FRONT Art Futures Fellowships for BIPOC Artists: Kind of a Big Deal

Deidre McPherson announces the inaugural FRONT Art Futures Fellowships at moCa Cleveland. Photo by and courtesy of McKinley Wiley.

Applications are open for the FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art’s Art Futures  Fellowships. These may be the most substantial fellowships offered in support of Northeast Ohio artists by an organization in the region.  The Fellowships are specifically built to support emerging Northeast Ohio-based visual artists of color, which in this context is inclusive of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian American Pacific Islander artists.

As Deidre McPherson says, the Fellowships evolved in conversation between her and FRONT founder Fred Bidwell about “What can we do as FRONT to support Black and Brown artists? … [It’s about] imagining and knowing that [Black and Brown artists] can manifest excellence and be internationally reknown, too. FRONT Is a convener of these museums we have. What can we do to bring about resources—relationships with museums, press, and curators, and how do we leverage these resources?”

FRONT Triennial founder Fred Bidwell. Photo by and courtesy of McKinley Wiley.

The Fellowships—three of them–are substantial not only in their cash value, which at $25,000 unrestricted exceeds the Individual Excellence Award ($5,000) from the Ohio Arts Council, exceeds the Emerging and Mid-Career awards ($10,000) for the Cleveland Arts Prize, exceeds any of the individual artist support grants available through institutions partnered with Cuyahoga Arts and Culture (varied), and even exceeds the no-longer-extant Creative Workforce Fellowships ($20,000) once offered by the (also no-longer-extant) Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture, and funded by CAC. This is kind of a big deal.

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s important to note right up front that CAN publisher Michael Gill (yours truly) is a member of the early-stage nominating committee, which has begun the process of identifying artists that could benefit from this support. But any artist meeting the criteria can apply; it is not necessary to be nominated.

Getting back on point, it is worth noting that the $25,000 cash portion of the Fellowship—while it may be a remarkable, memorable detail—is only one of the Fellowship’s benefits. The value of the others is harder to quantify, but could be vastly more important.  The additional commitments include: Two FRONT-funded and organized professional trips (one domestic and one international), which will take participants to art triennials in other places. Artists: have you been able to travel to other US cities, or to cities outside the US, especially in Europe, to see what artists are doing for international audiences in other parts of the world? If not, it is difficult to understand what is going on at FRONT.  Having this kind of awareness usually is the result of significant privilege.  And that is the kind of ground these fellowships mean to gain for the chosen artists. This is how you get to know the field of play.

As McPherson said, “International travel is part of being in the art world. This is just about sharing access.”

FRONT Triennial 2022 Artistic Director Prem Krishnamurthy. Photo by and courtesy of Mckinley Wiley.

But wait, there is more: the three selected artists will be able to participate on FRONT 2025’s Artistic Team. They will be chosen this year, which means they will be in on the ground floor for the next Triennial. The artists will have the opportunity to work with the FRONT curatorial team to develop exhibition or programming opportunities in advance of the 2025 exhibition. And in fact, they will be invited to participate in the FRONT 2025 exhibition.

All that is the kind of experience and opportunity that can make a career. It is more than money. This is stuff you can’t buy.

Added to that list are support from FRONT curatorial staff, who will work with each Fellow to tailor their experience to support their career goals and FRONT 2025 project needs; access to FRONT’s network of presenting partner institutions, established artists, gallerists, journalists, and curators who may offer advisory support (and if you are outside this circle, and have tried to break in, you probably know that is a difficult thing to do); Small business advisory and professional development support with Assembly for the Arts—because your art career is, after all, a business.

Finally, the cherry on top of the all-access sundae: public recognition at and a pair of VIP tickets to the FRONT 2022 Gala on Thursday, July 14, 2022. That’s FRONT’s exclusive opening event this summer.  People who attended the VIP Gala in 2018 are still keeping tight-lipped about what they saw there.

The criteria for selection—beyond being a BIPOC artist of the region–are important.  You have to be over 18, and to show evidence of a long-term commitment to artistic practice. That’s no small thing. If you are thinking you’d better get started, you are probably too late for this round.

You have to be able to participate in programming and travel, which means if you have a job or other commitments that prevent you from taking the time to visit art triennials or make your own work, you would have to manage that.

Finally, you have to be willing and able to plan and complete a new body of work for FRONT 2025.

If you meet all those requirements, ultimately, the selection committee will make its choices based on the quality and scope of your work.

You can get more information, including lists of people on the nominating and selection committees, on FRONT’s website.

You can also join an online information session Monday. Register here, and find the Facebook event here.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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