odds

I was recently awarded a 2017-2018 Individual Artist Commission Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission. On top of a couple of other recent wins AND losses and with finances a little more uncertain this year, it feels exceptionally good, and timely, to have this support.

That said, it’s always important to retain perspective on the nature of these odds, and how inconsistent they can be. Lately, I’ve had a nice string of wins, but I never expect it to stay that way. It’s not for lack of confidence. Being confident is one thing; feeling entitled is another.

I recently ran into a friend who was up for a different opportunity that I’d also applied for. Even though neither of us got it, I’d made it further down the process than him, and had been a finalist for the opp. He opined that he “knew it was going to go to a woman” (which it had, although the finalists were evenly split, gender-wise.) In my irritation with his perspective, I asserted to him that the job went to the person that was the best candidate, end of story. (Personally, I thought that I was the strongest applicant, but I wasn’t the right fit for what the committee ultimately decided that they needed. Missing out didn’t diminish my sense of self, and didn’t lead to me blaming an imaginary quota system as it did for my friend.)

Competitive opportunities are not about awarding some universally-agreed-upon notion of “quality”. There’s no such thing. They’re really about whether your agenda and experience as an artist meshes well with the agenda of the committee considering your materials. Contending with regular rejections for awards, gigs and other opportunities can be daunting, but it’s 100% the reality of being a professional artist. As someone who not only applies for grants but often sits on grant committees and juries for these things, I’ve accumulated some perspective on the matter.

First: be real about the terms of the applications you intend to submit for. Do your homework and assess whether your experience or proposal seems like a truly good potential match for the opportunity: like any budding relationship, attraction and compatibility have to be mutual to work out successfully in the long run.

In my time on these committees, I’ve observed that while the decision-making process is reasonably fair, it’s never purely objective. Jurors are often bleary-eyed after reviewing piles and piles of artist proposals, and often become justifiably impatient with meandering applications that waste their time. One juror may have preference for a certain style/concept that is a mismatch with an applicant’s proposal. Another juror might forget protocol: I’ve personally intervened when I’ve seen committee members start bending rules to offer personal extra information about a candidate, or when they’ve veered away from the established rubric/criteria for assessment. Jurying can be tiring; people forget themselves.

On the other side, I’ve seen artists sabotage their own applications by willfully ignoring the guidelines, exceeding word-count limits, making poor choices about portfolio samples, or flat-out lying about their eligibility/history. I’ve also listened to artists express frustration about not getting awards when  they had limited experience with applications and had only applied to a couple of things, ever. Worst of all, I’ve watched artists simply give up after a rejection or two.

Understanding that an application is a separate craft that needs to be honed like any other skill—with practice, repetition, trial and error—is crucial. It gets better and easier the more you apply. If there is an option to take an application or grant-writing workshop, do so. Have a trusted/experienced friend review your application honestly and critically.  Give yourself time to muddle through your proposal ideas: it might not come together until the last minute, but drafts and scribbles well in advance will make the difference in the final push. If you need recommendation letters, ask at least a month in advance, and provide your recommender with a skeleton list of salient points they should address in their letter. Make sure to profusely thank anyone who helps you.

Healthy perspective is important. As a reality check, even artists who are highly experienced grant-writers, with strong portfolios and experience, receive maybe 15% of the opportunities that they apply for. 5-10% is common. It can help to look at one rejection as simply one necessary step on the path to improving your percentages. Knowing the odds can be helpful: are you competing against 20 people, or 200? These odds are why it’s all the more important to keep applying for a variety of competitive opportunities.

Feeling disappointment is real, but getting disheartened is kind of pointless. I’ve been both accepted and rejected for applications many times. You win some, you lose some. Learn what you can from the process. Over time, I learned what kinds of opportunities I tend to do well on, and which ones might not favor my work. I figured out my shortcomings and my strengths in applications, and what works best. But I’ve also learned that after a point it’s out of my control, and in the hands of a jury that may or may not like what I do. And that’s OK.

External validations and competitions are part of a system that has only as much power over your sense of self as you allow. If it’s a system that doesn’t work for you, come up with one that does. If it’s a system you need, then learn how to flex your practice and your application abilities to respond to its realities. Know that your creativity and your art practice are always a separate thing of joy, and that you can and will keep making and sharing things, regardless.

EKGT at YBCA and Kala

First batch of pics below, from Eyes! Knees! Groin! Throat!, Melissa Wyman’s and my self-defense activity at YBCA on April 22. This was one of the concluding events for the 100 Days Action project, whose final residency transformed YBCA’s front room into a resistance training gym.

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(Note the large, tiled B&W backdrop image of Team NO SCRUBS that 100 Days Action decorated their space with!)

The “gym” was the perfect place for Wyman and I to collaborate on something physical. I presented EKGT, a pop-inspired self-defense music video/tutorial, and Melissa (who is also a BJJ instructor) handled the real self-defense tactics in depth.

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My EKGT video (made with Harrison and the Wah), had actually premiered a month earlier as part of another 100 Days Action event at Kala Art Institute. While the audience there was receptive, the video made a lot more sense in its YBCA context.

EKGT at Kala
EKGT is a cover version of the self-defense ditty “Target Practice,” from the amazing 1995 riot grrl women’s self-defense album “Free To Fight!.” While it had been years since I’d heard the original, it popped into my head early this year as something that I wanted to revisit, Wofford-style. It felt like a helpful message for women and anyone else feeling particularly vulnerable lately, so with Harrison’s and the Wah’s actual musical expertise, I gave it a fun, new spin.

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There are 2 versions, linked below:
1: just the song
2: with a 1 minute silent tutorial (also from the original album) first.

carrying on

It’s the last week of Carry On, the Faculty Triennial at USF’s Thacher Gallery. The exhibition closes April 13.

Recognizing that the artists in Carry On are educators and practitioners, USF’s Museum Studies team asked us to to respond to the question, “What piece of advice or instruction from a teacher has stuck with you and helped you throughout your creative and/or teaching career?” My response, and the work that was included in the exhibition, was about Carlos Villa, naturally.

My response, included on the wall didactic:
I am immensely grateful to Carlos for being an instructor who saw validity in making art about a Filipino American experience. For acknowledging that identity, activism and politics were valid topics for creative expression. For breaking down the boundaries between one’s personal art practice and one’s pedagogy. For making a syllabus a call to action and a work of art, all at once. For teaching so many of us what participating in, and making, a creative community really means. For modeling a more intimate, connected, alternative to this nebulous, network-y place called the “art world”; for so many of my deepest friendships, collaborators and cronies. For his uncanny knack for match-making creative colleagues. For inspiring me to teach to diversity and to stories and artists often still relegated to the margins, to question the western Canon and its terms and conditions. For always finding love and joy in this work, even on the bad days.

And my 3 works, from the CPV series:

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CPV 4, 5, 6, ink and acrylic on paper, 2014

Carlos passed away March 23, 2013: since his passing, a small group of us still get together for a meal around that date to observe this anniversary, to stay connected with one another and to the legacy we’re trying to maintain for him. It was serendipitous having the Carry On exhibition, and our annual meal, fall so closely together this spring: it was a doubly-good reminder of the work that still requires our attention and our care.

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on board

Pleased to announce that I am joining the board of directors of Southern Exposure. Having been involved with SoEx over half my life in one capacity or another, it’s an honor to be able to continue my relationship to this organization in a new role.

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(This is not the SoEx boardroom. SoEx has no boardroom. Pics from Manananggoogle at SJMA in 2014, to help you visualize my exciting new corporate outreach role.)