Dear Pew Fellowships: Why are you being so difficult?

My Pew Fellowships application

4 minute read
If Kathleen Chalfant will take my calls, why won't the Pew?
If Kathleen Chalfant will take my calls, why won't the Pew?
I've been waiting eagerly for the Pew Fellowships in the Arts program to post its application for 2010 fellowships.

Now I learn that the process will be closed, and that potential Pew fellows will be nominated by a closed, anonymous group of nominators, and then invited to apply. (See "The Pew Fellowships go top-down.")

I can't speak for other prospective grantees. But for me, this news couldn't be worse.

I enjoy a national reputation as an innovative dramaturg (Stage Directions magazine named me a trailblazer) as well as an important emerging playwright. The legendary American actress Kathleen Chalfant— the star of Wit, Angels in America and Dead Man's Cell Phone— starred last week in the premiere of my one-woman, autobiographical play, And Then I Went Inside, at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York.

But I'm a New York transplant, not yet well known in Philadelphia or in Bucks County, where I now live.

My best bet

Under the Pew's new rules, how could I possibly get equal access to this prize— which, frankly, could make or break my playwrighting career? A $60,000 Pew grant could fund my writing activities for three years! I wrote three short plays this week. Imagine what more I could do if I were funded.

Under the new system at the Pew Fellowships, I can't introduce myself to the anonymous evaluators, and so I'd likely remain unknown and shut out of the nomination process.

Under these circumstances, my best bet is to make my case in a forum like this one and hope that some of the Pew's "anonymous nominators"— whoever they may be— are reading.

Am I right? Are you out there? If so, please take note:

Hidden genius

Many times, the people doing the most innovative work in the arts are not mainstream artists. They haven't yet broken through into popular culture. And they can be doing genius-level work. These artists create trends, explode boundaries and express new forms.

Every winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" has lists of smaller fellowships to his or her credit. Like me, these artists and writers are creating a body of work that they are making viable for production or publication. An artist's life requires funding. Cash flow is often the key to making one's artistic dreams come true.

Every hour spent working in another field for basic living expenses is an hour that an artist cannot be creating new work, realizing it upon the stage, or keeping up with the vast web of personal and professional connections that expose her work to the public. As a playwright, I want people to see my plays. Just last week, after Kathleen Chalfant performed my play, I was inspired to write her a trilogy. Which I did. And I sent it to her in the hope of attracting her interest.

I did not sit home waiting for Kathleen Chalfant to call and ask if I'd written any good trilogies lately. But that seems to be the sort of logic that the Pew program now expects artists to follow.

Advisor to Pulitzer winners

This week I also started another series of plays and conceived of a multi-disciplinary exhibit/performance piece, based on my new trilogy, The Stacy Plays. It will include poetry, plays that feature several decades of my protagonist's life, and dance, puppets, new music and video installations.

Pew program, nominators, wherever you are: I need money to advance and produce my vision. Since I can't apply to you directly for one of your 2010 fellowships, please consider this indirect application.

Aside from my international dramaturgy practice— in which I've served as advisor to Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur "Genius" Award winners, Tony Award winners, and international prizewinners— I am a poet, artist, professor and non-fiction writer.

My literary specialty centers around exploring the body and mind's power to heal from trauma. In addition to my poems, plays and articles about this topic, I've also given two national radio interviews on it.

I write articles for the Open to Hope Foundation, which helps people to heal after a loss, such as the death of a loved one. I'm scrambling to write down all the ideas and writings that I've conceived in my head. Having a Pew fellowship would allow me to get my writing out to the public at a faster rate, and presumably will help more people heal at a faster rate.

Pew Foundation, please help me to make this journey on my own, and help others to make it, too, through consuming the healing power of the arts.

There. I hope you know me now. Please open your minds"“ and your application process.

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