Have you been chasing the elusive artist grant without getting the results (and funding) that you desire?
Applying for grants and funding opportunities year after year with nothing to show can leave you feeling stuck, disheartened, confused and, at worst, questioning your path as an artist.
There is no quick fix for securing an artist grant. While most grants are highly competitive and specific, there are some tricks that you can be doing to make sure you are putting your best foot forward.
In this two-part series, we are taking a deep-dive into the process of applying for artist grants—first getting answers from artists who’ve been there and succeeded, and then from the grant-giving institutions themselves—so you can increase your odds of getting that coveted artist grant.
Ready for an inside look? Here’s what four artists had to say about landing their first (and second, and third) big artist grant.
Apply, apply, apply… then apply again.
“Reeling in a grant—like so many other things you apply for—is numbers game,” stressed Sawyer Rose, a 2018 ArtistGrant.org recipient and 2017 The Awesome Foundation grant recipient. “There are always more qualified applicants than there are spots.”
What does this mean for artists in the grant application game? Put simply: apply to as many opportunities as you can ... and keep applying.
Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant recipient, Carlo Bernardini admitted, “I had already applied for this award a few times previously.” And when we asked Lorna Ritz, a 2018 Gottlieb Foundation grant recipient, how many grants she had applied to, she answered, “Many, including this one, maybe 30 times.”
Artist after artist we’ve talked to admitted that they’ve applied to dozens and dozens of grants each year—sometimes applying to the same award for years before finally snagging the prize.
Even if you have a great application, you can still get edged out based on the applicant pool in that current cycle. But, remember that it doesn’t mean you aren't deserving.
“I've also been on the jurying side for programs and exhibitions, and I've had to turn down many terrific applicants simply because I couldn't take everyone,” admits Rose. Her advice? “Send out as many applications as you reasonably can.”
That being said, make your application count.
While it’s a smart move to apply frequently and then apply again, you have to make sure you are spending your time wisely. That means applying only to the grants for which you fit the qualifications.
Lorna Ritz elaborated on her experience applying for the Gottlieb grant. “I fit the qualifications to a T, which is why I read and reread the essence of what the Gottlieb grant wants to fund: under income, needing to paint better paintings, offering affirmation, and being older,” expressed Ritz.
“I keep applying, but only for grants that are appropriate for my work. I am highly selective which ones those are; otherwise, it's such a waste of time all around.”
And while it seems like an already lengthy process, there’s no way around it: you have to do your research and find out exactly what each grant committee is looking for from the artist.
One way to get the inside scoop is to look at past winners, suggests Rose: “Who else has won the particular grant you're thinking about applying for? Most granting organizations post past winners on their websites. Is your work somewhat similar to that of other awardees? Great! Because even if they're giving grants to painters, looking at past winners' works might let you know that they mostly grant to abstract painters.”
That’s where you will get a lot of your clues!
Not only that, but pay great attention to the level of work that committees are looking for—whether that’s the artwork as a whole, the quality of images, or even a winning artist’s website. That way, you understand the level your application needs to be at, too, and what you should improve on before hitting “send".
How else can you figure out if you are a good match?
“Grant applications vary widely, of course, and when I'm looking for grants to apply for I think about a few different things: how much, how often, and who else,” explains Rose. She breaks it down for us here:
How much: Not only how much grant money are they offering, but also how much is the submission fee? You can't forget to factor that in. Also, how much time will you spend on the application? Some grant applications are quick and easy, and others have a lot of specific requirements. Only you can decide if the cost-benefit favors investing your effort.
How often: As in, how often does the granting foundation make an award? Many organizations only give grants once a year, but some make awards every quarter or even every month. I love to apply for monthly/quarterly grants that fit my work because I can try a couple of times if I have to (assuming the submission fee is reasonable). Which is not to say that you shouldn't bother with submitting for a yearly award-- go for that too!
Who else: Who else has won the particular grant you're thinking about applying for? Again, see if your work is somewhat similar to that of other awardees. It’s a quick way to gauge how good of a match you might be.
Don’t forget to tailor your application to each and every opportunity.
This is a big one! Because every opportunity is different. And, committees see a lot of applications. They’ll be able to tell when you’ve put in the work and addressed exactly what they’ve asked for, versus sending out the same old materials to every opportunity.
Our tip? Do your due diligence on each required section.
Some grants require a written essay, some focus solely on high-quality images, and others require a serious estimate of how much funding is required for the project you’re proposing.
For example, when it came to Bernardini’s grant application, he says, “My works are based on a type of large-scale urban installation and involve higher or lower construction costs based on the size they must reach. The estimate must correspond to what is declared.”
These committees want to be sure they can place their trust (and more importantly, their money!) in you as an artist. If there’s a disconnect between what is proposed and what is feasible, your application may not be taken seriously. Give yourself enough time to call it a job well done by keeping track of the deadline well in advance. Artist statements and projects estimates should not be left to the last minute.
“Do not hurry the grant,” stresses Ritz. “Take time to put the materials together, (only for what is being asked), and review it many times over before submitting.”
And, if you aren’t a good match? Don’t apply!
It will only take up valuable time, money, and energy that could be better spent making your application stand out for the grants you should really be going after.
Your next task: show the jurors that you are deserving!
You’ve found the perfect grant opportunity, fantastic! But your work is far from over. You have to make your application stand out.
“The best advice I've gotten on how to craft a stand-out application is to write with a little spunk!” says Rose, and for good reason. “Jurying can be a tedious process, especially if you have hundreds of artists' works to look through. Don't let your reviewer glaze over and pass your application by.”
“Even if your work statements are super-duper-serious, you can show a bit of your sparkling personality in the cover letter, for example. Jurors are humans just like everyone else. If you can create a connection with them, you're more likely to move to the next round.”
Another great tip? Remember that the grant has a greater purpose—it’s not all about you! Show them that you understand the impact your work will have on the world through your writing.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of the grant,” admits Ritz. “I read for what they were looking to fund over and over again until ideas sank in so that I would write the answer.”
They wanted committed painters, passionate about painting, reflects Ritz: “How can I put that into words in the narrative statement, that most expressed how it was always painting that drove me deeper into living a life of meaning through the progress of the paintings over decades? I took a lot of time breathing into the narrative statement.”
Not only that but her application images echoed what the institution was looking for in a recipient; it was evident that her painting has evolved over the years. “They have you send the past 20 years of images. They want to see consistency and growth. My narrative statement was as clear and as honest as I could possibly have written about my goals in the paintings.”
Always be ready to apply.
Are you ready to apply when the perfect opportunity springs up? Because we’d all hate for disorganization to be the only reason you aren’t accepted for an award you really deserve.
“It was quite a long process applying for the Gottlieb grant because of the need for images of work done over a long period of time,” explains Arlene Santana, a 2018 Gottlieb Foundation grant recipient who needed to display a consistent body of work in her application. “Up until few years ago, I did not photograph all of my work, and certainly not on a daily basis, as I do now.”
While Santana was able to make due with what she had, she wouldn’t recommend following in her footsteps: “I was able to document enough early work from early photos made into jpegs, but it took a lot of research and extra time. The application process showed me the importance of archiving and documenting work year by year, and I’m doing a better job of that now.”
And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, either! An art inventory management system like Artwork Archive is an extremely easy tool to use to stay organized, and it’s one artists (like user Sawyer Rose!) recommend.
Not only can you keep track of your entire portfolio and important piece details, but also application dates, documents you’ll need to apply, and your exhibition history. You can even schedule reminders when it’s time to apply!
“I had applied for a different grant several years before. I think I wasn’t ready at the time because, although I had been painting consistently, I had not been showing recently. Having a regular track record of exhibits is important,” advises Santana.
When you have a way to stay organized, you’ll skip the last minute scramble and save yourself from a bunch of headaches—now and later down the road.
These artists’ biggest piece of advice?
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been turned down, you cannot let the fear and pain of rejection keep you from applying.
“My advice is always to try to grasp that these can be important opportunities for the realization of your project,” says Bernardini. Do you have enough passion for your work, do you believe in it enough to put yourself on the line? It’s not always going to be easy, but the things in life that are worth it usually aren’t.
“There's never going to be a point in your career where you cease to face rejection. There isn't a magic threshold you're going to pass after which grant money falls in your lap every time you ask,” acknowledges Rose.
“I think it helps to keep in mind that rejection is a part of the game and that no one catches the big fish every time! But your chances will be better if you cast your line more often.”
Ritz echoes these same wise words: “Don't not apply because you can't take rejection; do not allow that to be the reason, for then, you will have already lost.”
It can be done, and it is worth it.
While it can be hard to imagine finally landing that financial boost, don’t give up on yourself, your talents or your path in the name of fear or rejection.
Ritz told us about the moment when she finally got that confirmation letter. "Each time the letter came it was a rejection—annually. (I did not miss a year). This time when the letter came, I held the envelope up to the sky and saw that there was no check inside, so I did not open it right away. I thought to myself, ‘I will try again next year with even better paintings,” she confessed. “You can imagine my surprise when I opened the letter and there was the 'Congratulations.' It was as though I could not read English!”
Her biggest tip for artists? Work on self-belief. “Have faith that you are deserving if you work hard and consistently make progress,” she says.
That faith in herself ended up getting her through the hard times and guiding her to success: “It bought me time and gave me peace of mind, which is from where imagination can freely flow.”