I was a fundraiser in my previous life. That meant lots of grant writing and crafting what we called “cases for support,” a clear, brief and comprehensive explanation of why your cause is worthy of someone else’s money. Some artists, like myself, choose to pursue grants as a main revenue stream. I highly recommend it.
The grant application for artists is similar to those meant for fundraisers, except instead of writing a case for support for a charitable cause, you’re writing it for yourself. This process can take tons of time and editing. But I find that breaking it down into these smaller steps, spread over a long time, makes the process manageable and does double duty by helping me refine new project ideas.
1) Can you talk about your art as a project?
Granting organizations are heavy on the organization side. And they appreciate when artists are too. Art as a project is concrete, organized, has a start and finish, and maybe even a work-back schedule. Applying to a granting agency with a project in mind, rather than applying to make art for art’s sake, is particularly important in cases where juries are not arts professionals. It sets you off right by speaking their language and convincing them that you are capable of successfully completing your project. By the time you are ready to write your application, your project will already have a clear goal, timeline and accurate budget.
“Project” a gross word? For some exposure therapy Google “project management basics”
2) The Artistic Proposal
Along with your artistic output, the Artistic Proposal is one of the most important parts of the application. In some cases, I approach this with my elevator pitch. If you’re as old as I am, you’ll know that the idea behind an elevator pitch is that you only have around 60-90 seconds (about the amount of time someone might be trapped in a 1920s elevator with you) to sell someone on an idea. The same goes for grants. Granting organizations go through hundreds if not thousands of applications each cycle. Your job is to make is easy for them to quickly understand why you and your project deserve funding. By the first paragraph, they should be thinking “oh this seems interesting. I clearly understand what this artist is trying to do. I want to learn more!”
A simplistic way of looking at this might be:
This is how I might translate this into my grants:
Historically, Asian faces have been represented in Canadian art in ways that are magical, exotic or otherwise orientalized. Few examples exist that reflect the complex lives of racialized Asian-Canadians today, a gap that reflects an existing barrier to community integration. My project aims to tell stories of Vietnamese-Canadians experiences in ways that reflect these contemporary and complex intersections of cultural identities. I plan to use traditional oil painting as a tool for engagement and dialogue around how racialized Canadians perform their cultural identity today.
See? Everything you need to know in one paragraph!
If you’re applying for an education grant, the framework still works because you can show that by completing the educational program, you can then have the ability to go on and do something important. Focus on that bigger end goal and how your education is a key stepping stone to getting there. Be clear in what you’re trying to achieve and why it’s important.
3) Take your time
Maybe there are people out there who are naturally gifted writers and can write and submit an entire application in a single day, but that’s definitely not me. I’m a slow thinker. Before I start painting a series, I probably spend about a year researching and writing it out. Here’s what that looks like:
At no point in particular: somehow come up with an idea. Jot it down on paper
Two months later: start thinking about it more. Can this be a series or project big enough to merit applying for a grant? What would that look like?
One day when I’m bored: begin researching in earnest. What has already been done? What can I do differently that is interesting/adds to what’s out there and avoid being derivative?
Now that I’m motivated: research which grants I could apply for (I keep a spreadsheet that has names, contact info, deadlines…)
For the next two or three months: write, edit, repeat. Each editing session reveals more potential edits. I take a buttload of mental breaks. I leave at least a few days between edits so I can see the text with fresh eyes. I might edit the same paragraph 40 times. The longer the wait between edits the better. Make sure it’s simple and straightforward. Don’t worry about trying to sound clever or innovative. You can do that with plain language and a clear idea. You also won’t come off as a douchebag.
Almost ready: now that you've given it your all, let others review your draft. Don’t be afraid! Fresh eyes and different perspectives will see things you can’t. They’ll reveal holes in your application where more information or clarification is needed. Bonus if you have Asian parents, as they will quickly identify all of the weaknesses and faults in your grant application and beyond.
And finally, if you don’t get it this time around you can try again next year, or maybe try again with a different project. Don’t be discouraged. Rejection is a normal part of the process that we all go through. And sometimes a great proposal still won’t get funded one year but will get accepted the next year.