In 2012, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation launched a new series of Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grants for cutting edge projects. According to the foundation, each project must involve artistic collaborations and grantees “are small and mid-sized cultural organizations with a strong track record of creative risk-taking, experimentation and identifying emergent talent, for whom the Foundation’s grant will be significant in enabling them to achieve their artistic goals and leverage other resources.”

In the first year’s grants, awards ranged from $25,000 to $150,000. Rather than being dispensed in one lump sum, they are given over a period of one to three years. If you are thinking of applying for the next round, don’t bother unless invited. Organizations are nominated by “distinguished leaders in the field” and then invited to submit a proposal. “It is our hope that these creative initiatives will open the doors to new ideas that people may not understand now but which will become increasingly relevant
in the future,” says The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. The 2012 awardees included large and well-known art centers, like The Drawing Center, NY, Ballroom Marfa, TX, Machine Project, Los Angeles, STREB in Brooklyn, NY, and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, NE.

Although informative, none of this is shocking news. But wait – the 2013 Awardees have just been announced and Baltimore’s School 33 Art Center has made the list of nine!!!! They were awarded a whopping $100,000.00 to “fund four collaborative projects within a two-year cycle to permanently transform unused spaces in the renovated 1890 schoolhouse into viable sites for ongoing artistic activity and community outreach.” The artists chosen to collaborate and utilize School 33’s unused spaces are Kathryn Bell, Linda DePalma, Brendan J. Hughes, Melissa Webb, Jonathan Latiano and Jennifer Strunge.

To make sense of this amazing award and opportunity, I talked to Reñe Treviño, the Exhibitions Coordinator at School 33 for the past three years. He explained the ins and outs of the grant, the scope of the project, and how this all came about.


Cara Ober:  On their website, The Rauschenberg foundation says it invited 80 arts organizations to apply for an Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grant. This is only the second year they’ve been awarded. Who wrote the application and proposal for School 33? How much time did you have to put it together?

Reñe Treviño: The cultural affairs team at the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) met and brainstormed ideas for the proposal. It was a 2 to 3 month process to get to get to the actual end proposal. At the end of the day, the grant was written and edited by a group of us at BOPA, it was a true collaboration and I learned a lot. It was a lot of information to convey and organize.

CO: How specific did you have to be in the proposal? How did you prioritize your goals for School 33?

RT: We had to be very specific. There was also a good deal of back and forth between S33 and the Rauschenberg Foundation. We had questions, they had questions; I was thrilled that they were receptive and responsive to our queries. They also did a site visit and interview. At the end of the day though, our proposal was exciting and in keeping with their mission and they responded very favorably. I thought from the very beginning that we had a good chance of receiving the grant; it is a series of really thoughtful collaborations that will have a huge impact on S33.

CO: School 33 has existed in Baltimore for 33 years as an innovative non-profit exhibition space. In your opinion, how does School 33 impact life for local artists? For the surrounding neighborhood? What improvements would you make to the space if you had the budget?

RT: It is an old building, so there is always something. One of my immediate goals is some new drywall and track lighting for our upstairs Project Space. We are always fixing things, making improvements. There is no shortage of projects. I am eager to procure more electronic equipment, so that we can up the ante of the new media work we can exhibit.

S33 is a great resource for local artists. I am very keen on showcasing a lot of different kinds of art here, I want to foster an environment of inclusion AND quality… something for everyone. S33 is a hub, a meeting spot, a place to exchange ideas. Many artists have their first non-academic solo exhibits in our Members’ Gallery or Project Space. I try to be as open as possible. I want to work with young artists and more established artists. That’s how we learn. Also, exhibiting at S33 offers you the chance to meet and work with curators who are doing amazing things outside of Baltimore as well. We also have subsidized, gorgeous studio spaces, a mentorship program for our resident artists, and we offer a wide range of classes.

CO: The press release and website says the goal of the grant is to “permanently transform unused spaces in the renovated 1890 schoolhouse into viable sites for ongoing artistic activity and community outreach. Artists include: Kathryn Bell, Linda DePalma, Brendan J. Hughes, Melissa Webb, Jonathan Latiano and Jennifer Strunge.” What changes, specifically, will be made? What role did this list of artists play in the proposal? How were artists selected? Was the proposal a collaborative project between S33 and the artists?

RT: Currently our south lot is covered in hay and is an unofficial dog park, so this grant will literally transform it into a fenced in garden/art space. I envision performances, outdoor sculpture, community gardening and a real interaction with our neighborhood. That is the project that Kathryn Bell, Linda DePalma, Brendan J. Hughes, Melissa Webb are collaborating on. When you think about their collective bodies of work, the possibilities are beyond exciting.

The other project for the first year is creating a small gallery space where there used to be a phone booth. That was a goal of mine from the very beginning – to use this empty area (a void left from old technology) and turn it into a viable art space. There are so many options for it, and I love that while it will initially be used for the Strunge and Latiano collaboration, down the road it will be a great space that other artists can utilize.

For the first year, the Cultural Affairs team at BOPA selected the artists, for the second year we will conduct a call for artists. The goal of the projects, and the Rauschenberg Foundation, is to bring together artists from different disciplines in the spirit of collaboration. At this point we have no idea what the final projects will be or will look like, but that is part of the excitement. Bring together innovative, motivated artists, pay them and fund their ideas and see what happens.

CO: A great big congratulations to Treviño and the staff at BOPA who worked on this! Speaking for myself, I can’t wait to see the exciting and inspiring changes ahead!

School 33 is located at 1427 Light Street in the heart of Federal Hill. Gallery Hours are Weds – Sat, 12-6 pm. More info at www.school33.org.