Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Open Grant Proposal

Today I applied for a grant. In my life as an artist and activist and nonprofit administrator and fundraising consultant, I've applied for about four thousand grants. But never have I made my application public. I'm just so damn excited about this one, and whether or not I'm one of the five winners, I think the Goddard's Got Art project is brilliant. Creative thinking in politics: bravo.


TUCSON—The political committee, Goddard’s Got Art!, has been launched in Tucson this week to engage the arts community and the community as a whole to elect Terry Goddard the next Governor of Arizona.  The independent expenditure committee has created a competitive $5000 fund for the creation and production of new works of art by Arizona artists. The works are to be commissioned and will be premiered at an event in Tucson, AZ in October 2010.  Five artists will be granted $1,000 each for a political work of art that celebrates, motivates and excites the electorate with the purpose of electing Terry Goddard to the office of Governor of Arizona. 

Tucson, the Novel: 
An Experiment in Literature and Civil Discourse
A proposal to the Goddard's Got Art Committee
Shannon Cain, September 1, 2010
The vision.
It began with SB 1070. I thought, goddammit, for three years I’ve been writing a novel about this place, a novel that ultimately presents a vision for the kind of Arizona city, the kind of American city I’d like to live in, a place where the arts are valued, the environment is protected, civil rights are defended and the relationship between social justice and economic prosperity is understood. And then here comes SB 1070, as if to assert that my vision isn’t possible for this state. And indeed if it isn’t possible for Arizona than it isn't possible for America.

Artistically, this was a bummer. Morally it was an outrage. I sat at my desk, gazing across my balcony at the State of Arizona Building, whose wavy brick and mirrored glass began to exude a certain funhouse effect. This sort of shit ignites the literary activist in me. I sat there, looking out over the city I’ve been writing about. All this business about denying civil rights, all this business about banning ethnic studies? That’s not the city I know, not the city I’ve lived in for 30 years, not the city where I’ve raised my child and worked a hundred different jobs and grew up and got married and divorced and married and divorced again and drove the boulevards and hiked the canyons and experienced joy and betrayal and hope and fury and love. I know this place, and all that racist fearmongering is not who we are. Maybe that’s Arizona, but it’s not Tucson.

So I’ll just share my vision, I decided. I’ll read my novel to the city. My readings will spark conversations about civil rights, and democracy, and land use and water and immigration, all the concerns at work in the story. I’ll do it in a venue that doesn’t cost anything, and that reaches decisionmakers, and that has a huge audience. Like, thirty thousand people a week. I’ll give it an X-treme element, the kind of thing that calls attention to itself for its ridiculous height, or weight, or duration. An act of literary flagpole-sitting.

The project.
A novel-in-progress called Tucson, serialized as three-minute oral testimonies to the Tucson City Council. Readings at Call to the Audience every Tuesday for roughly six years or until the manuscript is published, whichever comes first. A companion blog for audience participation and civil discourse.

How the project will encourage the electorate to vote for Terry Goddard.
1.     During my three-minute literary presentation at Call to the Audience at the nine Regular City Council meetings between September 8 and Election Day 2010, I will speak for 20 seconds on the importance of electing Terry Goddard as Governor of Arizona. The content of these messages—which could change from week to week—will be developed in collaboration with the Goddard's Got Art committee.
(Mayor and Council meetings are televised on Channel 12. According to the folks on staff, the station reaches 200,000 households in Tucson, unincorporated Pima County, Green Valley, Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita, on both Cox and Comcast. The most recent breakdown figures they had were from 2007, but at that time the mayor and council meetings had 30,000 viewers per week.)

2.     Each week, my blog entry will include the Goddard for Governor message as well as a graphic that links to the campaign website.

3.     I will announce new blog entries on Facebook (651 friends) and will finally get my Twitter act together.

4.     I will be available for any public events the Committee is planning. This might include reading particularly appropriate excerpts from the novel, speaking about the arts and social change, and/or leading socially-inspired creative writing exercises or workshops.

5.     In addition to my own twice-weekly blog posts, I will invite guest bloggers and/or interview members of the Goddard's Got Art committee, and will welcome other creative ideas the committee might have.

I should acknowledge that this project revolves around an existing novel manuscript that the committee might not consider a “new work of art.” Yet as a work-in-progress, the novel is in a continual state of renewal and change. New writing will occur based on the experience of performing this serialization. New blog entries will be written as well. And the reading component of the project offers, each week, a new performance.

The budget.
Aside from some video editing software I’d like to buy so I can embed video of my weekly three minutes on the blog instead of naively linking viewers to the Channel 12 website and directing them to “forward to 14:45,” the only project expenses are for basic living. Rent, for example: 720 bucks a month at [an undisclosed location]. One bedroom, 7th floor, southfacing. Killer view of downtown and the monsoon thunderheads. At night the freeway is an electric river humming past my window. The project will require about 15 percent of my time for 9 weeks, so $972, prorated. Also groceries: dark chocolate covered edamames from Trader Joe’s ($1.99) and meals, specifically the Cast Iron Baked Eggs from The Cup CafĂ©—with cubed ham, leeks and gruyere cheese baked in fresh cream with fine herbs—(a couple of Sunday brunches at $9 each, plus tip & tax: $24). Add that video editing software ($50, more or less), and the total comes to $1,047.99. But I’ll round it down to an even grand.

There are no safety concerns, no space or insurance needs. The beauty of this project lies in its simplicity, and in its use of existing infrastructure and systems. 

Some civil discourse questions to be explored on the blog.
·      What is the relationship between art and politics? Art and commerce? Art and economic development?
·      How does my acceptance of sponsorship money from the Goddard's Got Art committee effect the perception of this project?
·      How would that perception change if the sponsor were a local business instead of a politician?
·      How does the acceptance of sponsorship money effect the novel itself? How slippery is this slope? (What’s next, product placement?)

The politics of this art.
The novel’s subject matter is controversial. It calls into question the status quo. I figure I might as well make this clear upfront, and also say that sponsorship of a work of art does not equal the condoning of its content. When City Council Member Regina Romero made me Artist in Residence for Ward I, she did not ask to read my manuscript in advance, nor did I offer it.

Still, I would be happy (and frankly relieved) to work with the Got Art committee on a disclaimer that makes this clear. In addition to the disclaimer, maybe the statement could say something about the role of the artist in a civil society. And something else on the direct correlation between the arts and a healthy economy. Some stuff about a measure of the health of a community being the vibrancy of its art and literature. Maybe a few words about the reliance of a functioning democracy upon an electorate that values independent ideas.


  1. Shannon, I can't tell you how excited I am to study with you this fall. This proposal (and I've written a few in my time too; this is fantastic) made me cry. Someday I will tell you my story of art and love and SB1070. And some projects I have in mind around those topics. In the meantime, you can be sure that I will always repost your Fb updates on your project -- 517 more friends (and 205 on Twitter, if you ever get your act together ;-)

    Best, Marta

  2. "The artist's role in a civil society." Well, this is it! To keep inserting art and the artist into the middle of public dialogue to keep it REAL, LIVE, and close to THE EDGE. This is all brilliant, from stem to stern. Artists should be overtly embedded more often into politics. I'll be attending the reading. . . er, City Council meeting on Wed. Looking forward, and good luck, SC!


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