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Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010 10:11 pm

Creative differences

Illinois Arts Council offers new grant despite program, funding loss

In spite of severe budget cuts and the subsequent suspension of several of its programs, the Illinois Arts Council is doing what it does best — getting creative.

Earlier this month the council introduced the Individual Artist Support initiative, a new two-pronged program that offers artists financial assistance for future projects or professional development.

Artists in the project track receive $2,000; $3,500 or $5,000 grants, with a 25 percent cash match, to create, produce and present their work, while those in the professional development track receive $500 or $750 grants to finance career-related opportunities.

IAC executive director Terry Scrogum says the initiative will fill the need previously met by popular grant programs, including the Artists Fellowship Program and the Ethnic and Folk Arts Master Apprenticeship Program.

For more than 20 years, the fellowship program supported Illinois artists in 12 disciplines such as music composition, photography and visual arts. Last year, out of 900 applicants, 38 Illinois artists were awarded $7,000 fellowships and 11 others received $700 finalist awards.

Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck, a poet and fiction writer from Peoria used 2009 fellowship funds to finish writing her first manuscript, as well as to purchase poetry books, enter book contests and start a local poetry-writing group.

The grant not only helped her financially, she says, but also helped her reach out to other artists.

“Writing, like a lot of other arts, can be an isolating existence,” Klise von Zerneck says. “Winning a fellowship makes us feel connected to a larger group of artists that are working under similar circumstances.”

Also in 2009, the Ethnic and Folk Arts Master Apprenticeship Program, which funded lessons in cultural arts such as Japanese lute music, Irish dance and Guatemalan Marimba music, awarded 10 master-apprentice pairs a total of $30,000.

The IAC was forced to drop these programs, Scrogum says, due to repeated reductions in its operating budget. In 2008, the organization’s budget decreased from $19.4 million to $14.5 million. Last year, its budget was cut again by 50 percent by the General Assembly, and then reduced twice more by the governor, leaving only $378,000 available to support individual artists.

“We knew from the beginning that when our initial budget was greatly reduced that it reduced the money we had to give out,” Scrogum says. “But we remained committed to find some method to provide individual support to artists.”

This year the IAC pooled all of its again-reduced grant funds into the Individual Artist Support initiative, enabling the organization to provide $140,000 to applicants in all disciplines.

Tekki Lomnicki, a new performance artist from Chicago who won an artist fellowship in 2004 and a finalist award in 2008, hopes to receive one of the IAC’s new grants so she can learn how to work with puppets. Like many artists across the state, she wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford the unique opportunity.

“What’s great is that they’re rewarding the little guy,” Lomnicki says. “Not someone famous, but just people working in little towns in Illinois.”

The deadline for the Illinois Artist Support Initiative is Monday, Feb. 1. Interested artists can attend an application workshop webinar at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Visit the Illinois Arts Council Web site for more information.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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