Interview with Maker Grant Winner Mary Patten

This article was originally published on Chicago Artists Resource (CAR), as part of their "Granted" series. "Granted" presents and analyzes successful grant & residency applications for Chicago’s arts communities to serve as primers for artists looking to navigate the oft-confusing and opaque rules and procedures of the application process. In this article, CAR Editor JC Steinbrunner talks with Mary Patten, artist and faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, on winning the inaugural Maker Grant in the spring of 2013. Reposted with permission.
Panel (Installation view)
A multidisciplinary installation consisting of 4 channels of performance based video, a suite of four large prints—each corresponding to and mirroring one of the video channels and a large wall

The Maker Grant is a partnership between OPP and Chicago Artists' Coalition to bring an unrestricted $3000 funding opportunity to contemporary Chicago-based artists, along with a $600 Runner-Up Award. In addition, both the Winner and the Runner-Up receive free OtherPeoplesPixels websites, and we are looking forward to seeing the website that Mary will be constructing with OPP.

It would be hard to find a Chicago artist working to make more of an impact than the Maker Grant winner, Mary Patten. A self-identified “visual artist, video maker, writer, educator, occasional curator and political activist,” Patten’s work makes use of just as many media to explore the intricate and mutable scrims of reality we build for ourselves, often through the prism of political activism. In Patten’s work, modes of viewing take a central and experimental role; engaging with the work both changes and evolves it. Having won the Propeller Grant in 2011 for her Torture Justice Memorial Project, and recently won an overseas residency through SAIC, Patten seems well positioned to propel her work into new and interesting areas. Patten shared with CAR her plans for upcoming projects, as well as tips on how to research and write a successful grant application.

Video collage

Chicago Artists Resource: Tell us about the projects you have coming up. How will the Maker Grant play a part in realizing them?

Mary Patten: I’m going on sabbatical next year at a time [in my life] when some people would be thinking retirement. (I didn’t start working full-time for years, and I didn’t have a tenure-track job until I was 50.) I’ll get the time release from school with a significant pay cut. I am going to take two semesters off to work on two projects.

The first is a little open. It will take the form of a video and may become an installation. The tentative title is At the Risk of Seeming Ridiculous, a quote from Che Guevara. The quote continues “let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” I don’t idolize him; I want to concentrate on the “ridiculous” part. I’m planning a fictionalized, auto-biographical journey of a minor artist who’s conflicted—a speculative self-portrait.

The other project requires some travel. The plan is to create an installation project with video, mapping the routes of two women. One is a pre-Tzarist Russian who attempted to shoot the governor of St. Petersburg. She bought a pistol and went to an event, shot and missed, and was arrested … but there was so much support for her. I will work with a cartographer to retrace her route to question that episode in history. Then I will link it to my contemporary, a friend serving a life sentence for driving a getaway car. I’m interested in exploring the undersides and ambivalences in these two failed actions. What was the fervent desire that drove these two women?

I’m planning to use the Maker Grant money to support me as I work on the production, shooting and editing of the first piece. The grant may mean travel for the Russian piece. It supports a combination of materials and, well, time. I have to raise money to offset expenses from my sabbatical.

I also got a month-long residency through SAIC in Krems, Austria. I’d applied three times; it’s very competitive. I’m going to be interviewing with people related to both of these projects. Krems is a good base to work to work from.

Mohammed Atta's Prayers (detail)
One of a suite of four drawings based on the FBI’s translation of four pages of scrawled notes found after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

CAR: Given your experience applying for—and winning—these grants and residencies, can you share some strategies for artists thinking about applying for funding?

MP: The main thing I’ve found is that it takes a lot of time to write a good grant. It’s a big undertaking. I’m kind of slow and deliberate and less efficient with writing time. Develop the right kind of language. Figure out whether what you’re applying for is a good match for your project. Really study the call and criteria and the mission of the organization.

It’s really important to decide which project to pursue from all the projects an artist might be working on. Be very careful in choosing your project. Make sure there’s a good correspondence with the grantor. One of the ways to figure that out is to look at whom else they’ve funded. You may have a pre-conceived notion of projects a grantor will fund, but looking at previously funded projects will help you know your object.

Carve out enough time and take the grant-writing project seriously. Make sure the budget makes sense. Make a convincing, compelling argument that includes your prior accomplishments, evidence of research, and really think about the questions that the grant organization is asking. Whether it’s an independent or collaborative proposal, have an internal process. Have a conversation or review with people close to you. And go to the workshops that are hosted by the granting organization.

Learn more about CAC and OPP's Maker Grant here, and be sure to apply next year!