How We Selected the 2019 Creative Capital Awards

The Creative Capital Award application process is nearly a year-long endeavor, enlisting the help of over a hundred outside evaluators made up of curators, programmers, artists, and other arts professionals, representing all disciplines, regions, and demographics. The application is free and open to all, and the selection process continues on to two more rounds.

In this award cycle, Creative Capital received an unprecedented amount of applications—over 5,200. Through three rounds, reviewers helped us identify artists that are making seminal and bold work in their fields, are at a crucial moment in their career, and would most benefit from the non-monetary services we provide. Four reviewers read applications in every round, providing continuity through the entire process: Alice Gray Stites, Ethan Nosowsky, Sixto Wagan, and Scott Macaulay. Throughout the process, we ask over a hundred reviewers across the country to examine the projects, paying specific attention to big ideas, and the artists’ capacity and readiness to make use of our support (read more about that process). The final round involved nine multidisciplinary panelists discussing 100 projects over the course of two days. Their final selection of 50 projects make up the 2019 Creative Capital Awards.

Round Three Panelists
Heather Dewey-Hagborg – biohacker and visual artist, 2016 Creative Capital Awardee
Kamilah Forbes – President & CEO of Apollo Theater
Alice Gray Stites – Chief Curator of 21c Museum Hotels
Rasu Jilani – Director of Community Engagement and Recruiting at NEW INC, independent curator and social sculptor
Scott Macaulay – Editor of Filmmaker Magazine, and President and Producer of Forensic Films
Jillian Mayer – video artist and filmmaker, co-director of Borscht Corp., 2015 Creative Capital Awardee
Ethan Nosowsky – Editorial Director of Graywolf Press
E. Carmen Ramos – Deputy Chief Curator and Curator of Latino Art at Smithsonian American Art Museum
Sixto Wagan – Director of Center for Art and Social Engagement at University of Houston

Panel Advisor
Kemi Ilesanmi – Executive Director, The Laundromat Project

A New Interdisciplinary Method of Reviewing Applications
The 2019 cycle was the first in which we accepted applications from all disciplines, allowing artists to select up to two (artists choose disciplines so we can match them to the right people to review their project—see a full list of disciplines). As artists continue blurring the lines between disciplines, we opened our application to accommodate more genre-defying concepts. Once we realized that artists making the most adventurous work were increasingly appearing in many types of formats and venues, we responded by adapting our application to accommodate more multidisciplinary work. Likewise, in the review process, for the first time ever, we convened a panel of arts professionals working across all disciplines to share their various areas of expertise with one another, allowing projects to receive proper feedback and context from leading industry members.

Since we had no precedent, this new method began as an experiment, and panelists’ feedback on the new process was very positive. Rasu Jilani was excited that “the diversity of insights, ideas and context ensures that each applicant receive a qualitative 360 examination of their project and impact.” Scott Macaulay, who has served on Creative Capital panels before, said the new approach was refreshing: “I felt we as panelists gained a lot of perspective as we worked to understand how the subject matters, themes, and formal strategies we encounter in our own fields are being treated quite innovatively in others.”

Alice Gray Stites—though at first unsure about the interdisciplinary method—found it not only very helpful, but also affirming: “Many of the hallmarks of the most exceptional proposals were consistently applicable to the visual, performing, literary, and multimedia arts.” Sixto Wagan appreciated that the new process let all artists apply for the Creative Capital Award, rather than restricting them to specific cycles. “Not only is this allowing for artists to apply when it’s right for them,” he said, “but it allowed us to see how ideas and issues are permeating multiple artistic spheres, and manifesting in different but resonant ways.”

As with everything we do, we hope that the application process is rewarding and edifying for both reviewers and artists. Ethan Nosowsky said that “sitting on the Creative Capital panel is always an education: it’s wonderful to be in the presence of such knowledgeable and passionate artists, art workers, and arts advocates—the panelists all know what a significant and transformative award this can be, and to a person everyone takes that responsibility seriously.”

Standout projects in this year’s final round were multidisciplinary, collaborative, and addressed the urgency of the current socio-political climate while evoking or referencing timeless conditions. The most successful applications utilized a specific lens through which to engage with a potent, yet often overlooked issue that relates to a broad and meaningful range of ideas.—Alice Gray Stites

Insights from the Field
The amount of applications we received was daunting, but it also provided unique insight into what a swath of the country’s artists are thinking about and addressing in their work. We asked the panelists what topics, and specific projects excited them.

Many panelists echoed Wagan’s sentiment of enthusiasm and excitement at seeing themes “crossing over, permeating into multiple artistic spheres, and manifesting in different but resonant ways.”

Stites notes that many artists are addressing “urgency of the socio-political climate while evoking or referencing timeless conditions.” The best projects, Jilani said, not only address these critical issues, but offer “potential solutions.” Jilani noted a common theme of “speculative futures”—projects that reimagine inclusive and equitable futures for the oppressed through rigorous interdisciplinary examination, bringing a sense of optimism to our dire political moment.

Mayer mentioned that deliberate consideration of material and medium to promote the concept or message was a key factor in her favorite projects. Several panelists mentioned common themes of gender identity and politics, immigration and the refugee crisis, First Nations and indigenous (de)colonial history, stories of diaspora, the Anthropocene climate, and mass incarceration. Artists pursuing timely topics in an engaged and rigorous manner with the potential to “catalyze dialogue and energize networks” excited Wagan.

Macaulay said that certain projects compelled him through their finding of specific and surprising angles into very topical issues. Others like Bahar Behbahani’s Ispahan Flowers Only Once sought highly original ways to delve into historical subjects.

At the core, the 2019 Creative Capital Awardees were engaged with social issues while displaying proficiency and innovation in their chosen fields, and poised for a moment of exponential growth in their careers.

See the 2019 Creative Capital Awards

Our commitment to these artists is long-term, so we hope you will follow us to find out more about these artists, and see how their projects develop over the coming years. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with the new Creative Capital Awardees!

Learn more about the Creative Capital Award.