Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

August 14–21, 1997

critical mass|art

A New Pew Initiative

By Robin Rice
Julia Lehman/City Paper

Paula Marincola, designer and director of the Philadelphja Exhibitions Intiative.

As national and regional funding for art exhibitions seem to be drying up, Pew Charitable Trusts has stepped in with $3.2 million for Philadelphia area art exhibitions over the next three years. The Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative is the latestmove in Pew's bold and sustained effort to enhance regional arts and culture, a determination which, among other things, brought us the Pew Fellowships, the largest individual artist grants in the country.

In late September, the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative will officially unveil details of the program which will support eight to ten local arts exhibitions annually, with grants of $25,000 — $200,000 for a single exhibition.

Last week I spoke about the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, which is administered by the University of the Arts, with its designer and director Paula Marincola. She described it as "a program that will fund exhibitions and catalogues forvisual arts organizations in the five-county Philadelphia region. The idea is to support projects of high artistic calibre and cultural significance."

This is good news for the visual arts. In recent years, curators and gallery directors have muttered (but never for quotation) about their frustration with funding organizations whose guidelines support only shows which are"community-oriented" or "educational" (translation: for kids). These are fine things, but there's a lot of important art which does not obviously fit into these categories.

"This emphasis on exhibitions of artistic excellence sounds unique," I remarked. Marincola responded, "As far as we know, it is singular."

The Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative will not confine itself to art for art's sake. Marincola, who developed the program partly in response to a study commissioned last year by Pew, said, "We want it to be flexible enough to consider anyproject that falls within its purview. The main goals are to augment and enrich the programmatic quality (of the organization which receives the grant), to reward organizations that examine their programmatic assumptions, and to strengthen artisticcapacity. I think that's really exciting."

Marincola wants to make it possible for as many institutions as possible — even non-art institutions — to apply for the grants. On the application form (available in late September.; due Jan. 9), the applicant organization will be asked to describeits history and explain how the proposed exhibition amplifies its mission. "It's about challenging organizations to come up with interesting and productive ways to enhance their artistic programming as manifested in exhibitions. It's abouthelping institutions do what they do... better," Marincola explained.

The Initiative can support exhibitions of works from all periods, all cultures, in all visual arts media, including "reinterpretations of permanent collections; exhibitions in unusual venues; collaborative ventures with other institutions; andexchanges with national or international institutions. I suspect," Marincola added, "that the majority of (the shows) will be contemporary exhibitions."

Eligible organizations must be tax-exempt, in operation for at least four years, and employ at least one full-time staff person with professional expertise. When asked whether smaller artists' cooperatives which do not have a full-time employee willbe eligible, Marincola said it might be possible for a guest curator working full-time on the exhibition to bring a very small organization into consideration.

Marincola, the gallery director at Beaver College for nine years (Richard Torchia took over the position as interim director when Marincola left in July), is an ideal person to lead Pew's Initiative. She is a knowledgeable curator who has certainlywritten her share of grant applications.

Today, aside from this new Initiative, less money is available to art non-profits and what is awarded often goes to high-profile organizations in the form of larger-than-ever grants, reducing the slice of the pie for the small fry even further.

Marincola does not see this happening with the new grants. "Hopefully large, small and medium-sized organizations will benefit. It's not about just shoring up the major institutions. I came out of a smaller institution, so I was particularlysensitive to the question of size because it was a problem that I'd dealt with: 'You're such a small organization, why should we give you a lot of money?' But the minimum grant here is $25,000. Quality is not a function of size and this program is afunction of quality."

An important facet of the Initiative is the funding of exhibition catalogues. Shows which have catalogues receive much broader exposure than shows which do not. Money for national and international distribution of a catalogue may be included in agrant application. This kind of exposure might help to put Philadelphia on the world art map.

Decisions about who actually gets the money will be made by a nine member panel which, Marincola says, will "come from different sectors of the field." She adds that the panel will probably include at least one artist, and otherwise have"breadth and diversity." All panelists will be from outside the region because Marincola feels that is the fairest way. She will present nominations for the panel members to Pew for confirmation.

An organization may submit one application per funding cycle (a year) until it receives a grant. It will then be ineligible until the funded exhibition is over. Because arts organizations schedule shows one, two or three years in advance, this willhelp spread the money around.

In addition to exhibition and catalogue support, The Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative will present three curatorial round-tables annually, offer travel grants, and establish a small research library of international exhibition catalogs, videotapesand model CD-ROMs.

Marincola is keen to start the process of giving the money away. "Writing guidelines, buying computers, buying paper clips is a lonely job," she says. She looks forward to being "really hands-on. I want to service the community as bestI can. And I want people to feel that they can find answers and assistance in my office. I can't guarantee that anybody will get what they ask for, but I can be very helpful in structuring proposals: being realistic but also ambitious. We're hopingto give people the impetus to evolve and enhance what they do."

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