Toronto has nothing on Thunder Bay and the region when it comes to quality artists, proportionally speaking of course. I’m biased as I live here and I’ve met with talented artists and seen their work in local galleries and in their studios. So when I was going through a massive stack of nearly 150 submissions for the Chalmers Arts Fellowship, I was startled. Why were so many of the applications poorly written, even when the work was good? And in the professional category, why did much of the work lack talent, when so much talent exists in Ontario? My expectations were higher.
For the seven of us jurors in Toronto last week, the numbers we used to rate the applications for artistic merit, viability, and impact were not surprising, except for the most contemporary work. Two jurors supported a modernist aesthetic cause when they had the chance. They were fair and balanced, but even for them, there were few applications they were willing to throw their weight behind wholeheartedly.
The results however, were not bad. We gave away over $640,000.There were some wonderful musicians, a couple painters, a few theatre people, a couple sculptors, and a few under the description of media arts and interdisciplinary. I was happy with the result, like most jurors, and was proud to be part of the process. However, most of the winning applicants were from Toronto.
A juror on my left, (I’m not yet allowed to reveal the winners and the jurors), was disappointed by the low number of submissions from Frist Nations/Metis origins. I could think of a number of local artists who fit that description, because of where they are in their careers, and could have submitted. They would be totally worthy applicants for the Chalmers. As are many other artists from Thunder Bay who are non-native.
So this is a call to local artists. Submit!! There’s money out there for you to help you in your career. And your chances are really good. Living in Thunder Bay is difficult enough as an artist, but there are people very willing to help you (namely the Ontario Arts Council), because the benefits of having thriving artistic communities spread across our section of the country are enormous. And the competition, along with the process, is not what you think it is. You have every opportunity, as much as the next person. Nothing is stacked against you, as you might think, and as I once suspected it was.
The first time you fill out the application forms is the hardest, but it gets much easier as you progress, as you learn to be honest with yourself, and especially with the help of a computer. Keep records of everything you do and what you write when you fill out the forms.
The OAC can help you from the beginning stages of your career, when you’re on your way, and when you become a professional artist. At the outset there is the Chalmers Professional Development Grants, worth $7,500 each, intended to support “artists through mentorships, apprenticeships, master classes and training courses that allow [artists] to acquire new skills above the level of basic training or ongoing training needs.” Then there’s the Northern Ontario Arts Grant, with various divisions for writers, visual artists, dancers, etc. that are production grants in order to help you create the work. There is also the Canada Council that supports the production of work in many fields. Support for film is another topic altogether, but there is opportunity out there if you look. Then there is the Chalmers again, which allows the artist time to research specific ideas or take the time to “examine, investigate, explore and/or experiment with style, technique, process, method, and/or content.” With two division for artists the Chalmers offers; one for artists with less than ten years experience (up to $25,000), and the other for artists with 11 years or more (up to $50,000), there are ample opportunities for artists to start, learn, produce, grow, and become what they’ve always wanted.
The biggest help is developing the confidence to submit, and then not allow rejection to wreck the confidence in your work that might stop you from submitting again. It’s like Angry Birds: the more you shoot, the better you get, the more likely you will get all those little pigs. Sometimes, as I saw when jurying, it’s a hairline win between a well-known master artist with a forty year established career in the arts and another with just over ten years of experience and much less notoriety. In fact it was a slip of judgement on the part of one juror, who held his head in hands, upset that he missed the opportunity to push up his favoured artist by one number. It would have changed everything.