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Intro to Grant Writing

Grants are our patrons of the arts

If you are an artist, the question is often ‘how can you afford to keep making art?’ In a word: grants.  

Before seeking a grant, however, asses the trajectory of your career, interests, and goals. This will help you identify which types of organizations and grants to pursue. Since grants can take any number of forms – cash, free studio space, residencies, fellowships, further education, etc– it's important to find a good match between available resources and your particular needs. If you need time away from your day job to make work, perhaps a residency is better than a training course. If you want to stage a performance, funding would be better than a fellowship.  

Researching grant-making foundations is the next step. Applying for a grant can be a rigorous process (with rigorous competition), so make sure you're going after the right opportunity before investing time in an application. A number of foundations assist in this research process: the Foundation Center, Creative Capital, Alliance of Artists Communities, and New York Foundation for the Arts. The Foundation Center, for example, lists over 100,000 foundations in its database, accessible through thirty-one search fields.

Grants have criteria for eligibility and it's surprising how diverse these criteria can be. Geographic location, financial need, ethnic background, gender, artistic medium, career level, social and political aims are a few, and they can exist in any combination.

Once you've targeted the right grant, make sure you understand all of the requirements of the application process. Be sure to follow these directions to a tee. When hundreds or thousands of applicants are being vetted, those not following protocol are the first to go. Likewise, don't include extraneous information or materials. Check your grammar, spelling, and avoid dense, arty jargon –be efficient and clean.  

To get an edge on the competition, try talking with someone at the foundation about their system of evaluation and priorities. For example, inquire about what format they will us to view the images. Also approach previous winners and ask about their experience. What set them apart? Incorporating this information into a professionally packaged application strengthens your position significantly.

Grants for funding will often require detailed budgets in the application. If you can't account for your time, materials, and related expenses in a convincing way, the reviewer will know you're fudging. This means you didn't research well enough. It may be difficult, but consider this fussy accounting as important to the grantor as your art is to you.

Two things to expect after applying to grants: Expect to wait at least as long as the application materials say to receive notification. Also, expect a few polite rejections. Those who win grants have usually become adept at applying to them and brush off declines easily.

While this is enough to get you started applying for grants, it'd be silly not to mention another player in the game: Kickstarter. Using crowd-sourcing as a fundraising platform, Kickstarter has helped launch 20,000 projects backed by 1.8 million people. As they state it, every project is independently crafted, put to all-or-nothing funding, and supported by friends, fans, and the public in turn for rewards. If you are more comfortable putting together a fun promotional video than filling out forms, this could be the right place to boost your career. 

All photos courtesy of Google Images