Jackson Hole artist, entrepreneur and mover-shaker Travis Walker spends as much time searching out opportunities to house artists as he does creating his own art. It’s a driving mission, and now Walker may have been handed, as he says, “the keys to the kingdom.”
Walker is one of only five artists in the country chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) “ARTIST COMMUNITIES: Art Work” program to review, score and make in-depth comments on 56 projects submitted for NEA grant money. He has three weeks.
Walker is the “new kid on the block,” reviewing requests that could receive as much as $250,000 from the NEA, the largest arts funding group in the country. An incredible opportunity says Walker; these projects are the best applications from the best development teams in the country. It’s a gift to review, understand and learn from them, as well as a starting point for Walker to submit his own requests. If he were ever chosen to receive such a grant, the NEA needs to know, down to the tiniest detail, what Walker’s project would be.
“After we score all the applicants there will be a review panel held in Washington DC in June,” Walker explains. “I’ll be with senior panelists and two NEA specialists work with us. They contacted me; I did not request to be considered. The NEA must have found me on line; they were looking for someone from Wyoming, which is validating, and the NEA picks panelists they want to encourage to apply for grants themselves at a later date. Going through this process will teach me the process, I’ll learn so much about how national organizations like this one work. If I were successful, it would be an awesome cornerstone to start building something—for the Art Lab to build something.”
It’s also important, says Walker, that NEA panelists don’t have a whiff of conflict of interest when reviewing projects, ruling out many major artist communities. (There are federal laws about that for non-profits, and you can read them—just click on that link up there.) Walker took part in a conference call with the other panelists so they could introduce themselves to one another. The call gave Walker a chance to ask questions about the system. And away they go!
Walker’s excitement is understandable.
“I have a waiting list of artists that’s so long I can barely keep track of it; and no space to give them. Right now we pay our landlord rent. We have to raise about $20K every year to balance out our rent budget,” says Walker. “Five years ago I didn’t think I’d see people pay $800 to rent studio space, let alone $300; but people are doing better jobs of trying to make their businesses work. I don’t know yet where we’d build a new space, but I know I could raise the money.
I think what this kind of grant does, it gives people living where studio space is difficult to afford a place to work. That takes significant public funding. Every year I have to go out and ask for grant money to subsidize these projects. What I should be doing is getting money to build something that is rent controlled; we own it. It’s an asset, we’re not paying into it every month.
If something cost, say, only a $1,000,000, a plan could go forward. I wouldn’t have to wait for a ton of public approval and appropriations. I’ll start with the cake. I notice that even with the concerts and things we’ve been doing, momentum isn’t building because we still don’t have the cake. We don’t have it built correctly yet. What’s missing is a real artists community. A place that’s only about artists studios, where they work and interact with each other, do the work they want, have time and space to do it.”
The cake. More about Walker’s take on cake soon. www.nea.gov