It might seem an odd thing to feel pride for a county, which is usually just an administrative unit. But Dane County government is near and dear to my heart because I periodically serve on a citizen review panel for the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission. This is one of my few regular civic activities, and one that I thoroughly enjoy, because we give away money!
Three times a year, the DCCAC review panel meets in an all-day session to process applications for arts grants. The panel usually comprises seven or eight local artists, writers, dancers, theater folk, musicians, multimedia people, and craftspeople. An uncommonly able and thoroughly pleasant administrator named Lynn Eich coordinates the program. Usually two different members of the full commission attend to observe the process.
Funding for the arts grants comes from a variety of sources: charitable trusts and foundations, private donors and public funds, and currently amounts to something over $450,000 a year.
A typical grant application is a document of 15-30 pages, using a set form, but always including supporting narratives about the project, the participants, vitae, work samples, and so forth. In most cycles we have 40-50 such applications to review. Doing the budget right is a common stumbling block for first-time applicants.
The panel evaluates the grants according to a prescibed set of criteria and makes a recommendation to fund all or part of selected projects. The Commission almost always accepts the review panel's recommendations, sometimes tinkering a bit with the dollar amounts.
For some reason, giving away money always leaves me feeling really good. More importantly, the whole process underscores the vibrant creativity of the arts community living in and around Madison. Using a relatively small amount of the public money to support and encourage that community seems a wonderfully wise investment in the quality of our lives.