The PEW Comes Clean

There was a shutter heard throughout the artistic community of Philadelphia when it was announced that the PEW would be by invitation only starting now. For those unfamiliar with the PEW Fellowship in the Arts (PFA), it is a small part of the larger mother org that funds a wide variety of initiatives. The PFA in the past invited all painters, dancers, musicians, writers and other creative people to apply free of charge for a grant of $60,000.00. That ended and there will now be 30 secret nominators who will each select 2 artists. Again "artists" means all types of artists so when it comes to the visual arts logic has it that there will still only be a few a year at most. The 60 selected by the nominators will apply and 12 winners will be picked by a panel of outside judges.

Since I was born in Philadelphia and have lived in the area for many years and am an artist myself, I think I have a right to weigh in. Yes I have applied in the past with the knowledge that there was almost no chance of my work being viewed by the final selection committee made up of people from outside Philadelphia. I did it in part just to have my work seen by some art professionals that might not have known about me or my work otherwise. So there was a little value in it even though I knew the first cut was made by local judges with conflicts galore. I never thought this was fair.

SIDEBAR: The only way to make any competition "fair" is by a blind judging process (no names or anything visable other than the work). And, viewed by people from outside the area who are unfamiliar with local politics. To go a step further it wouldn't take much to videotape the whole process which would not only show if it was conducted in a fair manner, but would also give the artists some insight into what the judge(s) thought about their work.

I will tape any local competition free of charge if it is made available to the artists. Call me.

The fact is that the folks who put these things on are not interested in fairness or they could do it easily. It's a shame that the artists help support these organizations, often times with entry fees, when the orgs have no intention of conducting a fair competition.

Back to the PEW. When the people at the PEW were asked, I am sure a million times, what was the most important criteria, they said quality, quality, quality. Now it is pretty clear from comments made by Melissa Franklin of the PEW that that's not exactly the case. She said in an phone conversation with theartblog that “The old open application assumes it’s more egalitarian..." Between that and the fact that the judging took place in two parts it is pretty clear that's why artists from the same group always won the award. I am talking only about visual artists because that's what I know.

Since this change was announced I have heard nothing but outrage from the artists that I know. They say that this is even more unfair than before and that the award has been losing prestige over the years and this will be the final nail in the coffin. Does it matter what the artists from the community think? I am sure this decision will have a wide-reaching negative effect. Already you have a community that is angry and even more divided, can that be a good thing? At a time when it would be better to work together the arts community is being pushed further apart.

My personal feeling is that at least it is out in the open now and artists don't have to waste time and resources filling out applications and making slides of work that the judges will never see. But this on the heels of the disastrous choice of Ryan Trecartin (who also is a PEW winner) for the new $150,000.00 Wolfin award at Temple, this will just drive a deeper wedge between the insiders and the larger artistic community in Philadelphia.