Originally published by Filmmaker Magazine
“Creative Capital is a cult,” said Phillip Andrew Lewis at the end of his presentation at the art funder’s semi-annual retreat this past weekend at Williams College in Williamstown, MA. “But it’s a good cult.”
Lewis’s was both a good line and an appropriate capper to his presentation, which shocked right from the outset. The installation artist began his talk by saying he had been held captive as a child for two years within a radical drug treatment program sponsored by the U.S. government. “I consider my work a form of deprogramming,” he told the stunned audience.
For the record, Creative Capital is not a cult. Founded in 1999, it is a non-profit granting and artist development organization that gives project-specific awards to artists working in film and video, visual arts, literature, performance and emerging fields. Created at the start of the dotcom boom — and following the National Endowment for the Arts’ withdrawal from individual artist funding — Creative Capital, in the words of its indefatigable executive director, Ruby Lerner, “borrows relevant aspects of the venture capital model,” awarding not just money but also professional development services. This year Creative Capital gave 46 artists (out of a record 3,246 submissions) awards up to $50,000 each — funds augmented by another $40,000 worth of additional funds and services as the projects are created and released into the world. Said Lerner at the retreat, “Creative Capital supports the project, the person, the community and the public.” The retreat was also, this year, a fundraising marathon. Observing that some people incorrectly think that Creative Capital operates with a large endowment, Lerner challenged retreat attendees to raise $50,000 by the weekend’s end. That mark was surpassed in 24 hours.
Lewis did have his finger on something, though, because if there’s ever a moment when Creative Capital takes on aspects of not just a tech start-up but, well, a cult (albeit a good one) it’s at its retreat. Bringing grantees and consultants to a remote location (the relatively depopulated campus of Williams College in the summer), the weekend is a packed, deeply immersive experience where both artists and guest consultants are inducted into the Creative Capital mindset, which Lerner described to me, half-jokingly in a 2009 interview, as akin to “a relationship with a high-maintenance spouse.” (“It’s not for everyone, she quipped.”) Continue reading