Arts Council of Kanawha Valley

What is a fledgling Arts Council to do when almost every artist asks if grants will be given out? You start searching the web and social media for ideas about how other communities have answered this question.That's what Arts Council of Kanawha Valley did eventually stumbling across the site, an international grass roots initiative for feeding the creative community – literally and monetarily.   Most of the events featured on the site had donated food, e.g. soup or pasta, requested a minimal entry fee, open mic for creative projects and simple voting system.   While the community was enjoying the food, artists were pitching their ideas and then the audience voted for their favorite project.

This idea was brilliant. It was a natural fit for the organization to get arts community buy-in, introduce themselves to a wide variety of audiences and work with local businesses.   Since most of the events on Sunday Soup had names similar to food, such as FEAST, Grub, Stir, Stock – some were acronym such as CAFE ,“Creative Arts Funding Endeavor” - they came up with Square Meal.  It was decided that Square Meal would happen at local restaurants with 4 artists presenting for 4-8 minutes, reservations were $16 ($10 grant money, $5 for the food and $1 for us) and winners had 8 months to complete the proposal goals and had to submit a 4 minute video as a final report. Being the quirky, creative arts organization, that they are, they got a kick out of breaking the program down into multipliers of 4 and decided to run with it for this program.

Restaurants loved the idea and had no problem with the low-ball of $5 a head for food.  Some have used this to try out new menu items.   Sponsors helped the council start the grant pool at $200+ rather than $0.

As part of Kanawha Valley's organizational goals, it was decided that they would introduce a formal Call for Proposals.  Giving priority to artists, arts groups and creative projects and second priority to community development proposals.  Proposals had to answer 4 criteria:

  • Project Description: 150 word summary of project while being as specific and tangible as possible.  (These were included in press releases, social media and read aloud for the introduction.)
  • Relevance/Need: Why is this project important now? What is the project’s historical, personal and contextual background? What will happen if you don’t get funding? Is this feasible? Have you done a similar project?
  • Use of Funds: How will you specifically spend the money if you are funded? Do you have other partners?
  • Timeline and Final Report: When will the project be complete? How will you know it’s successful? How will you evaluate its success?

Call for Proposals are released about 4 weeks from the scheduled event. After received, proposals are blind carbon-copied emailed to a panel of 5 jurors.  The jurors represented all genres of arts and ranged from professors, patrons or working artists.  Jurors rated the proposals using a rubric and invitations to present were sent to the 4 highest totals. 

Audience members are encouraged on the ballot to donate additional funding for presenters regardless of winning.  Several have received use of hotel points, donation of equipment, purchase of specific supplies or offer of cooking meals for film crew.

Since the program was started almost 3 years ago, projects funded have included:  High School World Music Percussion Ensemble to purchase a trailer for performances and travel, purchase of decent projector and screen to show free Art films weekly at a local art gallery/bookstore, funding for props and model fees for a local chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, purchase of a pug mill (clay recycling machine) for local pottery cooperative, funding for upcoming visual art exhibit, purchase of fabric for Teddy Bears for Police Departments, theatrical production to raise awareness of domestic violence, funding for Montessori school play about the Cycle of Life using lights, and funding to help start a Low-Power FM radio.

Connecting the community to the artists is the outcome of this crowd funding model.  It truly leaves a lasting impression on the audience members, gives opportunity to meet artists, gives creative individuals a platform to share their ideas and leaves everyone with fuzzy feel-goods and a better community.