Last year, I was appointed to serve on the New York State Council on the Arts' panel for electronic media and film.

I periodically review grant requests from organizations across the state that desire public funding for projects such as film festivals, multimedia installations and general operating expenses related to the field.

I travel to New York City for a few days to discuss with other panelists the merits of each request and make funding recommendations. There are scores of applications to read with supporting documentation and websites. Each of us is assigned a number of specific proposals that we more-thoroughly research and represent to the other panelists.

The Readers' Digest version of the overall process is this: Working within budget restraints, the electronic media and film director and staff marry their own research and knowledge about applicants with panel recommendations. They then devise a slate of funded programs.

The final slate is presented to NYSCA's board members, called The Council, for final approval. Notification letters go out. Contracts are signed. Forms are completed. Checks are cut. Reports are submitted.

Art happens!

Diversity is paramount at NYSCA. From operations and staffing, to audience participation and, of course, programming, it places a strong emphasis on people with varied cultural and demographic backgrounds informing, creating and having access to the arts.

The panel process is no exception.

Professional film screeners, educators and program directors from across the state convene to serve on the electronic media and film panel.

Overall, NYSCA grants about $31 million each year through 16 departments representing every art discipline.

It is all a matter of public record, which you can learn about by visiting NYSCA.org. In fact, NYSCA provides streaming video online of The Council's review process to ensure a fair and open process.

As an art form, electronic media is where innovation lies.

The push is to support not only what is outstanding, but what is unique in concept and execution. By its very definition, it is edgy, youth-oriented and ever-changing.

There are times when panelists discuss whether a proposal even belongs in the electronic media and film category, because it entails so many different artistic facets such as visual art, music or dance. There is a left-brained, technological element to all of this that can be a challenge, too. The department has "electronic" in its title, after all.

So, what in the world is someone like me, who can't record television shows on TiVo and has to ask her 15-year-old how to get music inside her iPod, doing on this panel?

I suspect diversity dictates that someone from the middle of nowhere, of a certain age, with a community development orientation, needs to be at the table. I offer nothing but a practical assessment. I tell myself it is important, but when I look around the room at SoHo urban chic, multiple graduate degrees and serious young faces, I feel slightly country-mouse-like.

Last year, NYSCA received a hefty bump in funding from state legislators and we were able to reward programs and new opportunities across the state with increased funding. This year, NYSCA's budget was cut by 2 percent, so the panelists had to finely comb through each proposal and decipher which applicants were most deserving.

The diversity of the panel supported the requirements of a more-challenging process.

Panelists with a broad education in film history could better assess curatorial choices. Those front and center in the New York scene brought industry knowledge. Others focused on audience development and accessibility. I kept reviewing their budgets and strategic plans.

Any panel review is, ideally, an objective assessment of subjective, artistic material. In the end, our differing experiences and priorities helped inform a dialogue that produced solid results. I also learned a great deal from my colleagues in the process.

Panel reviews are essential to most artistic endeavors and are similarly managed at arts organizations, everywhere.

Closer to home, the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts organizes panels to review Decentralization and Creative Partnership grants, Strategic Opportunity Stipends and submissions of artwork for our exhibition season and regional shows. Because we have been designated as an arts council by NYSCA and allocate funds on their behalf, they provide us with strict guidelines.

Our panels represent geographic, demographic and professional diversity within the region. We invite at least one board member to participate, so that our governing body understands how the process works and how important the funding streams are to local arts organizations and artists. We also try to include a political representative or staff member, giving our elected officials a more thorough knowledge of how public funding impacts the local arts community.

In the case of UCCCA and other localized agencies, panel opinions weigh more heavily on final grant allocations than staff assessment. Generally, applications must speak for themselves during the panel review.

Our role is to provide the best possible technical assistance up front, helping applicants write great proposals and plan successful programming. It is a competitive process, so the more an organization avails itself of our expertise, the better the final result will be.

Panelists may ask questions about the history of funding and programming, and staff can provide factual, documented answers. We avoid editorializing and creating bias with our own opinions. UCCCA keeps minutes of all panel discussions and reports back to our funding agencies.

Much like the state level, our funding decisions are presented to UCCCA's board of directors for final approval.

Then, in an admittedly much smaller (but, no less exciting) way, the same process begins. Notification letters go out. Contracts are signed. Forms are completed. Checks are cut. Reports are submitted.

Art happens!

This year, UCCCA allocated about $120,000 to local artists and organizations. If you are interested in finding out more about our funding opportunities, log onto www.uccca.com to download applications and guidelines. If you are interested in serving on a panel, please call us at 432-2070.

Kathleen Frascatore is executive director of the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts.

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