As I’ve said before, grants shouldn’t be the only way you raise money — think of them as “part of this complete breakfast” of fundraising tools. But, a grant can provide a big chunk of cash that would allow you to undertake projects that would have otherwise been impossible, so they are worth the effort, as long as you feel that you’ve found a grant that fits you.
The Golden Rule of arts grantseeking is this: Find Fit.
“Finding Fit” is a snappy, alliterative phrase that I learned from my cousin Kristina Arnold, who teaches studio art at Western Kentucky University. It means that you must look for grant programs that are looking for the type of work that you do. Don’t waste your time applying to grants that aren’t really meant for you. But, with all the programs that are out there this can sometimes be easier said than done. So, here are a few questions to ask about any grant program you think might work for you.
Is the grantmaker looking for an artist like you?
Many programs are looking only for artists that fit into particular categories that can include age, gender, race or ethnicity, budget size, geography, career stage, or a particular type of work, like “avant-garde” or “inspirational.” Most of the time the answer is obvious, either you’re under 30 years of age or you’re not. But sometimes the answer is less clear, and if this happens you should get in touch with the grantmaker to make sure you are eligible. Most grantmakers provide a way to get in touch — don’t be afraid to take advantage.
Is the grantmaker looking for work like yours?
If the grantmaker asks for “inspirational” or “avant-garde” work, then they probably mean it, even though those terms can, frustratingly, be interpreted in many different ways. Remember that the grantmaker has an agenda just as much as you. If the grantmaker is looking for photography with an aggressive character, they won’t be interested in your nature paintings no matter how good they are, or how well you present them. In my experience, the quality of the work and the quality of the “fit” are far more important than the quality of the presentation of the grant. Artists and organizations get grants because the grantmakers or the committee loved their work and it fit what they were looking for, not because they wrote impeccable grant applications.
Where should you look?
Now that you know a bit more about what to look for, I’ll offer some advice on where to look. The best resource that I can recommend to artists of every discipline is the New York Foundation for the Arts’ NYFA Source. It lists information on all kinds of opportunities available to individual artists ranging from grants to residencies and more. It won’t write the applications for you, but it is among the best sources of its kind on the internet. It is curated, up to date, and, best of all, its free. There are better sources focused on your specific field, but for the purposes of this post, its a great starting point.
A list of additional pointers for finding grants for you
Make a grants calendar – When you find a grant that works for you, put the due date on your calendar, and a reminder one month before that. If you use a digital calendar, set it to repeat yearly. This is an incredibly useful tool in your ongoing fundraising efforts, its worth your time to keep it up to date if deadlines change.
Join the email lists of organizations that support artists in your field – Or follow them on Twitter or Facebook, they will keep you up to date!
Ask friends in your field – They might have heard of the right grant for you.
Grantmakers can be an important part of your community
Attending events hosted by arts grantmakers, like your local arts council, is highly recommended. In my experience, the administrators of these programs want to meet you, and they want to help you. Go and meet them. Be professional, but be yourself, and ask them about what they do. It will help you understand the grantmaking process in a more profound way, and it will help the grantmaker do his or her job better by expanding the network of artists that they are in touch with. As I’ve said before, building a supportive, robust, and diverse community of people who are invested in mutual success is the best and most personally sustainable way to practice your art. Don’t forget about arts grantmakers as you build your community.
After a very successful Grant Writing Basics workshop in Brooklyn earlier this month, I wanted to write a few blog posts that would answer some of the big questions that we covered in the workshop. As always, I’m available to help you put your best foot forward in your next application. The best way to do this is the write the grant yourself, then book a session with me to get my feedback on how well you’ve presented yourself as a fit for the particular grant program. Or, you could book a session with me before you write your proposal, and I can help you refine the vision behind your project so that you can write a great proposal and increase your chances of winning. Get in touch, my rates are reasonable and I love to work with artists who are passionate about building their careers.