The Rocket Grants program is now in its sixth year of funding innovative, artist-driven programs, events and productions around the Kansas City region. This opportunity is driven by a partnership between the Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City and the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, KS, with the intention of encouraging and supporting artists who work in places other than traditional venues like galleries, museums or theaters. This can make the projects difficult to find unless you happen to stumble upon them. Program manager Julia Cole says, “Audiences also wonder sometimes why the process of artists engaging with communities, public spaces and social issues is a relevant and important contribution to the life of a dynamic and sophisticated city.”
The writing programs that the Rocket Grants program is funding over the next year aim to address these issues head on through four new approaches: 1) feature stories on the existing RocketBlog; 2) an ongoing arts podcast and 3) a professional podcasting workshop; and 4) an editorial workshop led by a national leader in the print field.
So far Rocket Grants has redirected generous funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to around 50 different artists and artist groups. Grants have ranged in value from $1,000 to $6,000, and the range of venues in which the projects have occurred has been extremely diverse, including: a senior care facility; a suburban front yard; a Laundromat; a vacant floor in a high-rise downtown office; a box-store parking lot; on the street; in business storefronts; in a graveyard; at the Royals stadium; on the radio and many more.
The issues that artists have tackled through their funded projects have been equally adventurous, from vacancy to gun crime, from exploring where our food comes from to exchange economies, from queer culture to alternative education. Artists in the Kansas City region are inventing ways to bridge between people and our social realities using visual, emotional and poetic means. Their processes make provocative and challenging ideas more engaging, provide access to a wider community, and suggest new models of doing and thinking.
This approach can open up new kinds of conversation, and help a community re-evaluate familiar facts using humor, tenderness or critical questioning. This in turn can lead to a completely fresh perspective. With the encouragement of this program, artists in our region are telling stories about our present and future lives, and inviting the community to participate in re-imagining both.
But, in order for that to happen audiences have to connect with the artists’ work, both physically and thoughtfully. That’s where these new writing initiatives come into play!
- ROCKETBLOG FEATURE STORIES
The first of four strategies has been to hire a feature writing intern, Meredith Derks, to interact with Rocket Grants recipients and help to tell the story of both their work in progress and final productions on the popular Rocketblog website. These features will be ongoing throughout the spring and perhaps beyond. Subscribe to the blog to follow Meredith’s adventures!
- THRUST PODCAST PROJECT
The second strategy involved a Call for Proposals for an artist/writer to create a new platform or program. The goal for this initiative was to push critical arts writing in the Kansas City region to the next level, with a focus on the kind of socially engaged artwork that Rocket Grants propel. A selection panel that included regional curatorial, writing and journalism professionals (see below) selected a proposal from Meredith Moore to create a podcasting platform that will specifically address the venues, issues and processes associated with innovative public engagement. Led by Moore of the Wonder Fair Gallery in Lawrence, Kansas, THRUST will be a reactive narrative force that works in tandem with the Rocket Grants program to expand and investigate public-oriented creative work and written discourse in the KC region.
The project is part of a long-term seed investment to help grow and empower a hardy, robust, and provocative critical culture in the arts community and the region as a whole. Rather than invest in legacy media as the outlet for this conversation, THRUST will be distributed freely through a podcast platform. An accessible medium with popular momentum, podcasts are uniquely adaptive to the resources and needs of listeners of all types—enabling them to hear the ideas and arguments that matter to them while commuting, working in the studio, working out, or washing dishes.
Presented as a carefully organized season of thematic podcast episodes with supplemental online content, each 10-minute (or less) THRUST release will offer pointed critical analysis of KC-area under-the-radar art issues in a dynamic and accessible audio format. An introductory episode will launch on May 1st, 2015, while the season officially opens with Episode 1 on July 3rd. Each episode of THRUST will investigate a core issue at stake in our culture: whether through artless true stories told from artists’ perspectives, or creative investigative reporting.
The entire series will be produced by Moore, but over the course of a season it will include up to 16 additional writers, artists, and local art stakeholders whose stories will unfold, overlap, and sometimes clash in ongoing THRUST episodes. Visit thrustpodcast.tumblr.com to download episodes, explore image archives, submit stories, and suggest topics for future THRUST episodes. Links to episodes will also be published on the Rocketblog.
- PODCAST WORKSHOP
In advance of the launch of THRUST Episode 1, Moore and the Charlotte Street Foundation will work together with special guest CJ Janovy, KCUR arts reporter, to host a three-day “Critical & Creative Writing for Radio” workshop. Twenty area art writers and thinkers will be awarded a seat at the workshops that will happen on three Sundays in May. Over the course of these three meetings, they will engage with professionals in the field and their colleagues to learn the structure and techniques behind a powerful podcast, then edit and improve individual pieces of critical art writing designed to feature in a future episode of THRUST.
- EDITORIAL WORKSHOP
The Charlotte Street Foundation will be working with national writer and editor Kriston Capps to produce a 3-day workshop in April that will help area writers move to the next stage of their careers through editorial coaching. The goal of this program is to increase the capacity of strong, emerging writers in our region to participate in national conversations concerning the issues, venues and circumstances that Rocket Grants artists are addressing.
The Warhol re-granting program has recently expanded to a total of nine different cities nationally (including the KC region), and local artists and audiences will benefit enormously through critical discourse that connects them to work that is happening in other locations. This kind of analysis will deepen the understanding of what are the approaches are that have a more general cultural relevance, and what might be some of the particularities that define our own community.
Eight artist/writers will be awarded small stipends and the opportunity to attend this workshop, with the goal that each will produce an article that will connect socially engaged art making in the KC region with another of the national re-granting venues. Ideally, this work will be published both locally and nationally, and contribute significantly to the discourse surrounding work in this genre.
For more details please see the full Press Release.