Why We Support Adventurous Art: Ruby Lerner & Lisa Dent on Creative Capital’s Award Process

Still from Janine Antoni's "Touch."

Still from Janine Antoni’s “Touch.”

We’re gearing up for a busy winter at Creative Capital, as we prepare to announce our 2015 class of Visual Arts and Moving Image Awardees this Wednesday and to open our application for Emerging Fields, Performing Arts and Literature grants in February. I caught up with Ruby Lerner (Creative Capital’s President and Executive Director) and Lisa Dent (Director of Resources & Award Programs) to reflect on our original mission, the projects that have astonished us over the years and why we continue to support risk-takers.

Maura Guyote: Creative Capital has always been committed to supporting artists with singular visions who dream up ambitious projects and aren’t afraid to take risks. Can you talk about why that mission is important?

Ruby Lerner: In any field, if you don’t have experimenters, you don’t have progress. Think about the medical field. We’d still be using leeches if there hadn’t been experimentation and research. So experimentation is really critical for any field to move forward. It’s imperative. In the arts we see a lot of risk aversion, so there need to be portals where risk is honored and appreciated. Not all risks will succeed but we need people to stand behind the risk takers and that’s a role we’ve created for ourselves. Continue reading

Artists Raising Kids: Thoughts On How to Have it All

Andrew Simonet & Family

Choreographer Andrew Simonet, his wife Elizabeth, and their sons Nico Wolf & Jesse Tiger. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Simonet)

On September 29th, choreographer (and parent) Andrew Simonet will present “Artists Raising Kids,” a webinar dedicated to helping current and future parents navigate this exciting journey. 

This summer, Creative Capital conducted a survey entitled “Artists-As-Parents” to find out more about how working artists sustain their practice while also being busy parents (or prepare themselves to do so as parents-to-be). We received nearly 600 responses, giving us a good idea of the profile of artist-parents in our network, the challenges they face, and the strategies they use to maximize their time and productivity. Some responses that stood out:

“I was repeatedly told by curators and other artists as I raised my kids that ‘we don’t have time for people who aren’t serious’ and ‘well, obviously you chose a family over a career’… Artists like to think of themselves as politically sensitive and aware. In reality, when it comes to age, kids, or class they reveal significant prejudices.” (Anonymous)

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Ruby Lerner on Adaptive Leadership

Ruby Lerner

Ruby Lerner

Creative Capital’s President and Executive Director Ruby Lerner recently shared her leadership philosophy on the ArtsFwd blog as part of a month-long series of adaptive leadership. You can find the original article here.

How do you seek out perspectives different from your own and let them influence you?

Since Creative Capital was founded to experiment with a model borrowed from a totally different sector—the venture capital world—we began our organizational life by trying to understand, and adapt to, this very different approach to arts funding. This has affected all aspects of our development. I have been mentored by one of the sages of Silicon Valley, William Bowes, right from the beginning, and we now have three venture capitalists on our board, plus others who are conversant with the sector. Additionally, I have sought out business conferences that focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. And I try to read the business magazines that are focused on the [venture capital] sector.

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Ruby Lerner Discusses Arts Funding on Barry’s Blog

Ruby Lerner (left) with Creative Capital Board Member Paige West and Christopher Cooper

Ruby Lerner (left) with Creative Capital Board Member Paige West and Christopher Cooper

Creative Capital’s President & Executive Director Ruby Lerner was recently interviewed by Barry Hessenius of Barry’s Blog about arts funding in the U.S. Barry’s Blog is a service of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF). You can find the original article here

Barry: Creative Capital was launched in response to the NEA’s movement away from individual artist support as a result of the culture wars of the 1990’s.  Why hasn’t the Endowment reinstated its artist support and what would you like to see them do now?

Ruby:  I think you would have to ask the NEA that question.  I suspect it is because it was the individual artists’ grants that got them into “trouble,” and certainly things now are even more polarized, so I don’t think we will see any movement toward reinstating awards to individuals.  This is really tragic, as they not only provided substantial financial support annually to working artists, which has not been replaced by the private sector, but they took a leadership role in articulating the issues.  There is no private funder that has the authority or standing to do that.  In the absence of direct financial support, they can certainly make a commitment to the infrastructure of organizations that directly support artists.  This would include service organizations at the national, state and local level, and that tier of presenting and exhibiting organizations that stay very close to artists, especially to their local artists.  They exist in many mid-sized and larger communities.  Continue reading

Ruby Lerner In Conversation with Cara Ober of Bmoreart

Ruby Lerner

Ruby Lerner

Creative Capital’s President and Founding Director Ruby Lerner spoke with Cara Ober, Editor in Chief at Bmoreart, last month. Find the original post published on January 29, 2014, here.

While most Baltimore artists are now familiar with The Rubys, the new artist grants designed to “support the region’s gems” with up to ten thousand dollars per project, few are aware of the origins of the grant’s name, or that they have a namesake. Although GBCA could have chosen any number of precious gems with which to christen these grants, the Rubys were decisively named for a champion in contemporary arts funding: Ruby Lerner, the President and Founding Director of Creative Capital.

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Creative Capital Featured in the Wall Street Journal!

lenticular wall from complex movements performance
Lentiucular Wall, from performance by 2013 grantee Complex Movements. Photo by Vanessa Miller.

We are thrilled to announce that Creative Capital is featured in today’s Wall Street Journal! The fantastic article, “Where Good Ideas Go to Live,” written by Steve Dollar, highlights a few our amazing 2013 grantees and offers insight into what makes our approach to working with artists so unique. If you’re a subscriber, you can read the full text on the WSJ’s website), and we’ve included an excerpt below:

When the downtown nonprofit Creative Capital announced on Thursday the recipients of its 2013 grants—$4.1 million to be divided among 46 projects in sums of up to $50,000, plus advisory services—the list highlighted many proposals that defy convention.

“You Are It”, by Williamsburg choreographer Arturo Vidich and machinist Daniel Wendlek, proposes a performance, inspired by the schoolyard game Tag, for 3,000 dancers and a human-powered hybrid electric airplane, staged on an abandoned runaway in Long Island.

St. Louis, Mo., artist Juan William Chávez’s “Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary” aims to transform the wooded site of a former housing project into a space for community beekeeping. Continue reading

Meet Our New Director of Grants & Services, Lisa Dent

In September, we said goodbye to Kemi Ilesanmi, who has served as Creative Capital’s Director of Grants & Services since 2004. We cannot thank Kemi enough for her eight years with the organization, and wish her all the best in her next adventure as the Executive Director of The Laundromat Project! At the same time, we are so excited to welcome our new Director of Grants & Services, Lisa Dent. Lisa brings a strong background in the arts through her experience in gallery and museum work, most recently as the Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Columbus Museum of Art, where she organized exhibitions including Currents: Latifa Echakhch, Supply & Demand and Stephanie Syjuco: Pattern Migration. Dent was a Helena Rubenstein Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art and subsequently held curatorial staff positions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She was later director of the Friedrich Petzel Gallery in New York and worked as a freelance art critic and scenic designer. From 2004-08, Dent owned and managed Lisa Dent Gallery in San Francisco, where she presented the work of emerging and mid-career international artists. She has taught courses in art history and design at Cooper Union, University of California, Davis, Columbus College of Art and Design, and The Ohio State University. Dent received her BFA from Howard University, her MFA from New York University, and completed the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in curatorial studies. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Lisa to the Creative Capital family!

PearlDamour: A Case Study of How Creative Capital Supports Artists

PearlDamour, How to Build a Forest performance installation at The Kitchen in New York, 2011

PearlDamour, the Obie-award winning collaborative team of Katie Pearl and Lisa D’Amour, creates performance projects both inside and outside traditional theater spaces. This week, they are presenting their performative installation, How To Build A Forest, at Duke University’s Paige Auditorium (October 19-21). This truly unique project, created in collaboration with visual artist and costume designer Shawn Hall, is a durational interdisciplinary work—part visual art installation and part theater performance—in which an elaborate forest is built and dismantled over an eight-hour period. The work was inspired by the loss of 100 trees at D’Amour’s family home in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, and subsequently informed by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

PearlDamour received their Creative Capital grant in Performing Arts for How to Build A Forest in 2009, and the life of their project provides a wonderful case study in how Creative Capital supports artists pursuing ambitious projects with a combination of financial and advisory support.


As with all our grantees, PearlDamour was selected through our open-call, three-phrase application process. Nearly 100 arts professionals from across the country serve as readers, evaluators and panelists who review the applications and help to determine the projects that are awarded Creative Capital grants.

Remarkably, Creative Capital’s grantmaking process created an  opportunity for PearlDamour to develop their project before they even received a grant. Continue reading

More Than Money Can Buy: What Do Artists Need to Succeed? (Part Two)

Kemi Ilesanmi, Creative Capital’s Director of Grants & Services, introduces a consultant at the 2012 Grantee Orientation in New York

When we think about what artists need, money is often at the top of the list. Money for artists is crucial—but there are other means of support that can make a huge difference to artists. Resources, opportunities and professional guidance may be less flashy than a big check, but they are incredibly valuable services and tools that build artists’ capacity to realize specific projects and reach long-term goals.

After our first 10 years of helping artists achieve success on their own terms, we went back into the “laboratory” to determine key resources we should add to our Artist Services. As a direct result of our recent evaluation and survey (described in Part One of my post “More Than Money Can Buy“), Creative Capital has developed an exciting suite of expanded services for our grantees! Continue reading

More Than Money Can Buy: What Do Artists Need to Succeed? (Part One)

Ruby Lerner and Sean Elwood in stakeholder meeting with grantee Cory Arcangel (2006 Emerging Fields)

You may think of Creative Capital as an organization that gives grants to artists, but that’s only one part of the picture. We do award grants for artists’ projects, and we are thrilled to be able to provide artists with financial support! On the other hand, money alone doesn’t guarantee success. We’ve learned the importance of services and resources for artists, such as professional advice, contacts, networking and coaching.

Creative Capital’s approach pairs funding with advisory services and other non-monetary support for our grantees, including consultations with our Artist Services staff, access to our network of arts consultants, Artist Retreats, phone-in clinics and promotional activities. Continue reading