New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media


This article is from our magazine. To view it in its original format, click here

Ellis County Has An Arts Grant... Who Is The Most Deserving?

By Gary Wien


Did you ever wish you could pullback the curtain and get a glimpse behind the scenes of an arts committee debating who should receive grant money? It's a process that befuddles many, including artists and those who often decry the winning works as controversial or not something they believe was art. In Catherine Trieschmann's play, The Most Deserving, we get to see the Ellis County Arts Council of Kansas debate how to award $20,000 to a local artist with an "under-represented American voice."

The Most Deserving is having its New Jersey premiere at Dreamcatcher Repertory this February. The production stars Julie Chen, Andre DeSandies, Noreen Farley, Scott McGowan, Janet Sales, and Jason Szamreta. The play caught the eye of Laura Ekstrand, Dreamcatcher's Producing Artistic Director, when she learned of its debut at the Colorado New Play Summit in Denver.

"The play is hilarious," said Ekstrand. "The subject matter is so close to home for an arts organization. It's about a small town arts council sending out a grant to a single artist and all of the politics and drama and personal strife that goes into this choice. They're trying to find out who is the most deserving artist, but it's very complicated; it's not just who's the best artist, it's a lot of other stuff too."

Although the play is set in Kansas, it could take place anywhere. The same debates occur behind closed doors throughout New Jersey and the entire country. People on the committee know each other well and know many of the same artists. They are all pushing their own agendas, whether they are even aware of it or not. As usual when money is being given to artists, controversy is bound to follow.

"I think the important thing about the play being set in a small town that's isolated is that they can do whatever they want," explained Ekstrand. "They don't answer to anybody and that's the problem and the issue of the play — the arts council doesn't answer to anybody."

The committee of characters debate who should and who shouldn't be considered a minority. There are conservatives, liberals, transplants from elsewhere, and long-time citizens of Ellis County. Being arts committee members provides ultimate decision-making power. They consider extending the deadline to add more people for consideration because they make the rules. They consider artists such as a high school teacher who might be one-sixteenth Native-American and a woman that might be considered a minority by marriage. One committee member even submits himself for consideration. After being laid off from his job, he took up painting a series of Vice Presidents because Presidents have already been done. Even though his paintings are awful, he thinks he's deserving and somehow is seriously considered.

While suggesting possible artists, the Trash Man's name comes up. He's an African-American man confined to a wheelchair and living on disability just outside town limits. He creates extraordinary sculptures depicting religious subjects out of trash. The Trash Man meets every single criteria for the grant; however, he also raises one of the major themes of the play — who is a "real artist" and what is "art"?

"I'm not an expert, but if it looks like it came from the dump, then it ain't art," says one committee member.

For some on the committee, art is something that reaffirms their beliefs. Others seek art that soothes the soul. While some committee members think the role of art is to provoke, others believe art should simply match their furniture.

"Some of them have deep emotional reasons for wanting what they want and they're just full out going for it," said Ekstrand. "That's what makes it a comedy. Everyone is just barrelling ahead for whatever it is that they want and, of course, that brings a lot of conflict. What makes it so funny to me is how much everybody wants what they want. They all go to the extreme."

Ekstrand, who is directing the production, once served on a grant panel for Essex County and has experience applying for grants for Dreamcatcher as well. She believes the hardest thing is to break down something that is abstract into corporate terms. Whether seeking corporate funding or a government grant, there's a certain language that revolves around the grant process.

"There's a whole jargon that springs up around grants," she explains. "You have to translate what you do every day into this other language in order to express it with the grants. You have to quantify something that's qualitative and I find that very challenging. Some of the grants that we get or don't get offer feedback, but some of them are mysterious. The hardest part is when it's a total mystery. We'll get a yes, we'll get a no, yet we have no idea why. And certainly with the no's you want to know why you were turned down so you know what to do better next time."

If you've ever wondered what goes on behind those closed doors, check out The Most Deserving at Dreamcatcher. It'll have you debating what is art and maybe even whether or not the question itself has any merit. Art means something different to everybody, and isn't that the point?




The Most Deserving
Dreamcatcher Repertory
February 12 - March 1, 2015
Oakes Center - 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, NJ 07901




For more by this author, click here




More Articles You Might Like

NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
The Simon & Garfunkel Story Comes To The Basie On January 23
The Simon & Garfunkel Story Comes To The Basie On January 23
East Lynne Theater, the Henry Sawyer Inn, and Twin Gable's Inn present  Murder Mystery Weekends
East Lynne Theater, the Henry Sawyer Inn, and Twin Gable's Inn present Murder Mystery Weekends
"Kinky Boots" Comes To Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
"Kinky Boots" Comes To Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
The Theater Project Presents 5th Annual One-Act Play Competition
The Theater Project Presents 5th Annual One-Act Play Competition
Centenary Stage To Hold Non-Union Open Call Auditions For 2019 Summer Musical Season
Centenary Stage To Hold Non-Union Open Call Auditions For 2019 Summer Musical Season






Event calendar
Friday, Mar 22, 2019


MUSIC

East Coast In Lullaby @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

LIONEL RICHIE @ Hard Rock Live Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 8:00pm

Swingadelic Featuring Rob Paparozzi @ Roys Hall (Blairstown), Blairstown - 8:00pm

Carolyn Messina at Table 42 @ Table 42, Dover - 7:00pm

Tom Chapin with Dan Pelletier at the Minstrel @ Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, Morristown - 7:30pm

Finding Neverland @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Music of Cream @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm

Summer of Love IX @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

WARRANT @ Starland Ballroom, Sayreville - 6:00pm

Selwyn Birchwood @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Mamma Mia @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Native Gardens @ Eagle Theatre, Hammonton - 8:00pm

The Source by Jack Canfora @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm

Sassy Mamas presented by Dunbar Repertory Company @ Middletown Arts Center, Middletown - 8:00pm

CURIOUS GEORGE: THE GOLDEN MEATBALL @ The Growing Stage: The Childrens Theatre of New Jersey, Netcong - 7:30pm

Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 7:00pm

Ken Ludwigs The Gods of Comedy @ Matthews Theatre @ McCarter Theatre, Princeton - 8:00pm

Theo @ Marion Huber Theater @ Two River Theater, Red Bank - 8:00pm


COMEDY

Comedy Night at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm


FILM

Hairspray Sing-Along with host Jeremy Grunin! @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 8:00pm


KIDS

Celebrate Holi @ iPlay America, Freehold - 4:00pm

View all events
























New Jersey Stage © 2019 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 | info@newjerseystage.com

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.