Recently, periodically self-aware human and artist Kanye West announced that he is $53 million deep into “personal debt.” Mark Zuckerberg has yet to express an interest in helping. So, we’ve looked into some alternative financing options possibly available. Specifically, emergency art grants.
Art isn’t all diamond-bedazzled skulls and 58-million-dollar Balloon Dogs. Maybe you make money off your work. Then maybe you’re looking at an average of $44,400 per year as a “craft and fine artist,” minus studio and supply costs. Emerging and experimental artists particularly take potentially devastating financial risks in self-producing their work. When some real shit happens, an emergency art grant from a foundation or a cultural institution could offer that much-needed bump to cope with an unforeseen disaster (natural or personal) or actualize an unexpected career opportunity.
Even though Kanye West is a vessel who God has chosen to be the voice and the connector, even though he just collaborated on the most viewed work of performance art in history, getting an emergency art grant to ease his personal-projects-related debt will not be easy.
Probably not. The emergency grants are for artists who are up-and-coming. He is not up-and-coming.
No granting agency will be persuaded by the idea that because financial success comes from using other people’s money, that Kanye should be the recipient of it. The maxim has never once served as a guiding principle amongst the granting agencies I know.
The fact is, applicants not only have to demonstrate a communal good, (which Kanye could argue), but that there is a reason for the financial duress other than poor fiscal management. Individuals and public institutions need to be able demonstrate that they spend responsibly. That’s going to be a hard case to make. He hasn’t laid out a case for an emergency or a new unexpected opportunity that required more money than he had. He’s only said that he needs more money to make his art. That makes him wholly indistinguishable from countless other artistic geniuses out there who do not have enough money to make their dreams a reality.
Some practical tips then:
If he wants to consider going the granting route, he’ll need to start putting together the material to make that happen. CERF, for example, requires a brief one page statement discussing the steps he’s taken to operate his business in a professional manner. And from my point of view, since this money would be used to serve a public good, he should do the responsible thing, and make those statements available for public vetting. Transparency is essential to any functioning democracy.
Whether or not Kanye is eligible for emergency grant funding would likely be contingent on the stipulations put forth by whatever cultural organization accepts applications and awards funds.
If Kanye’s being accurate about the debt that he’s incurred, it’s kind of brave for him to put it out there. A lot of artists owe a lot of money because they went to art school, and it’s all a bit shameful to admit in regards to specific dollar amounts. There are debtor advocacy movements that encourage people not to feel ashamed about the numerical value of their debt, but to instead be public with it and normalize conversation around it, which could lead to solidarity and direct action. To be honest, I’d never really considered how much money a massive celebrity might actually owe. It got me thinking about other people who I assume are incredibly wealthy, entertainers specifically, who pour all of their resources into making art. I don’t know if Kanye did that exactly, but it’s interesting to think about the concept of mega-celebrities transparently talking about their finances. If anything, Kanye speaking up made me feel less alone about my own student loan debt.
But really though:
One could creatively argue that the debt that Kanye claims to have at present results from forces outside of his control. He considers himself an artist, thus he’s compelled to create work to the extremity of his means. Most artists are very similar. And the public wants what he has to offer, so perhaps we might think of Kanye as a cultural institution that should not fail. I’d rather see Kanye get bailed out than any fuckface on Wall Street.