November 16, 2022
Each November, Minnesotans come together on Give to the Max Day to show support for nonprofit organizations doing life-changing work throughout the state. These nonprofits provide different forms of transformative community outreach, education, legal representation, emergency relief, and — in the case of Minnesota Public Radio — high-quality free programming. Several organizations, including St. Paul-based Springboard for the Arts, provide sustaining resources to the region’s local artist community.
In 2021, donors gave a record $34.4 million to 6,547 organizations on Give to the Max Day. This year’s event is Thursday, Nov. 17.
When considering donations, it’s important to remember that supporting organizations that help musicians can have a ripple effect — both for fellow artists and their surrounding communities. Folk musician Elisha Marin and rapper Talon Bazille are two examples of artists who have grown their own careers, and lifted up others, with support they’ve received from grants and fellowships – made possible in part by the funds and exposure organizations receive on Give to the Max Day.
Within the patchwork of funding both have received, Marin and Bazille are both recipients of the diversity-minded Rural Regenerator Fellowship offered by Springboard for the Arts. Each fellow received an unrestricted stipend of $10,000 to advance art and culture in an Upper Midwest community of 50,000 people or fewer.
In conversation with The Current, Bazille and Marin share their thoughts about the importance of grant funding opportunities through local organizations, and how financial assistance can help sustain work and life as artists, musicians and changemakers.
Pierre, South Dakota
Talon “Bazille'' Ducheneaux (Crow Creek River, Cheyenne River Lakota) began writing rap lyrics in elementary school. In sixth grade, he received his first microphone from Indigenous hip-hop artist Maniac the SiouxperNatural, and his passion to record music grew. By the time Bazille was a teenager, he was recording verses and mixing beats on a computer at his high school. He recorded six mixtapes during his freshman year, and gave away CD copies to his classmates because he just wanted to be heard.
Bazille was primarily raised in central South Dakota in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Throughout his formative years, hip-hop helped distract him from personal trauma he faced at home and on the reservation. “Whatever iteration I was facing from [trauma], the music helped me — even if I wasn't always directly talking about it — but getting out the anger, depression, and the sadness,” says Bazille. “As I got older into my senior high school, and I'm looking at colleges, hip-hop music and the creation of it became a guidance counselor, for me; the support base.”
After leaving his home in South Dakota, Bazille attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. He continued to write and record in his dorm room because he could filter his emotional transparency through music. While living in Philadelphia, he had his own radio show and found familiarity by showcasing Indigenous artists during his radio spot. As he continued to navigate college life, he wrote the song “Heartbeat” to work through personal trauma related to both the past and his time acclimating to a strange, new environment in a large, urban city.
“You don't realize you will feel trapped with the tall buildings blocking the landscape,” Bazille says. “I'm used to seeing my destination two hours away.”
For Bazille, attending college helped him realize he wanted to invest as much time as he could into collaborating with musicians facing barriers preventing them from creating their art. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in psychology, he moved back to South Dakota with the intention to help other musicians record music at no cost.
But to get there, he needed a way to fund all the aspects involved when making music. He designated his car as his recording studio and learned how to mix, master, and be his own sound engineer. Bazille named his mobile music studio Wonahun Was’te’, a name gifted by Ciye’ General ThunderHawk, meaning “good, healing sound of music.”
In order to sustain the studio and continue to provide access to musicians in central South Dakota, he received a grant from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe’s housing authority, and was also supported through a fellowship with the South Dakota-based First People’s Fund in 2019. “That [fellowship] is really what opened me up to knowing other organizations and being aware of them,” Bazille says.
Since his first fellowship, Bazille has received several additional grants, including Springboard for the Arts’ Rural Regenerator Fellowship in 2021. The 29-year-old hip-hop artist has used varying grants to help fund projects like this year’s Taku Sni, 2020’s Traveling the Multiverse with Iktomi, and other projects telling his story through his powerful and personal lyrics, and unique beats.
Though he does not rely entirely on organizational funding, Bazille believes access to grants helps ease the financial burden and recognizes artists as part of the paid workforce. “The fellowships, particularly the Common Field Fellowship I got during COVID, helped and enabled me to appropriately involve people in my project,” Bazille says.
He has not received every grant he applied for, but continues to apply and encourage other artists to keep trying — even if an application for a particular funding opportunity is declined. Keep an open mind, “even if [the fellowship is] not long-term, and it's a year, or a couple of months,” he says. “Just like with repeating words through song, when we're chanting or singing the prayer song that repeats, we're repeating it because we're speaking it and manifesting it into the universe. In the same way, if we want support, to sustain ourselves through art, and use the fellowships to do that, [we need to] keep manifesting it through action, by your own thought and applying [for grants].”
Bazille will perform music from Taku Sni A&B and provide a sneak preview to the forthcoming Taku Sni C&D at the We Are Still Here artist cohort reception event on Saturday, Nov. 19, at The Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis. Ray Janis, the artist who created the Taku Sni album cover, is part of the We Are Still Here cohort.
Albert Lea, Minnesota
Latino folk musician Elisha Marin’s path to openly identify as an artist and musician in Albert Lea was tough. Because of strict family expectations, Marin was unable to participate much in the arts as a child. Marin would secretly write lyrics while teaching himself to play the guitar. When he was finally able to perform, the experience was cathartic.
“Music allows for this really incredible flow of breath and energy from your body -- especially singing,” he says. “So, for me, the stage was very safe. I processed a lot of emotion that way. When I have songs that are autobiographical or hold a lot of significance to me, the more I can sing, the more I can process through it, and [song] meaning changes over time, which I really appreciate.”
In college, Marin worked at a mental health treatment facility. But he had different career interests, and after collaborating with other local rural artists, he helped launch the non-profit Freeborn County Arts Initiative in Albert Lea.
Marin says he “wears many hats.” The 30-year-old is now a full-time working artist. Thanks to grant and fellowship access, he now writes, records, and performs folk music, is a mentor and teacher, and works as a graphic designer. He is also part of a group leading a restoration project at Albert Lea’s Historic Bessesen Opera Palace that will provide more space for arts education and events in the community.
Marin’s past few years has included writing many proposals for artist-driven grants and funding, working through the isolating times of COVID, and navigating recovery from a shattered collarbone caused by a “rabid raccoon” right before a video shoot for his 2021 album Shining Out.
“Grants allowed our arts nonprofit to do programming that we never would have been able to do previously,” Marin says. “That's what allowed us to purchase a couple cameras, expand our offerings for video open-mic nights, and [start] our podcast series now supported by the Minnesota State Arts Board, which is incredible for us to be able to do. For us, it meant that an organization that was [once] solely volunteer, became an organization that hired employees and created jobs.”
Grant money and fellowship opportunities have allowed Marin and his team to provide no-cost art exhibition access to community members in Albert Lea, lessening barriers and promoting local art. Marin also continues to write and perform folk music. On his debut album, Marin pulls from his personal life experience to sing about positivity and hopefulness.
Marin believes grant funding opportunities for artists can strengthen rural areas by providing local residents with greater art access without the burden of travel to urban areas. Creating artist-led spaces within rural communities also gives urban-based art enthusiasts different spaces to visit, which can promote economic growth.
“Artists are geared at making communities worthwhile [places] to live,” Marin says. “Artists have the tools to make spaces and programming, and drive conversation and narrative in ways that just will not organically happen without those creative thinkers. It’s important for artists to be able to have the funds to do that independently in their own communities.”
Recently, Marin was awarded the 2023 Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support for Individuals grant and will use the funding to film and broadcast music with his band. This week, Marin and his band recorded five holiday songs for a limited physical release. The performance will be part of Freeborn Co. Arts Initiative’s Sounds of the Solstice virtual variety show streaming on YouTube and Facebook at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18. More info at OpenMicNight.org.
Having access to unrestricted grants truly validates artists like Marin and Bazille who are doing important work, says Michele Anderson, rural director at Springboard for the Arts. “The artists that we support through this fellowship use [funding] for specific art projects, or to maybe go on a tour, but other folks have invested in themselves to fix the car, so that they can travel and do their work or pay their rent,” she says. “Springboard [...] trusts that the artist knows best how to use that money to continue to do their work, as opposed to other grants, where you have a very specific project, and it must be done at a specific time. That's also important, but it can be really limiting when, when we all know as artists our work is about responding to the world around us.”
For independent musicians or artists, individual grants and fellowships can be difficult to access. To learn more, watch this episode of LineCheck featuring Andy Sturdevant from Springboard for the Arts, Joanna Schnedler from the Minnesota Music Coalition, and grant-winning musician PaviElle detailing ways to find and win grants.
Give to the Max Day is Thursday, Nov. 17. By donating to The Current, you can help sustain and promote local artists and independent musicians, while promoting community through a trusted news source.
This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days of Fall series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.