The Individual Artists Fellowship (IAF) program is one of the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s premier endeavors. It may not have the high visibility of the annual Columbus Arts Festival (how can you top those crowds on the riverfront?) nor the impressive budget figures of the grant programs for organizations. But, by recognizing how much working artists add to our community, it plays an equally significant role in GCAC’s efforts to support cultural development in Columbus and Franklin County.

Since 1986, when the program began, fellowships have gone to artists with clearly established reputations and ones who were just starting their careers; to long-time residents and relative newcomers; to those creating with new technologies and with traditional art forms. That diversity across the fellowship disciplines (which have included visual arts, literature, music, dance/movement, and film/video) reflects the range of artists who work here, and a commitment to inclusiveness that characterizes the program as a whole.

The awards have helped purchase gallons of paint and reams of paper, a sewing machine and the rights to a short story, and quite a lot of computer equipment. They’ve paid for child-care, travel, and studio space. But to many artists, less tangible benefits have been at least as important. Many artists credit the fellowships with helping them experiment and take their work in new directions. Others talk about the validation that comes from knowing their community values the efforts that go into their creative work.

GCAC’s IAF program is one of the few projects in this country that provide direct support to artists on a local level. Its continuity and evolution evidence both GCAC’s ongoing belief in the crucial contributions of individual artists and the council’s flexibility and innovation in developing strategic partnerships that link the fellowship program with other arts organizations in the community. In the years since the program began, you might have seen or heard works by fellowship recipients — perhaps works the awards helped make possible — at The Thurber House, BalletMet, CATCO’s Shorts Festival, or a ProMusica concert, as well as at the Columbus Museum of Art, the King Arts Complex, a local school, or Goodale Park. You could have experienced such works across the country in Chicago, New York, or California, or abroad. The IAF program touches dance and film fans, readers, gallery and museum visitors, music enthusiasts, cultural tourists, and all who want this city to be a dynamic place to live and work. It’s of enormous benefit to the fellowship recipients — and, by celebrating and encouraging the creativity in our midst, it enriches the quality of life for all citizens.

Ann Bremner

[Adapted and updated from an essay published in the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s 25th Anniversary catalogue of the IAF program. Ann Bremner is an editor and freelance arts writer in Columbus.]