In "60 Seconds With," Siweb editor chats with creatives and industry leaders, getting the scoop on their life and work in one minute or less. In this installment, he chats with Deana Haggag, the president and CEO of , an arts funding organization in Chicago that has endowed more than 500 artists, from architects to visual artists to writers, with over $25 million in grants since it was founded in 2006. Haggag's one minute starts...now.
What makes United States Artists stand out in the realm of arts funding?
We give individual artists and other cultural practitioners unrestricted awards, i.e. it’s not a project-based grant. They can do whatever they want with it.
On the USA , you site a statistic from 2003 that 96% of Americans valued art but only 27% valued the artists. How do you explain that?
Isn’t that wild? People can value reading a book, say, putting their child in a dance class, or taking their family to see a film. The leap to connect it back to the practitioner is difficult because it’s hard to quantify, in a capitalist model, the value of an artist's labor. I get really sad about that statistic, but then I remember that 96% of the people love art, so that’s a win.
Do you think that’s changed since then?
I can never tell if it’s getting better or worse. With the advent of social media and new ways of disseminating information, I think they should update the study. I wouldn’t be surprised either way.
What have you learned lately from an artist?
We funded Roscoe Mitchell, a legendary jazz musician. He said something that blew all of our minds: "Silence is already perfect, you better think hard before you break it."
You’re also handing out 45 fellowships to artists at $50,000 a piece. What do you expect in return?
Nothing. They can literally ghost us.
I’m a journalist. Do I qualify?
Score! Let’s talk after the interview. What would you buy with the money if you could award it to yourself?
No one has ever asked me that before. If I won this award—and it’s sad—I would pay off student and medical debt. If I had to do something indulgent for myself, I’d buy art or I’d take an immersion year in Spain or China.
If you’re buying art, who would you buy?
So many! I don’t even think I could name them.
That’s fine. What about Rembrandt? You can buy a nice "final state" etching for like $10 grand.
Oh someone dead? If $50,000 could be $500,000, I’d buy an Alma Thomas.
Time to increase the grant.
If this interview leads to it being increased to $500,000, that would be amazing.