As I prepared a selection of poems to submit to the Mississippi Arts Commission for a fellowship application, I was reminded just how important state and local arts organizations can be. I think of all the cultural experiences that would go without funding if local and state arts organizations (and the NEA) didn’t exist, and I’m ever grateful that they do. In Columbus, the Arts Council has supported art, music, and literary events for years. They in turn fund the Suzuki Strings program that has been so beneficial for our son (and of which I’m currently the president).
Even if I don’t get a fellowship from the state agency (and more than likely I won’t, but who knows), I’m still grateful for the opportunity to apply. It gave me the incentive to go over the poems I’ve written in the past three years and take stock of what I’ve produced. It’s never as much as I would like, but it wasn’t hard to bring together 15-20 pages that I’m proud of. Looking at it as a group, rather than a random collection of poems in a folder on my computer, also helps bring the work together. Writing an artist’s statement helps, too.
This is all the kind of thing I’ve been talking with my students about. My creative writing class is nearing the time when they’ll turn in their midterm portfolios. We’re discussing the need for revision and strategies for getting there. I won’t be looking for perfect work yet — that’s for the final portfolio — but I do look to see whether they have a sense of where they’re headed. It feels that way with the collection of poems that might one day be a book (and a fellowship would help that happen more quickly). Looking at and reflecting on what you’ve done can inspire you to create what still needs to be written.
At the same time, my Seniors in their Senior Portfolio class, are reviewing their work from the past 3-4 years. We are discussing what they’ve written and how they might introduce it, but also what their plans are for the future. I’ve talked to some of them about sources of funding that can help them keep writing, and opportunities for writing after college, including grad school, internships, summer workshops, and artist residencies. I’ve advised them to find or create their own writers groups wherever they go. Many of those opportunities depend on funding from arts councils, commissions, and other groups. Without the support of local arts organizations, many young artists would never discover their talent or find the communities they need to sustain them during the difficult apprentice years.