Creative Excellence

Posted by Mr. John R. Killacky, Jan 07, 2014 5 comments

John R. Kilacky John R. Kilacky


Recently, I participated on two funding panels: the National Endowment for the Arts for theater projects and a California foundation for commissioning new music. Artistic excellence was a key criterion on both panels. Defining quality used to be easy, although taste was always a mitigating factor. Now in our multicultural society, it is more complex. No longer can we calibrate merit solely through a Euro-centric framework. Experts on my theater panel reviewed applications from ensembles with budgets in the tens of thousands to those with budgets in the tens of millions. Projects included amateurs learning to tell their own stories , alongside avant-garde works, free Shakespeare, revivals of classics, puppet tales, new scripts, site specific and culturally specific productions. Communities served included Latino, African American, LGBT, elderly, children, the incarcerated, and homeless in urban, inner city, and rural locations. Music panelists judged choral, electronic, jazz, and orchestral proposals against Balinese Gamelan and East Indian vocal projects. String quartets competed with a Tibetan music master, Ghanaian drummer, Turkish singer, and Beijing Opera performer. Projects ranged from minimalist to the operatic, traditional proscenium-based concerts to multidisciplinary extravaganzas. There were limited dollars to grant, so competition was steep in both panels. Excellence mattered, and there was no lack of artistic excellence, but quality had to be judged through multiple worldviews and experiences. Panelists came from varied aesthetics, ethnicities, generations and geographies to allow for a fair review of the proposals. Equity and parity, as well as cultural competency factored into our decision-making. Liking an artist or project was not sufficient. Listening and learning from one another’s comments were vital as we navigated beyond personal taste. Context matters, traditions are essential, and community is crucial.

Colleagues approached proposals from multiple perspectives as we discussed the value of each application. For some projects, I was an advocate, others I deferred to those with more relevant information. Ultimately, group wisdom prevailed and distinctive proposals were recommended for support. Back home in Vermont, definitions of culture are also transforming. As Burlington is now a refugee resettlement center, we are experiencing an influx of new immigrants. At Burlington High School, 29% of the students speak a language other than English at home. As our communities grow and change, so too must artistic offerings evolve to be more reflective of many traditions. Diverse forms of dance, theater, music, film, and visual arts must be nurtured and cultural pluralism celebrated through multiple histories, thus allowing all residents to lead more expressive lives.

5 responses for Creative Excellence


January 09, 2014 at 10:15 am

That is a very interesting article you have shared here John R. Killacky.

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John Killacky says
January 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Thanks George.

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Ms. Devra L. Thomas says
January 26, 2014 at 4:36 pm

This is wonderful, to know what is going on in our neighborhoods and small cities is being mirrored on a larger scale. I find this cultural shift exciting and invigorating! Just think what art will look like for our grandchildren!

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John Killacky says
January 27, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Thanks so much and I agree, totally exciting shift.

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April 18, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I seriously take pleasure in you publishing such post. This is the period suitable for us to arise, come as partners and consider recommendations on how to keep moving our country forward and thus rise above its recent problems. Thanks a lot for this amazing editorial.

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