Creative Pinellas is an arts organization supported by Pinellas County, serves artists throughout the entire county and is located on Walsingham Road right between Heritage Village and the Florida Botanical Gardens. Each year, the organization awards grants to several artists, both professional and emerging. This year, I have the honor of being awarded a 2021 Emerging Artist Grant!
I am not new to the grant process with Creative Pinellas. In fact, I applied for a grant through the organization a few years ago, and though my score brought me into the award finalists, it was not high enough to receive the grant. During that year, the professional and emerging artist grants were not separately juried. All artists were critiqued in the same group with the same criteria. What the Creative Pinellas leadership discovered was that there was too much of a gap between some of the emerging artists’ experience and that of their long-time professional artist colleagues. There was just no way they could compete. So they divided into the two levels, which evened out the playing field.
During that first round of critique, which was held publicly at Ruth Eckerd Hall, I was sitting in the auditorium with a hot face and tight throat, but I was ready. I seek out critique, particularly when it comes from other well-respected, experienced artists. In fact, this opportunity that all applicants receive is an invaluable one. Whether or not an artist receives the award, the panelists’ critique alone is worth attending, to hear a review of your work and application, but also to hear what they say about others’ work. All of this feedback is useful information in guiding an artist’s work and professional conduct. Needless to say I took a lot of notes, because number one I was nervous and knew I would forget what they said, and number two - THIS WAS AN IMPORTANT OPPORTUNITY!
What I left with was probably some of the most influential guidance I have received as an artist. There was some criticism that was hard to swallow, but that turned out to be the most useful. One of the judges said my work was “nothing new, I’ve seen this before.” I’ll never forget that statement, it made me shrink in embarrassment - despite the fact that the forum was anonymous - but it also made me rethink my approach. What could I do to create something more refreshing for my audience? How do I breathe life into my work while still maintaining my authenticity as an artist? Another panelist said that my application was lacking in support materials, meaning that I needed more involvement in my community, more testimonials and publications showing that I was indeed an involved and practicing artist. Ok, I need to participate in more arts organizations, get out into my community, and get my work in front of more people!
So there I was, scribbling away with my red-hot face burning, but knowing that this too would end and I would walk out of there with an actionable list that could change my career if I took it objectively. And I did. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. I got into the car and drove down McMullen Booth Road with the windows open, sun shining down on me, big smile on my face, and excitement for what I knew would be a whole new era in my work! I knew it then, that in these notes on the seat next to me were some keys to the next step in my art career, if I could keep working at it and always keep in the mind that I do this because I love it, and because it’s a part of my very soul.
Here I am, four years later, an Emerging Artist Grantee! It really did work. Well, I really did work. I worked on my art, I worked on new techniques, I am involved in my community now more than ever, not just for art, but for leadership, volunteerism, and business. I am so excited for the growth that will happen this year as I work with my mentor through the grant program, write about my experience and progress, and have the opportunity to share my work in an Emerging Artist Group Exhibit in May of 2021.