Through a combination of need and resourcefulness, writer/artist Mira Bartok has learned the ins and outs of grants, awards, and residencies. Add to that a spirit of goodwill, and the result is Mira’s List, her thorough and useful website on opportunities for individual artists. We invited her to share her background in applying for funding as well as her pragmatic insights on finding “money, time, and a place to create.”
Ten years ago, a truck hit my car on the New York Thruway. Because of a subsequent brain injury, I lost all my freelance work. After maxing out my credit cards, I knew I had to do something soon or I would be out on the street. I had been applying for grants for years as both an artist and a writer, so it was only natural for me to turn to arts foundations for help. It took me over three hours to write each cover letter because of my cognitive deficits, but I was determined to apply for every grant I found. Fortunately, I received enough funding to sustain me until I slowly began to recover. This past winter, I began my blog, Mira’s List, so I could share my experience and knowledge with other artists seeking money, time and a place to create. The info below is from a longer blog article I wrote called, Finding Money for Your Dreams. I hope you find it useful!
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF GRANT WRITING
What is the secret formula to getting a grant? Here is what you need to do:
1. Work really hard at what you do. You can’t get a grant if you have nothing to show.
2. Get your work out there. Except for rare situations, you won’t get funding if you don’t have a track record. Grant givers want to know that art is your passion, not your hobby.
3. Do your homework. First, figure out what kind of grant you need. Here are just a few kinds available to you: emergency grants, travel and research grants, residency fellowships, emerging artist grants, collaborative grants, production grants and more. Next, learn how to search for grants and discern which ones are right for you. If you’ve never published a story before you are not going to apply for a Guggenheim. Read the eligibility requirements. Are you emerging or mid-career? You can be an artist in your fifties, but still be considered emerging if you haven’t had many shows.
4. Know where to look. The Internet is now the best source for your grant search so make friends with technology. There are dozens of websites that post grants and other opportunities. If you are a visual artist, visit the College Art Association and the New York Foundation for the Arts, if you are a writer, check out the listings on PEN American and Poets & Writers. There are hundreds more so please check my blog for more links.
5. Put yourself out there. Cultivate professional relationships by attending conferences, residencies, workshops, retreats, etc. Check out blogs, list-serves and forums and connect with other artists on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites.
6. Have your ammunition ready. Before applying for a grant, you should have these things at your fingertips: if you are an artist, have a great artist statement. Keep it to around 250 words. Talk about your artistic approach and who your influences were, what your accomplishments have been, what your personal vision is. You also need a good paragraph-long bio. The same goes for writers. Have a professional looking CV and published reviews about your work if you have them. You will need recommendation letters from professionals in your field, so ask for these weeks in advance. Last but not least, you need a good solid work sample for each application. Have you revised that story so it is absolutely polished? Have you double-checked to see if your jpegs are overexposed? Strive for perfection. Your work sample should be the best example of what you do.
7. Start local but dream global. If you’ve never applied for a grant before try your hand at a local arts council grant first. Ask for enough money to attend a writing conference or an artist residency in another state. Most local grants are between $500-1000. That will buy you a plane ticket and more.
8. Ask only for what you need and show that you are resourceful. You have a better chance of getting a grant if you ask for less than what is offered. Also, let the foundation know that you are trying to find funding from other sources, but not for the exact same thing. You can apply to the first organization for travel expenses and another for art supplies or something else.
9. Be clear about what you want. The same rules apply for grants as they do for good writing. Your application should be focused and concise. Use direct verbs and don’t be redundant or vague. Let them know why your work stands out from the others. What you specifically will do with the money. Where else you are looking for funding. Why this opportunity is important at this time in your career. How it will impact your community and the art world at large. Serve the project, not yourself.
10. Pay attention to what the foundation asks for. If you have to write a proposal, note the order of things you are asked to discuss and follow that order. As for page length, if they ask for up to five-pages, dont submit ten. But by all means, use all five pages if you need them. After you have filled everything out check for mistakes and make sure you send the application on time.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
Grants beget grants, so do residencies, fellowships and any kind of award. When foundations see them listed on your resume, they’ll assume you have resourcefulness and drive. This ripple effect also affects others. Honor those who have helped you, send thank you cards, encourage others to apply for things. And never ever throw in the towel, even if you have a year of rejections. Don’t put stones in your pockets and walk into the river if you don’t get an NEA. Go to the river and toss a stone in instead. See the ripple effect of your own making. Grants beget grants beget grants, which inspires others to apply, which in turn begets change and courage and brings forth art and stories that do not destroy but heal. We need your poems and paintings, your songs and films to keep us going. You need money, time and a place to create. So toss a pebble in the stream, open your journal, your studio door or violin case and begin.
Copyright 2009 Mira Bartok
Author/artist Mira Bartok’s writing has appeared in several anthologies and literary journals, including the Bellingham Review, Kenyon Review, Tikkun, Another Chicago Magazine, among others. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been sited in The Best American Essay series. Her illustrated memoir, The Memory Palace, forthcoming by Free Press (Simon & Schuster), is due to come out late 2010. She has also published over twenty-five children’s books on the art of world cultures.
Mira is a spokesperson for A Room of Her Own Foundation, a foundation for women writers, and for Transcultural Exchange, an international organization that promotes peace and understanding through artistic collaborations across the globe. Visit Mira at http://www.miraslist.blogspot.com.