Some amazing stories and surprising stats from the grant-making world, courtesy of a United States Artists panel discussion

Writer John Haines, celebrating his 85th birthday and occupying the central chair on an impressive artists’ panel, shared that he has considered the “hemlock cure” since he has no pension. But that cure won’t be taken soon, if ever, hopefully – he is busy putting together what may be a final collection of his essays and reviews.

Artist Susie Silook, who now lives in Adak, confessed that she was in jail when she got the news two years ago that she had received a $50,000 arts grant, an unexpected reprieve that gave her a second chance in life – or a third, or a fourth, she remarked dryly. Silook has struggled with alcoholism, recovery from a sexual assault, and a related legal battle that she lost.

These were just two intensely personal stories among many shared Monday by artists who received unrestricted $50,000 grants over the last three years from United States Artists, a major grant-making organization founded in 2005. I attended the USA panels wanting to learn more about how this L.A.-headquartered organization is making waves in Alaska, and I wanted to be ready to raise my hand on behalf of state writers. (No hand-raising occurred; only listening. The stories were that good.)

This year’s fellowship class also includes young Alaska filmmaker Andrew MacLean, maker of a short film called “Sikumi” (On the Ice); and traditional artist Alvin Aningayou, who missed the panel discussion on account of a whale-hunting trip. Past awardees present at the afternoon panel were John Luther Adams, a composer, and weavers Teri Rofkar and Anna Brown Ehlers. The life stories of these artists, the challenges they’ve overcome, the scope of the amazing art they are creating, the impact made by United States Artists grants in their lives are all beyond a short blog-post here.

But let me share some background and a singular surprising fact I learned on Monday: United States Artists was launched with $22 million in seed funding provided by a coalition of leading foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential, and Rasmuson. The organization chooses 50 arts fellows each year. (They also partner with Rasmuson Foundation as part of an Alaska Artist-in-Residence program that sends USA fellows to local arts organizations.) When it comes to those impressive $50,000 grants, Alaska ranks fourth in number of fellows chosen – behind only New York, California, and Massachusetts. That’s not fourth per capita. That’s fourth overall. I’d always felt we had a wealth of artists here, but I wouldn’t have guessed we’d fare that competitively nationwide.

Another interesting statistic from the United States Artists website: according to a recent study, while 96% of Americans value art in their communities and lives, only 27% value artists.

1 thought on “Some amazing stories and surprising stats from the grant-making world, courtesy of a United States Artists panel discussion”

  1. A great report! I was sorry to have missed the panel, being not quite returned to Alaska from my travels. It's good to know Alaska ranks among the top states for grant recipients. And very American, I must say, is that stat on valuing art but not artists. I suppose we all make our own??? Would love to see the numbers for other countries.

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