Kathy Huang, production for My Uncle the Fugitive. Photo by Alex Bushe.
by Hajnal Molnar-Szakacs
In 2022, Artist Accelerator, a new program at Sundance Institute dedicated to piloting cross-disciplinary artist support programs, had the incredible opportunity to launch the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan. This program provided 20 nonfiction mediamakers at all phases of their careers with a $60,000 unrestricted stipend, creative and professional support, and a dedicated paid humanities advisor for their humanities-focused feature-length documentary films and nonfiction emerging media projects.
The financial stipend, paid monthly in $5,000 increments, presented an alternative approach to providing support to mediamakers. Historically, our grants provided project-specific support for production related expenses. This new approach, wherein we provided unrestricted stipends to be used at the discretion of each fellow, aimed to offset the deep degree of financial harm that already under-resourced nonfiction mediamakers experience. Through this shift, we hoped to empower the fellows to utilize the funds where they most needed them, whether that be for personal or project related costs.
Because this was a new way of supporting nonfiction mediamakers, we wanted to understand the impacts on the fellows and on their projects, so we engaged 8 Bridges Workshop to join us to help capture the successes, challenges, and learnings from this initiative. We spent the fellowship year capturing real-time feedback from the fellows, humanities advisors, Sundance staff, and industry professionals — and we learned a lot including:
- Unrestricted financial support offered not only financial security, but also nurtured the fellows’ holistic well-being and empowered them to be in control of their creative journey.
- Paid humanities advisors offered opportunities for mutual learning, deepened contextual understanding of one’s project, and forged the beginnings of long term relationships.
- Community building and networking with peers and Sundance staff through virtual and in-personal gathering was critical for developing a sense of belonging.
- Mediamakers continue to face ongoing systemic challenges in finding the necessary financial, creative, and tactical support to ensure the successful and timely completion of their projects.
This was a vital and necessary intervention for the field and I hope just the first of future opportunities that foster deeper relationships between disciplines, support media makers with unrestricted stipends and offer opportunities for connection and community building.
I invite you to read the full report here, and if you have any comments please reach out to the Artist Accelerator team at email@example.com.