Raucous Caucus and Imaginary Needs
Two national conferences about support for artists: 1986 & 1988.
In the late 1980s, several hundred people met twice at remote locations on two islands, one on the U.S. east coast and one on the west, to consider “the creative support of the creative artist.” Sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), the first conference was held in May 1986 at Montauk on the eastern tip of Long Island, New York and the second in November 1988 on Orcas Island near the Canadian border in Washington state. These two gatherings brought together artists, arts funders, and dedicated people from organizations that serve artists. For a day and a half (Montauk) or three full days (Orcas) they talked, performed, argued, ate together, played together, and tackled critical concerns beyond the arts. They also built life-long friendships and professional relationships and provoked questions that remain today.
With an interest in tracing the emergence of a national conversation about the place of artists in the system of arts support, Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) commissioned me to write about these two conferences. My perspective is undoubtedly colored by the fact that not only did I attend both events, I was in the whirling center of the second as its coordinator.