It’s a question we hear almost every day: “How can I actually get an artist grant?”
In a career path that can sometimes be financially unpredictable, grants can supplement your income as an artist—helping to pay for materials, studio space, or even rent. With a little legwork searching for the right grant opportunity and due diligence on your application, you can secure a grant and focus on your work without the day-to-day pressure of paying bills.
But, what happens when you apply time after time and you don’t get the results (and funding) you desire? It's easy to feel frustrated and confused, especially when you feel like you were a good fit for the opportunity.
Which brings us back to this frequently asked question among artists, “Is there any way to get an inside scoop? How can I get a leg up on my application?"
While there is no quick fix for securing an artist grant, there are a few ways 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, we got answers from artists who’ve been there and succeeded, and now from the grant-giving institutions themselves!
If you want to increase your odds of getting that coveted artist grant, take a look at what three grant-giving organizations revealed about the process:
The first thing to remember? Every grant opportunity is different.
That means every application is different, and so is every jurying process.
Some focus solely on the images artists provide of their work, others take materials like artist statements and CV’s into account, and some award artists based on merit or financial need alone.
“We select almost entirely on artwork images,” explains the Director of ArtistGrant.org, Dennis James. “It doesn’t matter to us if an artist has a great deal of training or is self-taught. People become artists in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons—all valid.”
The New York Foundation for the Arts Grants Program, however, operates somewhat similarly. “Only the applicant's work samples and corresponding descriptions are reviewed in the first round, so the work samples need to be strong in order to carry an application into the next round,” clarifies Hannah Berry, Program Associate, and Gabriella Calandro, Senior Program Officer at NYFA Grants.
“The panel has access to read the applicant's support statements, including the work statement (i.e. artist statement), in subsequent rounds. The support statements help to shed more light on the work samples submitted, and allow the panel to get a better understanding of an artist's practice.”
And even then, sometimes a juror makes a call on which materials to consider.
In the case of the Artadia awards, Executive Director Carolyn Ramo explains, “Images matter a tremendous amount. CV matters very little—as we give merit-based awards, there is almost no consideration of exhibition history. A statement is considered mostly during the last conversation, if at all, which is why we ask that it be brief. Each juror is different though and some do read the statements carefully.”
Just like a college application, job interview, and so on, the best thing you can do is find out as much as you can about the process and tailor your application to fit that specific opportunity. Art marketing doesn’t stop at selling your work, you have to sell yourself, too.
“Do the research! Make sure the funding you're applying for is the right fit, and look for grants and awards that support practices or projects similar to your own,” asserts the NYFA staff.
So, how do you know what each institution is looking for?
Grant organizations aren’t as mysterious as you might think.
Why? Because jurors don’t want to spend time looking through applications that don’t fit the requirements for the award!
And, all of the institutions we spoke with agreed on this front.
“I do believe that most grantmakers are fairly transparent,” expresses Artadia’s Ramo. “Artists are welcome to ask us questions, though we found 100% of questions are answered in our extensive description of the application.”
James echoes this sentiment: “A quality institution notes if they receive many questions on a particular topic and will provide the answer through website and application criteria updates.”
NYFA provides information on their selection principles and panel processes on their website’s FAQ page and Fellowships main page, as well as through email correspondence. They even have created online content on NYFA's blog that highlights application tips to help artists in preparing their submissions.
“We believe in the importance of being accessible to our applicants and providing the information they need to create strong applications,” stress Berry and Calandro.
While it’s easy for artists to use elusiveness as an excuse to ease the pain of rejection, artists have take responsibility and put the work into what you are applying for. Because in the end, it will only increase your odds of securing the award.
And while you should feel comfortable reaching out with questions like these three organizations suggest, make sure the answers you are looking for aren’t already right in front of you—whether on a FAQ page or in the clues of past winners.
“To provide more information about our selection process, Artist Grant is asking shortlisted artists permission to post images of their work and website links on our social media pages,” says James. We already post images and links of the winning artists. We hope the short list provides insight into the wide range of creative efforts we consider.”
This is one of the tips that grant recipients proposed as well!
Only submit what is required—and nothing more!
With only one shot to do so, artists are eager to impress in their applications. And while sending extra materials might lead you to believe you are getting an edge up on the competition, grant givers actually disagree.
“Artists should carefully read the application instructions and submit all requested materials in the required format. Not following guidelines (such as how to name your digital files) gives an institution a legitimate reason for disqualifying a submission,” admits James.
“Do not send unasked for materials. The committee is trying to be equitable in viewing all the same type of materials from each candidate and will not consider the extra materials.”
Instead, spend your time and efforts double checking and perfecting what is asked for!
“You might be surprised how many artists send us links to parked web pages (i.e. URLs not attached to active websites), or work from disciplines we don’t review. We only view submissions with all requested materials,” he stresses.
Here’s a great tip from NYFA:
“Do reach out to your friends, fellow artists, and arts professionals to review your application and discuss your work. Having a second set of eyes always helps, and can often clue you into what may be missing in your application.”
Images are your foot in the door.
Another point made extremely clear by these grant givers? No matter the opportunity and the materials they consider, you MUST have outstanding images of your artwork.
It can’t be avoided—the art is what this whole grant thing is about, right?
“We recognize that artists are likely best able to communicate their work visually, so we do consider images as the most important part of the application,” says Ramo. And though viewing times vary, you may not have all that much time to impress the jurors.
“On average,” the Artadia director explains, “each application is reviewed for about 30-45 seconds depending on the total applications submitted.”
In the case of NYFA, image work samples are reviewed one-by-one, in quick succession. However, the moderator will stop on the 1st and 6th images to read aloud image descriptions (i.e. title, date, medium, etc.), averaging 15-20 seconds of viewing time for the 1st and 6th images.
That being said, you don’t always know which images will be reviewed and for how long. And, the only way to combat that is by absolutely making sure all of the images you submit are up to par. As with any portfolio, you are only as good as the worst image. Only submit what you consider your best works—work that will help you send the message that you are outstanding in your field.
ArtistGrant.org’s suggestion? Check off these four criteria: in focus, not keystoned, no distracting background details, and well lit.
“An artist need not have access to expensive equipment. A cell phone camera and natural sunlight can work well,” recommends James. “And consider installation and/or detail shots if a singular frontal view doesn’t capture the viewing experience.”
Now, let’s talk about the jurying process!
These are the questions we hear most frequently from artists curious about the selection process:
Are there any pre-stated criteria or a rubric which the jury works from? Or does the institution rely exclusively on the juror’s personality and taste?
If there are pre-stated criteria, how well are the jurors coached by the institution in regards to their criteria and core values before they start judging the applicants?
And the answer is… Jurors know what they are doing!
Not only are they selected based on their experience both as jurors and artists in their field, but the best organizations will strive for diversity and fairness in their panel of judges.
Ramo touches on all of these points in the Artadia award process:
“We have three jurors and a rotating group of jurors in order to account for each person’s preferences and taste. And there has to be some sort of consensus for an artist to move forward,” she says. “We speak with each juror before they start the process and explain what merit means to us. Most jurors are well-versed in a jurying process, however, we do circulate our criteria.”
The staff at NYFA agrees: “We maintain that the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship be peer-reviewed, and that panelists be practicing artists experienced in the disciplines they are reviewing.”
“NYFA makes every effort to assemble diverse panels, considering genre, gender identity, ethnicity, cultural background, geographic location, etc,” assert Berry and Calandro. “Panelists are given extensive information discussing our code of ethics, our firm stance on conflicts of interest and biases, our dedication to supporting artists of all backgrounds, and our continued interest in working towards inclusivity and accessibility for all applicants. “
And as far as rubrics go, James wants artists to rest assured that they aren’t as big of a deal as they may seem.
“People love and hate rubrics. Rubrics are helpful because they clarify criteria. However, they may stifle creativity, or an artist may self-select themselves out of applying if they don’t believe their work meets a criterion (when it actually does). While a rubric may help a selection committee be more objective in whittling down the application pool, the committee must still decide among the remaining artists.”
Another tip? Submit your application ASAP.
“To all artists everywhere… please do not wait until the last hour to submit the application!” urges Ramo.
“Most grantmakers, including us, will not extend the deadline for those that miss it. Our application is simple and if you can, submit it within the first week of the announcement.”
And, Artadia is not the only organization who feel this way! This was one of the biggest “don’ts” that organizations warned of.
“Don't wait until the day of the application deadline to submit your application!” says NYFA’s Berry and Calandro, for this reason, you might not have considered. “Fellowships staff is available 5 days a week to answer any questions you may have in regards to the application process. If you run into problems at the last minute, we may not be able to help.
“But,” they add, “even if you apply the day before, we will assist in every way we can.”
With deadlines being notoriously hard to keep track of alongside the million things going on in your art business, the best thing to do is find a system to stay organized. And, an art inventory management system like Artwork Archive is an extremely easy tool to use, made specifically for artists.
Not only can you keep track of application dates, but you can manage your entire portfolio, high-resolution images, important piece details, documents you’ll need to apply, and more. You can even schedule reminders to be sent straight to your inbox when it’s time to apply.
No more letting application deadlines pass you by! You’re an organized artist on a mission.
Don’t ever give up on applying.
It’s what successful grant recipients stressed as well!
You can’t take the rejection personally explains James: “What guides the final decision may differ in every competition, depending on the shortlisted artists and committee composition.”
Call it luck. Call it a numbers game. But, just because you aren’t selected for one opportunity doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving. Decisions will always depend on the current cycle of competition and jurors, and you never know when all the pieces of the puzzle will come together.
“Do continue to apply!” expresses the NYFA staff. “The best way to up your chances of receiving a grant, fellowship, or funding is to hone your practice of applying.”
And, you know what they say: practice makes perfect! Keep researching opportunities, learn what other artists did to land their grants, perfect your images and statements, and always, always apply again.
“Apply for as many competitions as possible—you’re more likely to be selected and any rejections sting less,” agrees James.