Defining a New Arts Era

A Special Report on The Nancy Quinn Fund

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 1 (Spring 1998)

Nello McDaniel & George Thorn

1997, 75 pages, ARTS Action Research, P.O. Box 401082, Brooklyn, New York 11240, 718-797-3661

The Nancy Quinn Fund, a program of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York, serves about 300 theaters in New York City with annual budgets under $100,000. The Fund is named after the former Artistic Director of Young Playwrights, Inc., and a member of ART/New York's Board of Directors. Quinn, who died in 1993, was known for her "dedication to young artists; a commitment to quality; and diversity." The Nancy Quinn Fund provides a flexible program of cash grants and technical assistance. Several private sector grantmakers contribute to the Fund, which has awarded over $200,000 to these theaters since inception. These include the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank, and the Katherine Dalglish, Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher, and Charles and Mildred Schnurmacher Foundations, among others.

Written by Nello McDaniel and George Thorn, and edited by Catherine Cartwright, Defining a New Arts Era is not an outcome evaluation of the Quinn Fund's participants. Rather, it is an extended essay on McDaniel's and Thorn's experiences and observations in working with these small theaters. Nonetheless, grantmakers are likely to find this lively report worthwhile because its focus is on an unusual group of organizations. McDaniel and Thorn call these groups "the arts understructure — a highly diverse and complex ecology of artist- and work-centered entities, activities, and relationships.” A sampling of quotes from the theaters themselves helps the reader sense their vitality. In the introduction, McDaniel and Thorn state, “Perhaps the most striking thing about the arts understructure is how dramatically its members' very existence contrasts with the overall arts community. While the pall of crises and ongoing retrenchment continues to drape the field, the arts understructure is thriving and growing.... We believe that what we are seeing...is not the outgrowth or in any way a linear extension of the old arts order.... This is new growth, different growth.”

McDaniel and Thorn looked for patterns among the operations of these small-budget theaters. Several are notable. Few of the theaters seek traditional models of institutional structure and growth. For most, established funding structures aren't useful or relevant. “Traditional funding, with its detached time lines, cumbersome guidelines and applications, excessive regulation and reporting, and social engineering, are meaningless to the way most [of the theaters] make and connect their work.” Incorporating is not a given — for many it is not even a consideration. Finally, these theaters are highly diverse, and the majority are committed to new work.