There is no shortage of drama in arts funding. It's a bloody process in which cutthroat creatives backbite and gripe, while others are pulled into the weeds by a tangle of paperwork. Meanwhile, they're not doing what they should be doing as artists: namely, making art.
On December 26, Rocky Mountain PBS will premiere Art Tank, a Colorado arts-funding reality show in the tradition of Shark Tank. And whatever Art Tank lacks in sensational ruthlessness, it balances with earnest substance.
The show follows six groups of artists in their quest to wow a panel of high-powered arts administrators and foundation bigwigs, in a battle over $65,000 of funding. The groups in the show – the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Youth on Record, Chicano Picasso, VSA/Access Gallery's Granny Does Graffiti project, the Narrators Playground and PlatteForum – comprise some of the city's most talented artists, from Erin Rollman of Buntport Theater to Molina Speaks.
What makes Art Tank refreshing, albeit less interesting than ethically dubious reality television, is just how sincere, warm and cooperative all of the artists seem. What we see instead of semi-staged, Real World-style cat fights are artists laser-focused on their creative vision, working together in community to launch smart collective projects. “Ultimately, Art Tank is really just a vehicle for us to fund the arts in town in an innovative way," explains David Charmatz, the project's executive director, in a trailer.
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Art Tank is a project of the Arts Affinity Group, a donor circle under the umbrella of the Denver Foundation.
But what makes Art Tank innovative isn't so much that the funding struggle takes place on TV or in front of a live audience, though those elements certainly do make the project stick out. The most unusual thing is that the goal is not to fund the predictable, tried and tested projects that reiterate what an artist has done in years past. Instead, Art Tank funds risky endeavors, some that will work and some that may not.
We won't be dishing any spoilers, so tune in to Rocky Mountain PBS at 10:30 p.m. on Monday, December 26, to find out which of the 2016 class of Art Tank applicants won big.
Art Tank has already been renewed for another season: A new class of finalists has been selected for 2017, including Arts Street, The bARTer Collective, the Colorado Black Arts Movement, RedLine Contemporary Art Center, Spark City Children's Museum and Warm Cookies of the Revolution.