too much about so I’ll speak to this round.
Ok, in terms of demographics, without giving too much away, this round involved a rise in submissions from transmen. Content-wise it was quite interdisciplinary – audio, print, performance and video. Notably no “traditional” media: no painting, no sculpture, no traditional illustration or drawing.
Tough to generalize about this round of proposals being indicative of Chicago, if anything I would note the general trend of the digital. For example we got no film, just video.
This is a hard question for me to answer. I’d like to speak more to the Critical Fierceness applicants specifically.
I think accessibility is something that seems to matter to the majority of our applicants. Sometimes this takes place in the format (CD’s, zines and comics, DVD production) or in the nature of the work (interactive installations, theatre work, documentary projects). Again, this could be particular to our demographic, given that Chances is always very vocal about prioritizing inclusion.
*. considering the star studded stage that is chicago, what is the long term goal with this? what are your hopes and how have they changed with the challenges that have arisen?
My hope with this grant is that as more cycles pass and we are able to support more people, there will be even more applicants and, therefore, a greater representaton of the community. I believe I share the goal of expansion with the other organizers, perhaps even opening up beyond the realm of creative work – community/social justice groups who are also faced with the similar funding woes as artists.
Biggest challenge for me beyond the obvious selection of the grant winners has been to stay true to the diy core of our CD mission. As we have been more successful in our parties, it is a concievable challenge to stay true to the core of informal, non-conformist values. How I believe we stay true to this, and how CD will live on even when all original members peace-out, is by keeping everything collective run – we meet monthly, keep tabs on each others side projects, divvy up tasks and make CD decisions together.
Being a volunteer-based (we all do this in our free time), democratic collective (all decisions are made collectively) means that while we all feel very positive about decisions that we make and projects we take on, it also means that we move somewhat slowly and are constantly negotiating what we are doing, what we are about and how we go about doing it. This is a great thing because it keeps us from becoming an institution. That said, it also makes it difficult to make and long-term plans. We know that we are seriously committed to The Critical Fierceness Grant and, ideally, perfecting the process and perhaps even broadening the scope of it as well.
%. what is your favorite part about doing this?
First, I love my friends probably more than I love anything or anyone in the world. The current line up of organizers are such friends to me and, therefore, getting to hang out and experience them through this positive outlet makes me one of the luckiest mos in the world. I don’t ever forget this fact and I hope to never forget it.
Second, Erik, I really love this community. I have real, deep and abiding faith in the queers of Chicago. I may not like all of them and not all of them like me but I have a real respect for gradients in communities and, perhaps even to a fault, a blind loyalty to *our* community. It has been good to me and I want to be good back. The CD crowd has given me friends, girlfriends, the heartbreak of sloppy terrible nights and the nights where it all aligned – and that, for me, is enough for me to believe in it and want it to continue beyond me.
Naturally, informing the winners. It is so incredibly gratifying to say “YES” to folks. Especially queer folks who, typically, are confronted with a whole host of “NO’s” in their every day lives. couple that with being an artist – and most of our applicants are young artists at that – which is essentially signing up for a barrage of rejections. As an artist, I know this first hand. It’s so nice to break up that cycle, even if we can’t do it for everyone unfortunately.
&. what kinds of things did you consider when choosing this year’s winner?
We think about the proposals ability to affect the Chicago community – the project’s scope. We look at the quality of the work sample and the articulation of goals in the written proposal. We also consider feasibilty and whether or not the recepients recieving the grant could max out the money on their project.
The review process, as I mentioned is comprehensive, goes through the organizers then through and outsIde board comprised of past CD organizers, artists, academics and other community organizers. Consensus is reached through discussion.
While there are no steadfast determinants, the Chances organizers, and the Critical Fierceness board members look at a number
of factors. First of all, is the project realistic? Will it actually happen? How well does the applicant communicate their intent and idea(s) – not with fancy words or artspeak, but is it a clear idea that can be communicated in a paragraph or two? How will the money be used? Will it be an effective use of the money? What is the scope of the project? Is it an under- or mis-represented voice? Will it have a life beyond just its creation? ETC…