Presented by Rasmuson Foundation
Six years before she typed the first words on her successful Individual Artist Award application, Sarah Campen was already assembling the parts and pieces of “Salmon Dance” — even if she didn’t know it.
The Sitka-born artist spent the 2014 fishing season deck handing, repeating the same movements over and over from a troll boat in the salmon-rich waters of Southeast Alaska.
“All of those movements were in my body already, because I had done them as a repetitive labor for a season,” she said. “And that just really stayed with me. Things would sort of build.”
That was also true of her application process for Rasmuson Foundation’s Individual Artist Awards. The statewide Foundation provides 36 Alaska artists, makers and culture bearers grant funding each application cycle, and this year the Foundation has increased grants to their highest-ever amounts: $10,000 for Project Awards and $25,000 for one-year Fellowships. A singular Distinguished Artist Award, selected through a separate process, now brings $50,000.
Campen applied for a Project Award five times over the course of seven years. Like her experiences at sea, gradually swelling and folding into a final product, Campen’s application process was a cumulative one. Each time she applied, she felt her project proposals get stronger.
“Either I was getting more focused on how I would write a proposal, or I would get a little better about putting together a budget,” she said. “There was something every year that got a little bit better.”
In 2020, the selection panel agreed. Campen used her grant to create “Salmon Dance,” a 10-minute documentary piece combining movement, music and interviews drawing from her time salmon trolling and processing.
Enzina Marrari, a program officer for Rasmuson Foundation who leads the Individual Artist Awards, said Campen’s experience is one the Foundation sees often among artist-applicants. That was true of her own story; before she went to work for the Foundation, Marrari applied repeatedly for an Individual Artist Award before receiving one, twice.
“That process of applying and reapplying helps you refine the process of how you’re telling your story and presenting your work,” Marrari said. “And we encourage artists to continue applying, because that next year might just be the year the panel selects their work.”
Each year brings a new panel of artists and art experts from outside of Alaska who review each application and select the awardees.
Rasmuson Foundation is accepting applications for 2023 awards through March 1. Grants are open to artists, makers and culture bearers of all experience levels. A total of 25 Project Awards offer artists in all disciplines $10,000 for short-term projects that will benefit the artist’s development.
The 10 Fellowships offer mid-career and established artists $25,000 and a chance to focus their energy and attention to creative work for the year. Fellowship disciplines rotate on a two-year cycle.
For the 2023 grant cycle, awards were increased for the first time in a decade, ensuring more support for ever-increasing costs for artist needs.
“The Foundation board recognizes the contributions of Alaska’s artists, makers and culture bearers to our great state,” Marrari said. “When we invest in artists, we are investing in Alaska.”
Applications can sometimes be daunting. The Foundation has a host of resources available on its website for prospective applicants, and its team is available for questions and support at a dedicated email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Marrari also suggested turning to another friend or artist for help crafting the artist statement and project proposal.
She urges artists to take every opportunity to “show the panel who you are.” Panelists change every year, but all share a common love for the arts, and desire to learn the driving force behind every artist’s creations.
“What is your unique voice?” Marrari said. “Why do you do the work you do? The panel wants to know.”
Don’t think you’re an artist? Think again
Applicants submit their work in one of 11 discipline categories, including dance, crafts, and folk and traditional arts. There’s also a “multidiscipline” category, meant for those who work across creative practices and more than one genre.
Marrari said they hope to connect with applicants who might not self-identify as artists. One such grantee is Jeff Chen — in Taiwanese, Tân ī-tsìng, and in Mandarin, 陳奕正 — a trained multimedia journalist who received a Project Award in 2022.
“I never considered myself an artist. But everyone’s got a unique frame and outlook and perspective,” Chen said.
Chen has roots in Taiwan and said he’s always been interested in photographing people from the island.
As conflict between China and Taiwan has appeared and reappeared in the news — the island is claimed by the People’s Republic of China but is self-governed by an elected government — Chen figured it was a good time to talk to Taiwanese Alaskans about their relationship with their home country and culture. He’s using his grant to photograph and interview Alaskans who have roots in Taiwan.
“We carry our culture everywhere we go,” he said. “And I think now is a good time to be unabashedly Taiwanese.”
So far, the project has brought to his attention a wide variety of perspectives among the Taiwanese diaspora on the nation’s sovereignty.
“But there’s so much more to the story than the conflict,” he said, which he hopes to convey in an exhibit of his photos at the end of his grant period.
“I do want the world to know more about Taiwan,” he said. “And I do want Alaskans to know more about Taiwan.”
He said he would not have pursued the project without grant funding. Part of his award is going toward travel expenses; so far, he’s talked to Alaskans as far north as Fairbanks and as far south as Homer. He hopes to get to Bethel soon.
In Alaska, high costs associated with travel and shipping supplies can often create challenges for artists.
Andrea Noble, executive director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, believes investing in Alaska artists is an important way to give back. Many have strong connections to their communities as cultural leaders.
“Alaska’s artists are particularly good at developing thoughtful practices that uplift others along the way,” Noble said.
That hunger for community is evident to Marrari, who sees a lot of proposals for building studios.
“There aren’t a lot of community art spaces,” she said.
Individual Artist Awards also offer a network of support intended to last far beyond year-long projects. Chen said he’s grateful for the camaraderie of the other artists who were part of his grantee group.
“As someone who doesn’t really identify as an artist, being part of this cohort of amazing creators and artists feels really supportive,” he said.
As part of the award package, his group met for professional development training offered through the Anchorage Museum. Recipients work together as they learn from leaders in the field about crafting artist statements and resumes, managing finances, marketing and more.
Campen, who received her award in 2020, didn’t get as much face time with her group, due to the pandemic. But it’s meant a lot for her to connect with artists living all over the state, in small towns like hers. Today, she lives on Taas Daa, or Lemesurier Island, near the Southeast community of Gustavus.
“I do think it can be pretty easy to feel pretty isolated in Alaska, whether you live on an island community, like I do, or a small rural community elsewhere in the state,” she said. “Anybody who is an artist, who’s an aspiring artist — we need to have a creative community. And that’s part of, to me, what it feels like this whole thing’s about.”
Chen encourages any Alaskan with an idea to apply, even if, like him, they don’t necessarily identify as an “artist.”
“If you feel an itch or a compulsion to create — sometimes, you have to do it,” he said. “This award has given me some purpose this year.”
Ready to apply? Check out applicant resources for Rasmuson Foundation’s Individual Artist Awards.
This story was sponsored by Rasmuson Foundation, working to promote a better life for Alaskans through partnerships and grants to nonprofits, tribal and local governments, and individual artists. The Foundation supports quality health care and social support, thriving communities and people, education and economic possibility, vibrant arts and culture, and civic and philanthropic opportunity.
This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Rasmuson Foundation. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.