The Problem with “Problemization” in Arts Funding

I discovered an excellent article on the weekend that really gets to the heart of matter when it comes to the whole notion of  “project driven” and “problem driven” methods of arts funding.  This one is well worth a read if you are at all involved in raising funds in the non-profit world.

I wasn’t sure whether or not problemization was a word until I looked it up and found that it is one. Problemization is to consider or treat as a problem (Merriam Webster).
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The reason is that increasingly when you look at a foundation’s grant guidelines you are asked: “What problem are you trying to solve?” I put the following into Google: “Foundation funding what problem are you trying to solve.” The search result: 182 million hits that included dozens of foundations’ guidelines and many articles about how to write successful grant proposals. The additional question is “What is the need or problem that will be eliminated if your request is granted?” (And subsequent questions about how you identified and documented the problem, what logic model you followed to design your solution and how will you measure your results.)
I wonder what effect this culture of pathology, of diagnosis and treatment, is having on the nonprofit sector in general and the cultural sector in particular. Do foundations increasingly see themselves in the role of a sort of benevolent physician, identifying social “disease” and using their grants as the medication needed for wellness to be achieved? Not that long ago, a primary framework for organized philanthropy was one of ideas and experimentation; the mindset was one of risk capital and the ability to fuel new ideas that are interesting and should be tried.
The problem/solution framework is especially insidious for the arts. Yes, we do solve problems in the arts, particularly we work on aesthetic and philosophical problems, though these are not problems a foundation could help solve (at least not directly). In fact, the problems we solve are not easily documented, it is difficult to apply a social scientist’s approach to them, and our documentation of results is more likely qualitative than quantitative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *